By Dapo Akinrefon, Abdulwahab Abdulah & Gbenga Oke

ANGRY reactions, yesterday, trailed the push for immunity for the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives as prominent Nigerians said the move was uncalled for.

Among those who expressed displeasure over the move include former deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Austin Opara; a former Minister of Transport, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere and Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP.

L-R; Deputy Senate President, Senator lke Ekweremadu; Deputy Speaker, Hon Yusuf Lasun; Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki and Senator Godswill Akpabio during a retreat by Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, tagged; Towards Ensuring Governance Accountability in Nigerian Federalism at Eko Hotel, Lagos on Friday, 17/6/2016

It is not necessary — Opara
In his remarks, Opara said immunity for National Assembly members was not necessary right now. He said, “Why should the National Assembly consider such bill now? It is not a priority for us as a nation. Even the immunity for the President, which is in the constitution, should be expunged to enable people pay for their deeds in office. National Assembly should be responsible and responsive to the electorate rather than coming up with the issue of immunity.”

It is not our priority — Babatope
On his part, former Aviation Minister, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, who insisted that immunity was not a priority for the nation now, wondered what the lawmakers needed immunity for.

It’s uncalled for—Afenifere
Also, Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, said the push for immunity was uncalled for, since it breeds impunity. Afenifere’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr Yinka Odumakin, said: “It is uncalled for; it is a sign of impunity that the legislature will be asking for immunity at this point in time when in actual fact, we are asking for removal of the clause for governors. Immunity makes people feel above the law, so rather than have immunity for the legislature, we should remove that for the governors. Immunity has bred impunity in our system. It is absurd for such calls and it is uncalled for.”

It’s self-serving—SERAP
SERAP described the proposal for life pension and immunity for principal officers of the National Assembly as self-serving and despicable. In a statement by its Executive Director, Tokunbo Mumuni, SERAP said: “Granting senators and representatives immunity and life pensions would neither enhance governance accountability nor contribute to the betterment of Nigerians.”

Among others, the proposals want presiding officers, such as President of the Senate, Deputy President of Senate, Speaker of the House of Representatives and Deputy Speaker of House of Representatives to enjoy life pension and immunity, since the executive and judiciary were enjoying it.

The statement read in part: “SERAP calls on the Senate President Bukola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara to show leadership and refocus the National Assembly to be able to perform their law-making functions in a manner that will  rid the country of impunity for corruption and not embrace or tolerate it. Nigerians will reject any self-serving attempt by the senators and representatives to tear up section 308 of the 1999 constitution to grant their leaders immunity from prosecution for corruption and money laundering.

Life pension proposals

”Nigerians will also reject the despicable attempt by the senators and representatives to grant themselves life pensions. SERAP will pursue all legal avenues nationally and internationally to compel the senators to drop the immunity and life pension proposals. SERAP is worried that the proposal for life pensions is coming from some ex-governors in the National Assembly that continue to enjoy ‘pensions’ for serving as governors for eight years. This is a gross injustice and double jeopardy for millions of Nigerian pensioners who continue to be denied the fruit of their labour in old age.

“It’s a massive let-down for those elected to make  laws for the peace, order and good governance of the country to prioritise their personal interests over and above those of millions of Nigerians who continue to suffer the effects of high-level official corruption.

”Rather than engaging in constitutional amendment for personal aggrandisement the leadership of the National Assembly should encourage the inclusion in the constitution of legally enforcement economic and social rights such as the right to food, to adequate housing, to access to healthcare, to work and good conditions of service, and to adequate standards of living for millions of Nigerians who continue to live in poverty.

”Saraki and Dogara should promote constitutional amendment that will ensure and provide legal standing and access to effective remedies for victims of corruption.”

It added that the proposal by the senators was not coming out of the blue, saying at the beginning of Saraki’s trial, he had worked with other senators “to make subtle and not-so-subtle attempts to grant principal officials of the National Assembly immunity from prosecution for corruption and money laundering.”

 

 

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