Immunity for National Assembly leaders?
In a further demonstration of its now notorious distance and insensate detachment from the harsh realities of contemporary Nigeria, the House of Representatives is considering a bill that will grant immunity to principal officers of the legislative arm of government in the National Assembly and in the 36 states.
Titled a “Bill for an Act to Alter Section 308 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to Extend Immunity to Cover Presiding Officers of the of Legislative Institutions’’, its defenders contend that it would enable legislators to concentrate on their jobs without fear of persecution from the executive branch. At this time of our history when Nigerians are already questioning the practice of immunity for some officials of the executive branch, especially the state governors and their deputies, this is an insult to the collective intelligence of the people.
Meanwhile, there are discordant tunes already emanating from the House itself. The speaker of the House has said that if the law must be passed, it should take effect from the next legislative assembly. Nigerians get reports of how legislators ask for bribes while carrying out oversight functions across the country. No institution is spared of their rapacious greed. Some vice-chancellors and chief executives of agencies of government have complained about greedy legislators each time they visit or consider budgetary allocations.
In scorn and derisions, some Nigerians now refer to legislators as ‘legislooters’, a local coinage arising from the penchant for looting the communal till. The same legislators unpatriotically rejected made-in-Nigeria luxury cars, which could have saved the nation millions of dollars in foreign exchange. On this matter, therefore, the wise proverbial saying of our elders come to bear: ‘we are calling you a thief, yet you are playing with the kid of a goat’! From its antecedents, the National Assembly has tragically become a house of scandals.
It is preposterous, self-serving, selfish and immoral for legislators who already suffer low esteem in the eyes of Nigerians to further turn governance into a charade of monstrous proportions. Nigerians are angry that legislators earn outrageous salaries, inflated allowances, huge perks, and other incidentals very much out of tune with how ordinary Nigerians live. Infrastructure has virtually collapsed. Insecurity is ravaging the land and destroying lives. There is hunger in the land. There is anger in the land. There is uncertainty in the land. Yet, all legislators want are perks and more perks. Our legislators bask in the filth of vainglory and contempt of the people.
How did we degenerate into electing such a calibre of men and women into the legislature? How do you seek immunity from accountability? Do our legislators comprehend the meaning of and duties of lawmakers? Are they familiar with the historical antecedents of lawmaking and the moral imperatives of that title? For what reason do they seek immunity from prosecution if they did not have skeletons in their cupboards? Why do they enjoy basking in vainglorious things?
No country provides immunity from criminal prosecution for legislators. The extant practice worldwide is to provide legislative immunity for lawmakers on statements made on the floor of the house during debates. In other words, legislators are protected by law from being prosecuted for claims and statements made inside the chambers of the legislature. But to seek to protect lawmakers from criminal prosecution is tantamount to endorsing criminality and fraudulent behaviour. Already, Nigerians are aghast that some former state governors have found the Senate as a haven to shield them from prosecution. Also, Nigerians have not forgotten the likes of the late Maurice Ibekwe, one of the earliest advance-fee strongmen to secure a seat in the so-called hallowed chambers of the law.
Obviously, our legislators need education on how to carry out their duties. They also need a form of moral rearmament to cope with the challenges of a troubled society. If they do not have the requisite knowledge and moral authority, how would they be able to effectively perform their legislative functions? A legislator is a representative of the people. He carries or ought to carry an authority that travels before him. He is compassionate and concerned with the common good. Self-interest should be secondary. Indeed, a good legislator is always pro-people. Legislators are constitutionally mandated to screen people for high positions in society. They are therefore expected like Caesar’s wife to be above board.
Our elders in their wisdom have asserted that ‘the thing that makes the he-goat smell is inside the goat! The character of the men and women who sit in the legislative houses needs re-evaluation. People who lack character and cannot stand for truth or cannot stand for the people have no business in the legislature. This is at the bottom of the self-serving attempt to exclude legislators from prosecution. All men are equal before the law. The attempt is out of sync with the mood in the country and has no example anywhere in the world. The idea should not have been entertained. Having been entertained it should not have been discussed at all. It is a disgrace to the concept of honour. Let sanity now prevail. Therefore, the thought of legislative immunity for presiding officers in our National Assembly should die a natural death at this time.