The Nigerian blogosphere and cyberspace in general has been recently in a state of confusion over a report that the National Assembly was in the process of passing a bill to grant her members immunity from criminal prosecution, etc. This was more than a little worrisome to some of us. It seemed that the house members were beyond redemption with this latest move. Conspiracy theorists had gone to town on how the immediate target of this bill would be serial bribe takers and cap bankers like Farouk and Hembe.
What to do? Petition this move publicly and on the floor of the house? So, some folks were put to the task of verifying the details of this “obnoxious bill”.
Luckily Hon. Femi Gbaja, the house minority leader was on hand through our Gen-X Facebook page to give the following response.
Gentlemen, I appreciate your concerns about the immunity Bill. I would be too if I thought it was to confer criminal immunity on legislators. However it does not. What the Bill does is to confer immunity to legislators over anything said during a debate on the floor of the House. As you know it will be difficult for a legislator to fearlessly articulate and debate issues on the floor if he has to be worried that he would be dragged to court for slander etc. it has nothing to do with immunity from anything else. It’s is more or less civil immunity and restricted to speeches made during debates. It is important that practically all democracies world over have this immunity for their legislators. In fact it was already a provision under our laws, the Legislative Houses and Privileges Act but the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional and could not stand unless the constitution was amended. This is what the House has done in conformity with international best practices and in line with other democracies. It is important to reiterate that any member can still be sued for any other offense whether fraud, violence, reckless driving etc. I hope this explains the Bill and clarifies issues. God bless you all.
Apparently there is also a link on the NASS website that shows all the current bills for consideration, etc.
The bill in contention is number 10 from the top in downloadable pdf. The highlights are the following:
A BILL FOR AN ACT TO ALTER THE CONSTITUTION OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA 1999 (AS AMENDED) BY PROVIDING IMMUNITY FOR THE MEMBERS OF THE LEGISLATURE IN RESPECT OF THE WORDS SPOKEN OR WRITTEN AT THE PLENARY SESSION OR AT COMMITTEE PROCEEDINGS, TO GUARANTEE THAT FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND DEBATES AND PROCEEDINGS IN LEGISLATIVE HOUSES ARE NOT IMPEACHED OR QUESTIONED IN ANY COURT OR PLACE OUT OF PARLIAMENT AND FOR RELATED MATTERS.
So I resolved to like honourable Gbaja’s Facebook page and also to friend him. He has shown himself to be an asset with this response. I am also happy that the news was not as bad as we had previously thought. The NASS members have not gone totally rogue on us…thankfully.
In using “some folks”, “we”, “us”, etc., from the first paragraph, I was referring to Gen-X Nigerian Citizens Forum.