Senate seeks to amend the Constitution to protect federal, state lawmakers from all criminal, civil cases

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Owing to the corruption charges faced by some of the sitting lawmakers and the fact that the president and governors have an immunity clause enshrined in the constitution which protects them from prosecution while in office, the lawmakers have taken steps to fend for their own interest by embarking on amending the 1999 Constitution to protect lawmakers from all criminal and civil cases.

This Immunity plan for Nigeria’s more than 1200 lawmakers at federal and state levels of government means they will escape criminal and civil prosecution for at least four years if the Senate succeeds in altering any part of the constitution for this purpose.

The Guardian obtained the Senate Bill number 342 yesterday and found that it has already been gazetted and being given accelerated legislative processing.

The main objective of the amendment is to ensure that leaders and members of the legislature — particularly National and State Assemblies — are not subjected to any form of prosecution or legal persecution on account of their actions or statements in the course of carrying out their legislative functions.

Those opposed to the amendment, however, expressed the fear that it could be misconstrued to mean, “The Bill is simply seeking to give the presiding officers of the Senate protection against being prosecuted for their alleged involvement in the Senate rules forgery case.”

It was learnt that the body of Principal Officers of the National Assembly was able to clear the way for the amendment following the withdrawal of the Senate forgery suit by the office of the Attorney General of the Federation last October.

In withdrawing the suit against Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu last October, the Ministry of Justice filed an application to amend the charges and attached the amended charges. In the new charges, only the former Clerk of the National Assembly, Mr. Salisu Maikasuwa, and a former deputy clerk, Mr. Ben Efeturi, were listed as accused persons.

Sponsored by Senator Solomon Olamilekan, a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC) representing Lagos East Senatorial District in the Senate, the constitution amendment bill is aimed at strengthening “our democratic institutions (The Legislature) by guaranteeing the freedom of speech and protection of members of Parliament over words spoken and actions taken in the normal course of legislative business.”

Specifically, the bill seeks to amend Section 56 of the Constitution by adding new Sub-Sections which read: “No civil or criminal proceedings may be instituted against any member of the Senate or the House of Representatives in respect or words spoken before that House or a Committee thereof or in respect of words written in a report to that House or to any Committee thereof or in any petition, bill, resolution, motion or question brought or introduced by him therein.”

According to Olamilekan’s Bill, the Constitution will be further amended by adding new Subsections (4) and (5) in Section 98 to read:

“No civil or criminal proceedings may be instituted against any member of a State House of Assembly in respect of words spoken before that House or a committee thereof; or in respect of words written in a report to that House or to any committee thereof or in any petition bill, resolution, motion or question brought or introduced by him therein.”

It was learnt that the earlier disagreement generated within the National Assembly on the matter has been resolved at regular meetings of the body of National Assembly principal officers where it was stated that the amendment was not just to benefit presiding officers but to protect all lawmakers from frivolous political machinations that could manifest through litigations.

The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) described the proposed amendment as self-serving and an attempt to frustrate democracy in the Nigeria.

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