Stripping elected officials of immunity
If the Nigerian Senate has its way, it will strip the president, state governors and other state officials of immunity from prosecution. A bill is currently being considered that will ensure that state officials in the executive arm of government can be prosecuted for criminal offences even while in service. Immunity has been a constitutional provision to prevent officials from being harassed with frivolous charges that could distract them from their duties. In the executive arm, the president, his deputy and state governors are beneficiaries of this provision. Legislators have immunity from being prosecuted on account of statements made in legislative debates. Leadership is universally associated with honour, dignity, commitment and sacrifice. But in our clime, to be in office is open sesame to instant wealth from stolen funds.
Sadly, some Nigerian officials have made nonsense of the immunity clause. In the Senate, for example, there are former governors who have serious charges pending against them, arising from their days as governors. Former governors have made the Senate their berth even while facing prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Instructively, some senators have walked right into the jailhouse after many years of dodging the long arm of the law, ensconced in the Senate.
The truth is that Nigerians have had a raw deal with political appointees and elected officials. World leaders are baffled that Nigeria has not collapsed after so much money has been stolen from the national coffers. A British Prime Minister once described Nigeria as ‘fantastically corrupt’ and opined that if the amount of money stolen from Nigeria were to leave the British economy that country would collapse. Indeed, it is the people that need protection against rapacious officials. Humongous amounts are routinely stolen from the commonwealth and stashed in hidden accounts for personal use. In the states and at the federal level, looting the treasury is a national pastime. Decades after disgraced Head of State, General Sanni Abacha died suddenly, billions of naira, which he stole, are being repatriated from foreign lands. Some other Heads of State who are alive seem to have cleverly covered their tracks. But Nigerians have not forgotten the Enron and Halliburton scandalous sagas in which Nigerian officials reportedly received huge bribes. Some governors who converted the national patrimony into private wealth have been jailed. Others are facing trial, fighting to defend themselves. Some ministers, commissioners and civil servants are all in the fray. How and why do these thieves deserve immunity from any form of prosecution? They deserve to be booed and stoned by the people of Nigeria!
Health and education infrastructure are abysmal. Federal roads are in a terrible shape. Unemployment is abnormally high. The good life is virtually absent. Security has broken down because state officials pocket monies meant for national development. Although the incumbent government campaigned and won elections with a promise to fight corruption, there is no indication that the government is serious about combating that national scourge. While national infrastructure is collapsing, politicians are building mansions and private estates in the country and buying property all over the world.
Against this background, Nigerians are not in the least amused that state officials and the legislature are concerned with immunity. There are serious issues crying for attention. Immunity is the least of our concerns. Nigeria is not working. The leaders, for want of a better word, are the greatest problem. Self-aggrandizement. Perfidy of the highest order. Parochialism. Greed. Self-serving policies. Disdain for the poor and the majority. Creating an elite club of buccaneers. Visionless leadership. These are some of the issues, which becloud the judgment of those entrusted or who rig themselves into power.
The current climate and challenge in the form of COVID-19 speaks volumes of how unprepared the nation’s health care system is for the simplest tasks. Providence has caught the leadership class in a quagmire that it created for the country. With the international lockdown, no political appointee or office holder can indulge in their national pastime of flying to Europe and the developed world for medical assistance. The message is: develop your nation’s health care system. It is a shame that the country’s First Citizen has ironically become the main promoter of medical tourism by jetting out of the country each time he suffers a crisis. This is the time to go back to the drawing board and create the Nigeria, which patriots dreamed of in the early years of the Republic.
The immunity clause in the Constitution has been abused. It should be discarded. Especially the immunity against criminal prosecution. Too many thieves have occupied the seats of power at different levels. Leadership is associated with honour, with ideals, and with decent codes of moral behaviour. Elected officials of the Nigerian State have not shown any example worthy of emulation. The message therefore to the Executive and Legislative arms of government is: change the narrative! Restructure the political and economic configuration of the country. We must get out of the Sisyphean curse. Except this is done, we would continue to do the same thing in the same way and expect a different result.