A Bill that may grant immunity to members of the National Assembly and state assemblies scaled through the second reading on Wednesday.
Titled: “A Bill for An Act to Amend the Legislative Houses, Powers and Privileges Act, Cap L12 2004, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria and for Other Related Purposes, 2009,” it was sponsored by Henry Dickson (PDP, Bayelsa).
Leading debate on the bill, Mr. Dickson, who is also the chairman of the House Committee on Justice, said there is need to propose a procedure that should be followed when a member commits a crime. According to him, by doing so, the lawmakers would be adequately protected and the country’s democracy deepened.
He said a lawmaker should not be arrested on the basis of a mere allegation, but that the security agencies making the arrest should only make such arrest when there is a warrant of arrest or if the person is caught committing the crime.
He added that such agencies should first communicate to the leadership of the House concerned before the lawmaker that commits the crime is arrested.
Honourable men and women
“If we accept that members of the legislative Houses are honourable men and women, therefore the need for extra measures should be taken in arresting such a person,” he said.
Nkeiruka Onyejiocha (PDP, Abia), who supported the Bill, said, if passed, it would encourage the rule of law and it would check a situation where people are whisked away by security agencies under different guises.
Betty Apiafi (PDP, Rivers), Joseph Idachaba (PDP, Kogi) and Bashiru Bolarimwa supported the Bill, emphasising that it would curtail the excesses of security agencies.
However, Ita Enang (PDP, Akwa Ibom), who opposed the Bill, said it would place legislators above the law.
Mr. Enang, who is the chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Business, warned his colleagues that passing the bill into law would mean an extension of the immunity clause to members of the legislature. He said Nigerians are already averse to the issue of immunity for their leaders.
Emmanuel Deeyah (PDP, Rivers) also opposed the bill on the ground that what the Bill seeks to achieve has been covered by the Standing Rules of the House.
Members, however, voted for the Bill to be read for the second time when the deputy speaker, Usman Nafada who presided over the plenary session, put it to vote.
Mr. Nafada then committed it to the Committees on Judiciary and Human Rights for further legislative action.
Difficult to arrest and prosecute
If eventually passed, the Bill may make it difficult for security agencies to arrest senators, members of the House of Representatives and 36 state Houses of Assembly members.
Some members of the National Assembly have, in the recent past, been arrested over alleged fraud.
They include the former chairman of the House Committee on Power, Ndudi Elumelu; his Senate counterpart, Nicholas Ugbane and the House chairman of the committee on Rural Development, Igwe Paulinus, over their alleged involvement in N5.2 billion Rural Electrification Agency fraud. Mr. Elumelu’s deputy, Mohammed Jibo, was also arrested over the allegation.
The immunity clause, as spelt out in Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution, only covers the offices of the President, Vice President, Governors and Deputy Governors.
Bills and more Bills
The Bill’s sponsor also said that voting on the floor of the House should henceforth be recorded so that Nigerians can know how their representatives vote. He noted that, if this is done, the vote of each lawmaker would count when decisions are taken.
Also, “A Bill for An Act to Establish the Institute of Mediators and Conciliators and for Other Related Matters, 2009,” and “A Bill for An Act to Facilitate Electronic Transaction in Nigeria and for Related Matters, 2009,” also scaled through the second reading.
Before the House commenced debate on the bills, members had dissolved into an executive session, which lasted for about one hour.
A source told NEXT that the leadership of the House briefed members on some issues which arose during the two month recess.
Among the issues reportedly discussed at the executive session were the welfare for members, the review of the constitution and committee placement.
Culled from 234next