A bill seeking to amend section 308 of the 1999 Constitution to provide immunity for presiding officers of the National Assembly including the Senate president, speaker, deputy Senate president and deputy speaker yesterday scaled through second reading at the House of Representatives. Section 308 of the country’s constitution provides immunity to the president, vice president, governors and their deputies.
The proposal is to amend the section to accommodate the presiding officers of both national and state assemblies. Daily Trust reports that thunderous rejection is trailing the proposal. This is the second time that the proposal would be made during President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
At the eighth assembly, a similar bill sponsored by the then House Minority Leader, Leo Ogor did not see the light of the day. The proposal, Daily Trust reports was against item five on the 2014 manifesto of the All Progressives Congress (APC) that reads, “Amend the constitution to remove immunity from prosecution for elected officers in criminal cases.”
The parliament is populated by the APC members. Section 308 of the constitution reads: (1) (a) “no civil or criminal proceedings shall be instituted or continued against a person whom this section applies during his period of office,” while (b) provides that, “a person to whom this section applies shall not be arrested or imprisoned during that period either in pursuance of the process of any court or otherwise,” and (c) says “no process of any court requiring or compelling the appearance of a person to whom this section applies shall be applied for or issued.”
Consequently, subsection (3) provides that “This section applies to a person holding the office of President, or Vice-President, Governor or Deputy Governor; 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 functions of the office.”
At plenary yesterday, the bill, sponsored by Rep Olusegun Odebunmi (APC, Oyo) tagged, “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,’ scaled second reading. Odebunmi, argued that the immunity bill was to protect the presiding officers from distraction and to make them to fully concentrate on their legislative duty without compromise. The Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila urged the sponsor to make the implementation of the bill “futuristic’’.
He said being one of the presiding officers, he will not be the judge in his own case, and he was not willing to benefit from the privilege of the bill when passed into law.