Opinion- Immunity Upon Impunity By Lateef Adewole

Opinion- Immunity Upon Impunity By Lateef Adewole


*The Insight

“A clear conscience fears no accusation”.

It was interesting watching the vigour with which our honourable members of the house of representatives debated the issue of immunity for the presiding officers of the national assembly (NASS) on Tuesday. The bill was sponsored by Hon. Odebunmi Olusegun (APC-Oyo). It proposed an amendment to Section 308 of the 1999 constitution (as amended), which provides immunity for the president, vice president, governor and deputy governor, from being arrested and prosecuted for criminal and civil offences while in office.

We know that the bill’s presentation was like the biblical “hands of Esau, but voice of Jacob”. Everyone knows that the sponsor only did that on behalf of the current beneficiaries, given that he is not one of them. The body language of the leadership also betrayed such notion. I listened to the comment from the Speaker Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila. Likewise, the House leader, Hon. Ado Doguwa (the man who boasted about his four wives and twenty seven children the other day), he was very vocal in the support of the bill, just like many other members. The bill got accelerated first and second readings in one day! How efficient our lawmakers have suddenly become.

There were motley opposition to the bill mainly from some members of the PDP. Many others who may not be in support did not voice out their dissension for fear of falling out of favour with the leadership of the house.

Those who supported the bill cited the harassment of the NASS leaderships of the past, especially the 8th assembly, led by Senator Bukola Saraki and Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara. The case of Senator Bukola Saraki was a poster example of executive meddlesomeness, harassment and intimidation of the legislative arm. Unfortunately for the executive, Saraki was a no pushover.

However, the incessant court cases instituted against him, led to his regular absence, and consequently shutting down of the red chambers on many occasions while he attended court proceedings, accompanied by many of his supporters among the lawmakers. This hampered the legislative businesses throughout his tenure. Many of those cases ended up being a hoax. A mere waste of tax payers’ money to pursue personal vendetta by the executive arm of government against him.

Ironically, most of the promoters and supporters of this bill now were the chief antagonists of similar bill when it was raised in the 8th assembly, despite that there were justifications for it then. They opposed it vehemently as a way of fighting the then presiding officers, given that they were not the “anointed” candidates of APC and President Buhari, unlike what we have now.

Then, the shenanigans that heralded the elections of the presiding officers which saw the anointed candidates of APC lost out. Senators Bukola Saraki and Ekweremadu took over the senate while Honorables Dogara and Lasun were elected at the house, against APC leaders’ expectations and interests. Saraki was never forgiven for that.

Coincidentally, the current presiding officers were the “chosen” ones by the party then but they lost out. So, many of them constituted themselves as opposition to the NASS leadership at the time despite belonging to the same party APC, which informed their lack of support for immunity bill for the presiding officers. But now, they want the same thing they opposed previously.

Similarly, many members who voiced against the immunity bill now were also in support of same in the 8th assembly because, now, they or their preferred candidates are no longer in position to benefit from it. What does this imply? It only shows that our politicians often pursue their selfish interests most times than public interests. Once something is in their favour they support it but oppose same if it does not favour them. What hypocrisy!

The main question that agitate the minds of many citizens when we heard of this latest immunity bill was: why now? The 8th assembly was at loggerhead with the president and executive arm throughout their tenure, which saw all agencies of government go after the then NASS leadership. Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), EFCC, DSS, Police and so on, were unleashed on Saraki and some others. He went from one court to another. All that because he refused to surrender or subjugate the autonomy and authority of the legislative arm to the president and the executive arm. So, the case at the time was understandable.

What about now? Many nigerians believe that the current leadership are “favourites” of President Buhari and his party APC. Why would he wants to hound them like the case of Saraki? We were all witnesses to how they were “elected” to the NASS leadership positions, with massive influence from the president and executive arm. Is it not so bad that people even see the 9th assembly as an “extension” of the executive arm? The current NASS leadership has often been referred to as rubber stamps, an appellation they have also failed to renounce, if many of their utterances and actions were to go by. I do not want to delve into that again. They are in public domain already.

So, it is believed that as long as the presiding officers “behave” themselves and remain the “good boys” that they have been, they are safe. Except ofcourse, only if they are planning to “man-up”, fight for their true independence and become their own men! Otherwise, they need no immunity. They are covered! (And I do not mean “with the blood of Jesus”, as Christians will say). Immunity should not be their priorities right now.

As I write this, the biggest challenge facing Nigeria and Nigerians is the insecurity across the country. It is threatening to tear up the country. To be fair to the NASS members, they have raised the issue on some occasions. They even pass a no confidence vote on the service chiefs, called for their resignation or be sacked. But what happened afterwards? Nothing! Why? Because the president thinks otherwise.

And what can they do? Nothing. Why? Because, they, particularly the presiding officers do not want to confront President Buhari. They feel that any action taken to tackle such incompetence will be an indictment of the president regarding his own competence and capacity as well, given that he is the Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C). So, what the national assembly has been doing is what the Yorubas call; “e fi epa sile, maa pa lapalapa” (to leave the substance and be chasing shadows).

I watched as the house of representatives passed these resolutions calling on the service chiefs to resign or be sacked. Later, the Senate President Ahmed Lawan and House Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila went to the villa to meet President Buhari. On coming out to address the press, I watched how our very vocal and articulate Femi began to speak in an incoherent manner from both sides of his mouth. He even queried the essence of changing the service chiefs, contrary to the resolution of the house he presided over. That is what we are saying. So, how can these lawmakers demand for what the people they represent want?

But what do Nigerians expect? “Bi enu ba je dodo, enu ko ni s’ododo mo”. President Buhari has been “generous” to them both in “cash and kind” since they were elected to preside over NASS. Rarely do we see the president criticised them as he usually did of the 8th assembly led by Senator Bukola Saraki. In fact, he did sing their praises publicly some times.

In 2015, the president criticised the pays for the lawmakers and suggested that Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMFAC) needed to look into that for a possible downward review. The same President Buhari, just last week, defended and justified the pays of the same national assembly members, urging them to work harder. What changed? Bukola Saraki. These are the president’s “boys”. So, they deserved to be well-fed (I mean well-paid”).

When the last senate proposed to spend 4.5 billion naira to buy cars, hell was let loose! They were condemned by the supporters of the present administration because Bukola was the senate president. Last year, this 9th sanate proposed to buy cars worth 5.5 billion naira (higher than the amount during Saraki), we did not hear “pim”. Just few days ago, the house of representatives also proposed to buy cars for their members valued at over 5 billion naira. APC, presidency and their supporters kept mute. That is the double standards that I often condemned.

Worse still, the lawmakers have rejected spending same money to procure indigenously manufactured cars, opting for imported foreign cars. What a time to be alive. These people are part of a government that “pretends” to promote local content, local industrialisation, local manufacturing, and the likes but use foreign goods. But should we blame the lawmakers? I think that will be unfair to them.

Considering that all the vehicles being used by the other arms of government, from the presidency down to the officers in the various MDAs are top-notch, ultramodern, “machines”. Many are like “homes on wheels”. Even at state levels, governors cruise in an entourage of very expensive luxurious cars. Their commissioners and other appointees enjoy the same. So, why should the national assembly members be different?

In 2020 budget, the lawmakers took care of themselves by including 37 billion naira to renovate their complex. There was not as much as a whimp from the president as he signed the budget expeditiously. He did not complain of wastefulness and paucity of funds to finance such criminally outrageous expenditure in the midst of poverty. Such are the massive goodwills the current NASS leadership enjoy from the executive arm. So, why will they raise their voices against him even if things are going wrong?

What is now the importance of immunity for the presiding officers of the national assembly given the background highlighted above? Anyone who followed the elections of principal officers of the NASS will know where we are likely to head once immunity is added to their perks. Currently, there is a general immunity for all members with regards to whatever they say or do on the floor of the hallowed chambers. They are insured under the legislative powers and priviledges in the acts of parliament.

Adding immunity will raise the bars of desperation to grab these positions. What we witnessed in 2015 was a child’s play compared to 2019. It was as if we were going into another general elections. Candidates deployed every resources at their disposal just to win, with allegations of massive bribery of members to buy their votes. We also saw how some lawmakers were shamelessly displaying their thumb-printed ballot papers to their pay masters to confirm that they fulfilled their end of the “vote selling” bargains. It was a big shame.

Already, there should have been advocacy for the removal of those presently enjoying immunity now seeing how seriously they have abused such privilege, especially the governors. Many of them become “terrorists” in the their states once they are sworn-in. Knowing that they could no longer be arrested and prosecuted while in office, they misbehave. We do not want to extend such rougue-ness beyond the present proportion by having lawmakers immuned too.

In all of these, most Nigerians believe that the challenges facing the country now like the insecurities, poor economy, hunger, joblessness, poor education, poor healthcare, dilapidated infrastructures, darkness called power, and many others, should be the concerns and priorities of those they elected to represent them at the national assembly, and not immunity for their presiding officers. Coronavirus was just added to our woes with the first confirmed case in Lagos on Thursday.

May God continue to guide us aright.

God Bless Nigeria.

You can follow me on:
Twitter: @lateef_adewole
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