Human rights lawyer, Mike Ozekhome
The Senate Leader, Sen. Ahmad Lawan and Mr Mike Ozekhome said on Thursday that to reflect true separation of powers in Nigeria, the immunity clause should apply to all arms of government.
They made the disclosure in Lagos at a retreat for members of the National Assembly Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, organised by the National Institute for Legislative Studies in Lagos.
The issue of immunity for lawmakers has continued to generate controversy among Nigerians.
In a keynote address read on his behalf by Sen. Samuel Anyanwu, Chairman, Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Relations, Lawan argued that immunity for legislators would safeguard separation of powers.
“In a fragile democracy where the rule of law is weak and the judiciary is often corrupt, lawmakers risk prosecution on politically motivated charges.
“If left unchecked, the executive would cow or arrest opposition MPs in order to boost its powers and reduce its accountability.
“This also feeds corruption and damages democracy. The 1988 Brazilian Constitution grants parliamentary immunity to members of both the chamber of deputies and the senate.
“Article 3 of the Turkish Constitution stipulates that the parliament has the full right to lift legislators’ immunity, based on its own discretion and under any perceived distinct condition.
“In Canada, immunity is limited to the exemption from the obligation to appear before a court as a witness during the session (even in civil cases).
“A similar scenario exists in South Africa, where a member of parliament cannot be constrained to appear to give evidence or as a defendant in civil cases in any other place than where the parliament is sitting,’’ the senate leader said.
On the retreat for the lawmakers, he said that it had become vital because linkages between citizens and elected representatives had remained one of the important features of democracy via public petitions.
He stressed the need for lawmakers to continue to work hard to earn the trust of the people by promoting greater citizen engagement in the legislative processes.
“I hope that the knowledge you gain in this retreat will improve the work you do in your respective committees, promote citizen engagement and improve public trust in the legislature.
Ozekhome, a human rights activist and one of the resource persons for the retreat said he “can only agree with the immunity extension on the grounds of equity and fairness.
“The lawmakers already have immunity which is limited to their utterances at the assembly during legislation. Section 123 up to 28 and 32 of the law, gives immunity to all legislators for anything they say within the assembly.
“However, am even getting to think that we should remove the immunity clause totally because of the recklessness of our presidents and governors.
“But in the spirit of fairness, if the executive arm of the government can have it, then the leaders of the National Assembly (senate president and speaker) and the chief justice of the federation, representing the judiciary should also have it,’’
According to him, extending it to other arms of the government will reflect true separation of powers in Nigeria.
Speaking on the retreat, Anyanwu said that the Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions Committee had received 525 petitions from individuals and corporate bodies since the inception of the 8th assembly.
“We received 152 petitions in the first session and when Nigerians noticed that one can access justice through the committee, the number of petitions multiplied such that we received 284 in the second session.
“In this fresh 3rd session, we have received about 88 petitions. Not less than 92 individuals and corporate bodies have had justice procured for them without spending their personal earnings.
“This is in comparison to only six petitions laid in the 7th assembly out of 77 petitions it received,’’ Anyanwu said.
In her welcome address, Prof. Ladi Hamalai, the Director- General of NILS, said that the capacity building programme would be integral to ensuring the success of the role of the committee.