Buhari signs immunity law to protect lawmakers
• Lawyers Divided Over Parliamentary Immunity
President Muhammadu Buhari has assented to the Legislative House Power and Privileges Act to provide protection for decisions taken by members of parliament in the country.The new law grants the Legislative Houses in the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly immunity from litigation for actions taken in plenary or committee proceedings of the House or committee.
The law, which is among the eight proposed legislations passed by the national assembly and assented to by the President, is designed to strengthen the power of the Legislators to carry out their Law making functions.These include powers to summon any person to appear before her, give evidence, as well as power of an officer of the legislative House to arrest any person who commits an offense against the Act.
The other laws assented to by President Buhari are National Senior Citizens Center Act, 2018 which establishes the National Senior Citizens Center in the country to cater for the needs of the senior citizens.Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang who briefed State House Correspondents after the President signed the bills into laws, yesterday said others are Legislative Houses (Power and Privileges), 2018, National Institute of Legislative Studies (Amendment) Act, 2018, and Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement between the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Kingdom of Spain (Domestication and Enforcement) Act, 2018.
Others are Rail Loan (International Bank) (Repeal) Act, 2018, Chartered Institute of Project Managers of Nigeria (Establishment) Act, 2018, Chartered Institute of Local Government and Public Administration Act, 2018 and Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (Establishment), Act, 2018.
The National Institute for Legislative Studies (Amendment) Act. The law widens the Institute to include powers to provide training, courses and Award Degrees on Democracy, Party Politics, Electoral Process, Legislative Practice and Procedures among others.
In their reactions, the Second Vice President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Monday Ubani said there is nothing wrong in protecting the lawmakers from comments made on the course of duty.
He said: “It is important to grant lawmakers immunity from the things they say in the floor of the parliament in order to protect them from prosecution and at the same time give them the liberty to do their job effectively.
“Although, I have not read the Act to actually know what it’s contents are, lawmakers cannot be protected for crime or other offences committed outside the parliament. I will have a better view when I read the Act.” Also, the former chairman of the Lagos Branch of the association, Mr. Alex Muoka, said the Act is in order. According to him, once the Act is limited to the things said at the floor of the House, there is no problem.
“I don’t have a problem with the Act as long as it is limited to things said on the course of their duty at the chambers. The whole essence of allowing immunity for the things said on the floor of the parliament is to encourage free and robust debate on issues. But they cannot be protected from anything said outside the parliament,” he declared.
However, Abuja based lawyer, Abubakar Sani disagrees. He said It is wrong, adding: “It is safe-serving. There is a law on criminal libel. If they say what is not true, that law suffices. It is both in the Penal Code and Criminal Code of the Northern and Southern Nigeria respectively. In my opinion, it is unconstitutional and inconsistent with African charter on the right to equal protection of the law.”
Immediate past secretary general of the NBA, Mazi Afam Njoku also said the law is unnecessary.The parliament, he stated, already has immunity for actions on the floor of the parliament, saying: “They don’t need immunity from prosecution. It appears self-serving, to shield themselves from prosecution from likely allegations that would be levelled against them. And we have seen it from the Nigerian example that once they leave office, it becomes difficult to prosecute them.
“Experience has shown that it is prone to abuse or lead to unwillingness or reluctant to prosecute them when they leave office. In my opinion, to grant them immunity is unnecessary and uncalled for.”
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