Gbajabiamila kicks as Reps pass immunity bill through second reading
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, on Tuesday, threatened to step down from office if his contemporaries in the 9th Assembly insist that the proposed Immunity clause commences during his tenure.
Hon. Gbajabiamila, who stated this ahead of the scheduled debate on the ‘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 Legislative Institutions,’ sponsored by Hon. Olusegun Odebunmi, argued that any presiding officers in the Legislative arm of government can be sued/prosecuted for rape, murder or any criminal offence by concerned Nigerian or public officer.
The bill seeks to amend Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution, which currently provides immunity for the President, Vice President, Governor and Deputy Governor from being investigated and prosecuted while in office.
The proposed amendment provides that: “This section applies to a person holding the office of President or Vice-President, Governor or Deputy Governor, Presiding officers of the Senate, Presiding officers of the House of Representatives, Presiding officers of the State Assemblies; and the reference in this section to “period of office” is a reference to the period during which the person holding such office is required to perform the function of the office.”
Hon. Gbajabiamila, who spoke before the commencement of the debate on the bill, opined that subsequent presiding officers after this Assembly should benefit from the proposed immunity when signed into law after the expiration of the ninth Assembly.
“Then perhaps I may preside but I would suggest so that there are no appearances of propriety that even if the bill does not have a futuristic commencement date, I believe we should put a commencement date of 2023 so that I’m not conferred with any immunity.
“So that is my suggestion but if you insist that it suppose to be from this point moving forward, as soon as the bill is signed, then I will need to step down,” the Speaker told his contemporaries.
Some of the lawmakers, who spoke in favour of the bill are Majority Leader, Hon. Ado Doguwa, Hon. Uzoma Nkem-Abonta, chairman, Rules and Business, Hon. Abubakar Fulata.
In his lead debate, Hon. Dokun, who argued that “democracy has come to stay in Nigeria like the developed and other developing countries in the world,” harped on the need to embrace the dynamics of a democratic society.
“As the government of the people, by the people and for the people is very important to us as a nation, so also is the legislature’s importance to the system, therefore the need to further protect the legislative arm of government should not be ignored.
“Mr Speaker and Hon. colleagues, in spite of the uninterrupted concentration required for carrying out effective legislative duty, this institution has suffered serious distractions in the past.
“Either genuine or not, such distractions have had serious negative impact on quality of legislation, as well as discouraging Presiding officers of the Legislative institution’s at National and State levels from taking the bull by the horn or take certain critical decisions when necessary for fear of unknown.
“Therefore, for our democracy to continue flourishing, no action meant to strengthen the legislative institution could be out of proportion.
“Extending immunity to the Presiding officer of the National and State Assemblies is not a means of shielding them from answering any question generated by their action or preventing members of the House from exercising their powers of choosing or changing their leaders when required as provided for by the laws but a genuine way of protecting the most sacred Institution in democracy,” he noted.
However, two lawmakers from Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Minority Leader, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu and Hon. Sergius Ogun spoke against the bill, stressing there was no justification for conferring immunity of the two principal officers in the Legislative arm.
After the heated debate on the bill, the lawmakers, through a voice vote, passed the bill through Second Reading and referred it to the Ad-hoc Committee on Constitution Review to enable the general public make input.