Let it be

Editorial

Moves by the federal legislators to amend Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution has continued to attract the attention of scholars, lawyers, activists and politicians. In recent times, the proposed amendment has taken various forms.

At some point, the clamour was for the net to be extended to all federal lawmakers; a selfish proposal indeed. At another, realising that Nigerians did not buy the arguments in support of the bid, another seeking to limit the extension to only presiding officers of the two Houses of the National Assembly was presented at the House of Representatives.

The Bill scaled the first two readings. It was at the public hearing that Nigerians unanimously shot it down.

Last week, the Senate came up with another variant of the immunity clause in the Constitution. The senior lawmakers, many of them former governors and deputy Governors, sought to limit the provision to the President.

This suggests that lawmakers think, being presumably “senior politicians, if their presiding officers would not be covered by the privilege, neither should governors and their deputies. It would appear that politicians are oblivious of the functionality of such provisions.

Framers of the said section were motivated by the need to shield chief executives at the federal and state levels from undue distraction from discharging their duties. The decision must have been informed by the high litigious nature of our politicians who rush to court for flimsy reasons.

It would appear that without such cloak, most governors and the President would be more in court, appearing over one matter or the other, than in the office serving the public.

We do not support withdrawing this protection from the four offices spelt out in the section.

It would be illogical to limit the full immunity from civil and criminal arrest, detention, arraignment, prosecution and sentence to the President of the Republic. The Vice President came into office on a joint ticket and could have to act for the President at any point.

Besides, he automatically replaces the President if incapacitated, removed or he resigns. It’s therefore logical that they be shielded from needless distractions, too.

Governors and their deputies are to the state what the President and his deputy are to a federation. Any charges against them while in office, therefore, should wait until they are out.

While we share the view that no one should be allowed to be shielded from Justice by the office, the examples of the former governors indicate that no one could evade Justice forever. So far, three former governors, Jolly Name of Taraba, Joshua Dariye of Plateau and Orji Kalu of Abia have been made to render account of their stewardships.

They fell short of expectation, and were jailed. Many others are still answering to crimes allegedly committed while in office.

The law should be left as it is now. With time, elected officials will realise that the arm of the law is so long that it would catch up with offenders sooner or later.

What we expect of the lawmakers is to strengthen the law enforcement agencies, use their power of appropriation to adequately fund them and ensure, through proper use of their oversight power, that strict professionalism is observed in performing their duties. Seeking to amend the immunity clause now will amount to chasing shadows.

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