Immunity for distinguished, honourable lawmakers

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in Sunday Punch, Oct. 11, 2009 

In November 2008, our distinguished Senators had their second retreat in Kano. In his address at that retreat, President Umaru Yar’Adua appealed to the lawmakers to urgently review relevant laws to reform our electoral system. The President further urged the Senators to find constitutional solutions to the nation’s most intractable problems such as infrastructural decay, institutional corruption and the culture of impunity.

 Almost one year after this presidential exhortation, can we say that our legislators have lived up to expectation? I don’t think so. What we have seen over the years are supremacy battle between the Senate and the House of Representatives; arrest of some honourable members for corruption; bickering; intrigues and unnecessary shouting match in the hallowed legislative chambers.

 As if unperturbed by the prevalent sombre mood in the nation, the lawmakers have continued to exhibit symptoms of acute legislative catarrh. And since this phlegm is infectious, the majority of Nigerians have been coughing and hoping that it shall be well.

 The present perfidy came in the form of a bill. The bill aims at preventing the arrest and prosecution of members of the federal/state legislature. And it scaled through second reading at the House of Representatives last Wednesday. It is called “A Bill for an Act to Amend the Legislative Houses and Privileges Act, Cap L12 2004, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria and other Related Purposes, 2009.” Honourable Henry Dickson from Bayelsa State sponsored the bill.

 The major interest of Dickson is to protect the lawmakers and hence deepen democracy. According to him, since members of the legislative Houses are honourable men and women, there is need for extra measures to be taken in arresting them. In other words, no security agent should ever attempt to arrest any legislator unless they catch the lawmaker committing the crime or they have a warrant of arrest.

 This is laughable. Apparently, the lawmakers are jealous of the President, the Vice-President, the governors and their deputies who currently enjoy immunity as enshrined in Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution. They want to protect their members who occasionally engage in a free-for-all and even seize the mace, the symbol of authority of the House. They want to protect legislators who slap security guards for the flimsiest of reasons.

 As the 2011 approaches, they probably want to lay the foundation for the constitutional protection of their inordinate desire to rig themselves into office. But they will not succeed because the moment one evil is allowed to sail through in a decent society, different other evils will manifest.

 To be fair to the lawmakers, they had done some things that could engender the sustainability of this democracy. They had instituted probes into the mismanagement of funds in the power sector. They had investigated Abuja land allocations and revocations. There was also an enquiry into the mismanagement of the N19.5bn aviation intervention fund.

 Now, the House of Representatives Committee on Works is reportedly ready to probe the non-remittance of the five per cent accrual from the pump price of petrol to the Federal Road Maintenance Agency. Besides, the committee members will soon move round the country to check the state of our roads.

 Without prejudice to whatever will be the outcome of their state-of-the-road tour, it is worthy to note that the good intentions of our legislators do not necessarily produce good fruits. We saw it in the power probe jamboree. We witnessed it in the Abuja land scam investigations and we observed it in every other probe that the lawmakers had instituted.

 How are we sure that the current probe will not end up like others? How do we guarantee that the merry-go-round to see the state of the roads will not gulp millions of taxpayers’ money for nothing? In this country, there are more questions than answers. But we will keep asking, believing that one day, we will find genuine answers to some of the questions.

 My scepticism about the genuine intentions of our legislators stems from the fact that they always give the impression that all they are after is to serve their selfish interests while in office. Early last year, for instance, these same members of the House of Representatives reportedly demanded that the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission should increase their pay to befit their status.

 It is this status, perhaps, that is pushing them to make laws that will place them above the laws of the land. If we don’t shout now to stop this nonsense, the next move may be to pass laws that will give immunity to their wives and concubines.

 Our lawmakers should rather occupy their minds with noble aspirations. They should be thinking of how to restore the sanctity of lives and property of Nigerians. They should be debating how to tackle unemployment problems in the country. They should legislate on what will be of benefit to the generality of the populace.

 The way things are going, I’m beginning to think that the psychiatric test the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mrs. Farida Waziri, recommended for public office-holders should start from the legislators. Remember that some of them, especially in the state assemblies, have exhibited traits bordering on psychotic disorder.

 Or how else do we explain that members of the Rivers State House of Assembly went to Australia for a capacity-building retreat last year to create a scene? Some females among them reportedly fought a principal officer of the House for abandoning them for a younger and more beautiful lady.

 These are the type of people they want immunity for. With such people, we don’t need any soothsayer to tell us why passing the Freedom of Information Bill has remained jinxed.

 Note: This column is going on break for about four weeks.

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