Predictable public outrage has trailed the proposal from a section of federal lawmakers to move to change the constitution to include the Senate President and his Deputy, Speaker of the House of Representatives and his Deputy as well as the Chief Justice of the Federation in the list of public officers to enjoy the immunity clause already granted the President and Vice President as well as Governors and their Deputies in the constitution.
The Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Hon Leo Ogor, had disclosed the proposed constitution amendment, perhaps in response to the travails of the President of the Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki, who is on trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) over alleged wrongful declaration of assets when he was the Governor of Kwara State.
Indeed, federal lawmakers have tended to resort to this measure as a means of protecting the sanctity of the National Assembly from the predatory antics of the Presidency which, in the past sixteen years, had been linked with several removals or attempted removals of the heads of the two chambers of the National Assembly.
But the Seventh Senate had firmly foreclosed the change of the constitution for this purpose through its Spokesman, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe earlier this year. Abaribe described the move as unnecessary and not within contemplation. He also pointed out that legislators already enjoy immunity under the Ethics and Privileges rule, which protects them from any punitive consequence of actions and things they say while in the hallowed chambers.
We totally agree that this move is unnecessary if the protection of the leadership of the legislature from harassment is the issue. In recent years, lawmakers, especially our federal legislators, have demonstrated their ability to close ranks across party lines and protect their leadership when threatened by “external forces”. It is obvious that once the leadership continues to enjoy the support and confidence of members, the places are assured.
But if it is meant to shield them from criminal or alleged criminal misconduct, we totally oppose any such move. Public officers must answer for their misdeeds even while in office. We must strive to strengthen probity, accountability, transparency and integrity in public office, rather than introduce measures to promote impunity and corruption.
The mood of the nation is more inclined towards the removal of the immunity that the constitution currently confers on the heads of the executive branch.
Though we are certain that this proposal will be soundly defeated in a proposed constitution amendment, we insist the nation should be spared the trouble of going into it at all.
Our lawmakers should pay more attention to issues that improve the conditions of citizenry.