THE House of Representatives is pushing a bill that would grant legislators immunity like the executive. This backdoor move, if it results in a law, would illegally amend Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution, which currently grants this status to only the President, Vice President, Governors and Deputy Governors.
The proposed immunity would cover both legislators in the National Assembly and the State Houses of Assembly.
It is silent on local government legislators, an indication that they were not deemed qualified for the special treatment the House of Representatives wants.
Nigerians are already averse to the immunity clause and it is one of the items being hotly debatedÂ for removal from the 1999 Constitution. It is already difficult monitoring the privileged 74.
Mr. Henry Dickson, Chairman of House Committee on Justice, the sponsor of the bill, said it was motivated by the need to free legislators from harassment by security agencies.
â€œIf we accept that members of the legislative Houses are honourable men and women, therefore extra measures should be taken in arresting such a person,â€ Mr. Dickson said. The bill has gone through the second reading, and is now with the Committees on Justice and Human Rights for further work.
Mr. Dickson missed the point entirely on his honourable men and women. Nigerians believe legislators are honourable, and that is good reason for them to be willing to face the law.
The current bill does not show any special reason for the protection that it offers legislators from arrest, investigation and prosecution. It is merely a ploy to wrest legislators from the various investigations that have embarrassed the National Assembly to scandalous proportions. The inclusion of State Assemblies is a decoy.
At the last count, some members of the House of Representatives were being investigated or the probe of the energy sector and some senators were arrested for their role in an alleged scam in the rural electrification programme. Both incidents resulted in the legislators being detained and finally charged to court.
In 2007, the Ministry of Health was indicted for allegedly sharing its unspent budget among its top directors. Some senators were indicted in the matter which is still in court.
Members of the National Assembly have resorted to physical combat on live television. Only last month, a member responded with a slap to a security man who asked for his identity.
Perhaps, the most famous of the free-for-alls in the National Assembly was the month-long box offs at the House of Representatives as members warred over the choice of the Speaker in 2007. The death of Dr. Mohammed Safina, from Katsina, as he watched the final fray settled the matter.
Mrs. Patricia Olubunmi Etteh, the then Speaker incurred membersâ€™ anger over the proposed cost of renovating her official residence. Some wanted her resignation; she refused, until Dr. Safina died.
The House of Representatives should forget this law which typifies the greed of politicians in their self-serving enterprise. It will only make legislators less accountable.