Some Senior Advocates of Nigeria on Monday rejected the proposed immunity clause for the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Senate President just as voting on the amendment to the 1999 Constitution begins on Tuesday (today).
The Joint Senate and House of Representatives Special Ad Hoc Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, had last Wednesday laid its report and recommended 68 amendments, which were based on private members and executive bills as well as memoranda received from the public during its zonal public hearings.
Currently, only the President, Vice-President, the 36 governors and 36 deputy governors enjoy immunity.
Some SANs who spoke in separate interviews with our correspondent on Monday described the attempt to confer immunity on more public officers as unnecessary.
Adegoke Rasheed (SAN), said this was not the first attempt by the National Assembly to confer immunity on presiding officers, adding that the privileged immunity they enjoy is enough.
He described the decision to extend the same to the CJN as nothing but a bribe.
Adegoke said, “The Legislative Privileges Act of 2017 actually tried to confer immunity on presiding officers of the National Assembly which we found unconstitutional. I filed a case which is still pending at the Federal High Court challenging the constitutionality of that, it was pursuant to that they wanted to amend the constitution so that they could insert that provision into the constitution to cure the defect in the Legislative Privileges Act.
“I believe that it is unnecessary conferment of protection on the National Assembly. Extending it to the CJN is an attempt to bribe the judiciary.
“A judicial officer is protected under the constitution so far as a judge can’t be sued by an act done by himself in his official capacity. The same thing goes for every member of the National Assembly. That has been an ancient privilege. They can’t be sued for comments made on the floor of the house. That’s enough.”
Another senior advocate, Afam Osigwe, said Nigerians should not allow the National Assembly to carry on with the amendment.
Osigwe said immunity would be abused if it is granted to more public officers.
He said, “In every part of the world, immunity is granted only to the President and even the ones granted to the executives is limited if you commit an offence while in office it may be a ground to take away the immunity. I don’t see why we should grant immunity to the CJN. It is not done.
“We just want to abuse the immunity, is it even not bad enough that we don’t investigate or trial when they leave office and we now want to confer immunity on them while in office? That’s sad. They should not be allowed to get away with this.”
For Mr Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN), the presiding officers of the National Assembly do not deserve immunity.
He queried the logic behind such a proposal, adding that those who had nothing to hide ought not to fear prosecution.
Adedipe added, “It is not right to extend immunity to this set of people. We should open the democratic space and access to the court. If you have a problem with the conduct of presiding officers in the National Assembly how are you going to bring them to justice if you confer immunity on them? I do not support it and I do not think it should be passed into law.
“Are you not aware that in some countries sitting prime ministers are being taken to court? It happened in Israel. Are they going to be committing legal infractions that would be taking them to court every now and then? They do not need immunity.”
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Labour Congress has asked members of the National Assembly to massively support labour-related matters today (Tuesday) during voting on the amendment to the 1999 Constitution.
Speaking during a protest at the National Assembly on Monday, the President, NLC, Ayuba Wabba, said the lawmakers should also vote for the autonomy of local governments and the judiciary.
Wabba stated, “We want an overwhelming vote. We don’t even want 99 per cent when members of the National Assembly are voting tomorrow (Tuesday) and Wednesday. We want 100 per cent of their votes to guarantee the independence of the judiciary and to guarantee full autonomy for local governments.”