An attempt to lift the immunity against prosecution being enjoyed by the president, vice president, state governors and their deputies has suffered a setback in the Senate and left the beneficiaries very happy.
The Guardian learnt that the Senate has suspended the consideration of the bill which sought to amend Section 308 (2) of the 1999 Constitution to allow for the prosecution of the affected leaders on matters relating to economic and financial crimes even when in office.
Sponsored by Ovie Omo-Agege (Labour Party, Delta State), the Senate Bill 329 which has already been gazetted and introduced to the lawmakers was referred to the committee on constitution review chaired by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu last December.
The Guardian learnt that the bill suffered the setback because it was introduced to the Senate after the constitution review committee had submitted a report on the key amendments to be effected in the life of the Eighth National Assembly. The speculation that the bill was frustrated by state governors could not be confirmed. Sources close to the committee dismissed it as a ‘baseless rumour.”
A senator said: “What I know is that the National Assembly leadership is very interested in having all issues relating to constitutional amendments sorted out and concluded very early in 2017. So, I think the timing of the bill is somehow a problem because even the committee on constitution review had brought serious update on the work it is doing to the Senate before this bill was introduced by Omo-Agege.
“That is why I cannot agree with the rumour that governors are lobbying against it even though lobbying is democratic and normal. Don’t forget that even if the two chambers of the National Assembly effect such amendment, it will still have to be approved by at least 24 of the 36 state houses of assembly before it becomes valid.”
Senate President Bukola Saraki had before the commencement of Christmas/New Year holidays said the constitution amendment would be passed early in 2017.
Specifically, Omo-Agege’s bill had stated that the immunity granted to the president, governors and their deputies in section 308 (1) of the constitution would no longer apply to criminal proceedings arising from allegations of financial crimes against them.
Section 308 (1) of the current constitution which gave immunity to the affected leaders reads:
“No civil or criminal proceedings shall be instituted or continued against a person to whom this section applies during his period of office;
. “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
. “no process of any court requiring or compelling the appearance of a person to whom this section applies, shall be applied for or issued.”
The standing rule of the Senate stipulates that any bill that could not be passed within the tenure of a particular Senate automatically dies and cannot be continued in the tenure of the next Senate except it is sponsored afresh.
The bill had attempted to replicate the experience in the United States where the president and vice president, governors and their deputies are only immune from civil proceedings arising from their official actions while in office.
The passage of the bill into law was expected to ensure accountability in public office, especially as regards the president, his deputy and governors and their deputies. But with the immunity clause still in place, the excesses of these officials cannot be checked as long as they are in office, thereby making the anticorruption campaign even more difficult to prosecute.
Meanwhile, it was also learnt that the ongoing amendment may deliver true federalism as the Senate Constitution Review Committee said it had got positive responses from key stakeholders in that regard.
Sources close to the Ekweremadu-led constitution review committee hinted that many prominent Nigerians across the country had sent words to encourage the National Assembly to ensure that the present constitution amendment efforts seriously address the nagging question of true federalism.