Photograph — Naij

The federal government of Nigeria launched its anti-corruption campaign when President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office in 2015, with the aim of boosting the integrity of the nation and ensuring a smoother administration. Before long, cases of recovered loots were heard of, “ghost workers” were flushed out, cases of corruption splashed into the faces of citizens on a daily, the President even signed a deal to repatriate funds from Dubai. It seemed a bit much, but all was good.

Then came the raids, and opinions became divided on how the presidency was tackling cases of corruption and the issue of immunity has come into play, most of the time. Many people are critical of the legality of such raids, and if finally the “immunity” that exists for leaders in the country has been reviewed even without a constitutional backing.

The premise of this being the recent raid by the police on the home of the former first lady, Patience Jonathan. Though no one was at home, the security agents were said to have left with a “brown envelope.”

Now, from the legal standpoint, the issue of immunity is actually detestable to modern “legal” civilisation, as the origin of such immunity can be traced back to the era of absolute monarchs, who were believed could do no wrong – well, we all know better.

This is not to say that immunity is all bad – it (immunity) has helped to foster effective administration by shielding some members of the executive arm of government from petty civil lawsuits arising from the discharge of their public duties.

In Nigeria the entire Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution covers immunity.

  1. Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this constitution but subject to subsection (2) of this section-
  2. No civil or criminal proceedings shall be instituted or continued against a person to whom this section applies during his period of office;
  3. 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
  4. No process of any court requiring or compelling the appearance of a person to whom this section applies, shall be applied for or issued; Provided that in ascertaining whether any period of limitation has expired for the purposes of any proceedings against a person to whom this section applies, no account shall be taken of this period of office.
  5. The provisions of subsection (1) of this section shall not apply to civil proceedings against a person to whom this section applies in his official capacity or to civil or criminal proceedings in which such a person is only a nominal party.
  6. This section applies to a person holding the office of President or Vice-President, Governor or Deputy Governor; and the reference in this section to “period of office” is a reference to the period during which the person holding such office is required to perform the functions of the office.

From the language constitution, there is a clear reference to “period of office” as well as the President, Vice-President, Governor and deputy Governor (elected officials, if I may add) are immune from prosecution. It is absolute and covers all criminal and civil claims during tenure in office.

Now, there is something called judicial immunity, which is covered by section 6 of the Constitution – the judicial powers of the State are vetted in judges. The law establishing each of courts provides that judges shall not be held liable for any act done in the discharge of their duties.

It seems fantastic, being able to face work without the mental stress as a result of a litany of allegations and everyone wants to under immunity while at work in Nigeria. The legislators are clamouring for it, even though the plan to review the immunity clause by NBA was shut down.

However, the big question is after office, does anything happen to such immunity?

Apparently, not enough.

There are constant cases of corruption cases exposed for such elected leaders and no definitive action is taken, except the government is against you. Which brings us back to the issue of raids.

It is not news that can easily be forgotten that the DSS acting under the orders of the presidency raided the homes of some judges and came out bearing millions of currencies. Which if you’re looking at the story from an anti-corruption ledge seems fair and necessary, but is such necessary action, legal?

According to the Nigerian constitution, Patience Jonathan, even as the wife of a president (well, former) does not enjoy immunity from prosecution. If yes, why is nothing definitive being done or is it basically a witch-hunt or better still, a deterrent?

The law states clearly that executive members including “the president, vice-president, governor and deputy governor” enjoy “immunity from the criminal jurisdiction during their tenure period.”

Can you get away with any crime if you have immunity? Pretty much, unless your own government gives you up.

Immunity in Nigeria has been serially abused and it is symptomatic of anything of us as a people – one that is seen to be manipulated simply for simple and outlandish reasons.

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