OPINION: The Lawmaker’s Beleaguered Immunity Bill

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

Fear is the most powerful enemy of reason. Both fear and reason are essential to human survival, but the relationship between them is unbalanced. Reason may sometimes dissipate fear, but fear frequently shuts down reason-AL-Gore, Former Vice President of the United States

There is no better way to appreciate the validity of the above expression than reflecting on the latest push by the members of the National Assembly to pass a bill sponsored by Honourable Odebumi Olusegun, of Ogo-Oluwa/Surulere federal constituency (APC, Oyo), – a bill that recently passed second reading.

Going by reports, the bill, known as “Bill for an Act to Alter Section 308 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999(as amended), which provides that: “no civil or criminal proceedings shall be instituted or continued against the President, Vice President, Governors and Deputy Governors during their period of office.” And have same provision extended to accommodate/cover Presiding Officers of Legislative officers during their period of office.”

Indeed, there is no question that high-office such as the National Assembly needs no distraction when discharging their responsibilities. There is equally no gainsaying that politics is an act of promoting and protecting one’s interest and not largely a question of the masses, party or faction, after all, man is a political creature seeking to secure his/her own position.

However, why this is both scary and dangerous is that physical and economic survival has not only become paramount to the members but presently connected to a ‘conjured fear’- a state of affairs that prevents the Honorable to pay attention to what has changed, what can change, what new opportunities that are presenting them that can help the poor masses.
This tragedy is even compounded by the irony that the present 9th Assembly, going by the profile of members, is arguably filled with the best trained and most highly skilled in the history of NASS in Nigeria. But asymmetrical personal interest has not allowed them to do the job of lawmaking that will enhance the life chances of Nigerians.

Accordingly, there are many questions that I am tempted to ask the proponents of this bil; apart from the established truth that sequencing and timing are the two most important considerations when developing strategy, will the bill if passed continue to allow the lawmakers live as a people under the rule of law as embodied in our constitution? Or are we by this bill trying to fail the future generations by leaving for them a constitution far diminished from what we met?

Why is the house coming up with such a beleaguered bill at a time debilitating hands of corruption is painting the nation’s image black at the global stage? Why was it conceived at a period grinding poverty afflict Nigerians and chains them to the lowest rung of the economic ladder? Looking at the fact that this bill was first introduced before the outgone 8th Assembly but was step down due to intensified public outcry, one may again ask; if it’s re-introduction was necessitated by fear of legal consequences for corruption or reason?

Distinctively, while Nigerians awaits the Honourables to analyze each of these questions, draw a conclusion and justify their reasoning, there are accompanying explanations why this development should be characterize as a reality for all to worry about; first is that NASS, is already protected by the virtue of parliamentary immunity which among other things provides cover for all lawmakers for whatever they say at the hallowed chambers. Going extra mile to seek laws that will protect lawmakers from legal consequences for corruption, will in my views, exacerbate the impunity that prevails in Nigeria’s political circles and worsen the country’s ranking in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index.

Another concern is that the House of Representatives is becoming ‘famously’ reputed for being in the news for the wrong reason. First was Speaker Femi Gbajabamila led house decision to revisit the Non Governmental Organization’s bill presented to, and stepped down by the 8th Assembly as a result of its obnoxious provisions-which was majorly signposted in its quest for a regulatory commission established that will facilitate, coordinate and regulate the work of all national and international civil society organisations and will assist in checking any likelihood of any civil society organisation being illegally sponsored against the interest of Nigeria.That was late last year.

The above action which Nigerians with critical interest viewed as misguided was closely followed by the house member’s rejection of opportunity to promote local content. The refusal to patronize the locally assembled vehicles by Innoson Group, said to have been recommended for them.; and in its place, opt for the 2020 edition of Toyota Camry which will not only double the price of the initially recommended but, will cost a whooping N5Billion to purchase 400 of the Toyota Camry model needed by the house.

The pains of the planned immunity becomes even more severe on the consciousness of Nigerians when one remembers that the list of actions not yet taken by NASS to confront corruption which has made Nigerians face actual and potential difficulties remain lenthy and worrying. Chief among these is their failure to objectively make corruption fight a personal priority.

To take one more example, it could be recalled that in a unanimous adoption of a motion moved by Hon. Chinedu Emeka Martins titled: “Call for Abolishment of Acceptance fee into Tertiary Institutions in Nigeria” during the plenary presided over by the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, the house described acceptance fee as exploitative and called on Federal Government, to immediately abolish the payment of such fees in tertiary institutions in Nigeria.

Today, the practice still goes unabated in virtually all the public higher institution of learning in the country. And instead of the NASS ensuring that the order is complied with, they got themselves preoccupied with search for new but personal fields to increase their wealth and well being, leaving the masses (students and parents) that initially depended on them confused.

However, like an unchained torrent of water that submerges the whole countryside and devastate crops, the present happenings in the National Assembly are the predictable negative consequence of policy choices that flow directly from the people’s electoral outing in 2019.

On the positive side, the ingrain lesson(s) of NASS action (if Nigerians could learn), will definitely act as incentives reminding Nigerians that ‘a man who creates power makes an indispensible contribution to the nation’s greatness. But the man who questions power makes a contribution just as indispensable, especially when the questioning is disinterested; for it is in this that we determine whether we use power or if power is using us’.

I hold an opinion that this period is auspicious for Nigerians to ask questions-and possibly hold their lawmakers and other public office holders accountable because a government of, and for the people is supposed to be generally open to public scrutiny by the people.

Jerome-Mario Utomi, a Lagos-based media consultant, writes via; jeromeutomi@yahoo.com

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