The fight against corruption in high places suffered another blow at the hands of the Nigerian senate as a bill for the removal of the immunity from prosecution currently being enjoyed by a number of Nigerian public officials has been suspended.
The bill, sponsored by Senator Ovie Omo-Agege from Delta state, which was referred to a standing committee in December has now failed to be included in the constitution amendment bills for 2017. The bill seeks to amend Section 308 of the Nigerian constitution, which grants immunity to the president, the vice president, state governors and their deputies from criminal proceedings while in office. This immunity clause has proven to be a major block to the fight against corruption in Nigeria.
An unnamed senator who was a member of the committee handling the bill blamed the timing of the bill for its failure to make the constitution amendment bills. One wonders why such an important bill to the life of the nation was late to the party. It should be recalled the house in 2016 passed a bill transferring powers of the Code of Conduct Bureau from the presidency to the senate in the space of two months. It is the same house that has dealt another major blow to the fight against corruption, proving to be a major obstacle in the fight against corruption.
This suspension of a bill that could mark a milestone in the fight against corruption will not be the first time the senate will be standing in the way of an anticorruption drive in the country. In a move to protect corrupt senators, by extension, public officials, from prosecution, the Senate, in October 2016, amended the Code of Conduct Bureau Act while its President was still standing trial at the CCB for alleged corrupt practices. The Senate amended Section 18(1) & (2) of the CCB/CCT Act, and such powers were simultaneously transferred to the National Assembly. It also deled section 18 (3e), a clause central to the trial of Dr Bukola Saraki. The assembly introduced a provision which only allows the Bureau to invite public servants in cases of concealment in asset declaration, and ask that the documents be corrected. It was upon such premise that the charge against the Senate president for asset concealment was dismissed by a court in Abuja.
The motive behind the amendment of the CCB Act was obviously to protect House members from trials. It has also been alleged in recent time that a bill for immunity for the senate president, speaker of the house and some house leaders was before the house. The bill, which also proposes life pensions for senate leaders, was met by angry reactions from Nigerians.
To set matters straight, the senate cannot continue to stand in the way of the fight against corruption. Their blockade of the fight makes more sense with the knowledge of a number of ex-governors who were alleged of corrupt practices now occupy the seats of the allowed chambers. Removal of the immunity bill opens the door to justice.
“Experience has shown that the immunity clause in the Constitution has been abused by many Governors and Deputy Governors and Nigerians have been clamouring for its removal from the Constitution. That has been the yearnings of those who want to rid the country of corruption by persons thrust with the responsibility of executing governmental
affairs of the Federation or the States.” – (Tur JCA in FRN v Dariye (supra))
In contrast, it might be argued that the reason for the provision of the immunity, to ensure the president is given all room to fulfil his mandate without any distraction, is still valid. With such immunity, the government officials are protected from distraction (a term which remains improperly defined). However, in recent times, we have come to see that a number of public officials are only focused on fulfilling corrupt mandates. By the time they are out of office, of which a number of them plant successors, the trail would have gone cold. In a country where the masses, largely hungry, are sadly forgetful, no one would hold corrupt officials to record after four or eight years of governorship. Thus, the removal of the provision for immunity is the only way to ensure justice is served, the sanity and sanctity of the country are preserved, and the existence of the country is protected in the face of pillage of the common wealth of the people. There should not be a thing stopping the removal of a president once a strong case of corruption is established. Brazil and South Korea have set us an example of how and the ultimate need for such.
As the bill has now been defeated by the senate, we might have to wait another year until another individual takes it upon himself to champion the cause of anticorruption on the floor of the House. However, while we wait, it must be noted that we might never succeed in our fight against corruption in high places until the immunity clause is removed. Justice must start from the pinnacle.