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National Conference: Delegates Support Removal Of Immunity Clause

Spokesperson for the Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin
Spokesperson for the Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin

Delegates at the ongoing National Conference in Abuja may vote in favour of the removal of immunity clause from the constitution, if the growing consensus of opinion on this issue among members is anything to go by.

Investigations by Saturday Punch showed that proponents of an amendment to Section 308 of the Nigerian Constitution, which deals with immunity for the President and state governors, had begun moves to ensure that the proposal sailed through.

It was  learnt that the proponents were already discussing with other delegates to ensure they got the required votes to delete the clause from the nation’s constitution.

Further checks revealed that delegates from across the country were ready to vote against the clause.

In separate interviews, delegates from different parts of the country supported the removal of immunity clause especially for criminal cases.

According to them, any president or governor that commits a criminal offence should step aside for prosecution.

The House of Representatives, in its ongoing constitutional amendment debate, had voted in favour of the amendment of Section 308 of the constitution which stipulates immunity for selected elected government functionaries.

The amendment seeks to remove immunity from a President or governor facing criminal prosecution.

But the Senate retained the immunity clause for both civil and criminal suits. Both chambers will meet later to reconcile their positions.

Specifically, Section 308 of the constitution states, “Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this constitution, but subject to subsection (2) of this section.

“(A) no civil or criminal proceedings shall be instituted or continued against a person to whom this section applies during his period of office;

“(B) 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

“(C) 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 his period of office.”

The section applies to the President, the vice-president, state governors and their deputies.

But opposing this section of the constitution, delegates at the National Conference from the north, in separate interviews, argued that the immunity clause was being used as a cover-up by corrupt public office holders to loot the nation’s treasury.

A conference delegate of the civil society groups, Auwal Rafsanjani, said the clause had outlived its usefulness and should be removed.

According to him, the immunity clause, has over the years, been used as a cover-up for the looting and outright stealing of Nigerians’ common patrimony.

He said, “It is so bad that the people who enjoy this immunity evade justice even after their tenure because of our weak and corrupt institutions.

“You can get away with acts of corruption especially if you are a member of the ruling party. In other words, immunity has served as an incentive for those who want to loot.

“The only reason some people are requesting that immunity be retained is to protect public office holders from being distracted. But anybody taking up public office must realise that if they do anything wrong, they must face the music.”

Rafsanjani explained that in other climes, when a public office holder commits a crime, he either resigns, or is asked to go and face prosecution.

This, he said, makes public office holders to be careful and desist from doing things that could portray them and their offices in bad light. He explained that the reverse was the case in Nigeria because people commit these crimes with impunity.

He reiterated that these crimes were not restricted to financial crimes, adding that they included human rights violations and other infractions.

Another delegate from Kano State, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, said he would support the retention of the immunity clause only for the president and the vice-president.

He said, “I expressed the position of Kano State on the issue in the last exercise which is that immunity should be confined to the sovereign who should be the President and the Vice- President.”

Mohammed said the position was accepted unanimously but later dropped following arguments put forward by a retired court judge who joined the discussions later.

He, however said, “Now the issue is coming back and I have no doubt in my mind that this conference as I see it, given the opportunity, will vote the immunity clause out and retain only that of the sovereign.”

Another delegate from Borno State, Mohammed Kumaila, said, “I believe it should be removed as it would enhance good governance, reduce impunity and corruption.”

However, the Secretary General of the Middle Belt Forum, Mr. John Dara, has a slightly different opinion.

He said, “The President should still enjoy full immunity, while governors should be given partial immunity.

“An American governor was caught saying on telephone that he would sell a vacant senatorial seat.

“He was indicted and impeached. Governors should be protected from civil litigations (and) not from criminal offences which include corruption offences.”

Also, the spokesperson for the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said that the clause must be expunged from the constitution to tackle corruption in the country.

He said, “I back the removal of immunity clause because when you have a presidential system of government and you have immunity clause, you are building a monarchy.

“To that extent, immunity mandates corruption. For civil offences, immunity can stay; but for criminal offences, immunity must go.

“To tackle corruption in this country, you have to change the constitution. When you concentrate power in the centre, it brings two things–corruption and inefficiency. The structure we run presently encourages and mandates corruption. Until we change that, we cannot move forward.’’

In the South-South, a former Minister of Housing, Chief Ndueso Essien, said many Nigerians would support the removal of immunity clause because governors had been enjoying so much power while some of them had been operating recklessly.

Essien expressed the need for the President and governors to be protected from civil litigations.

According to him, such litigations could distract the Executive from achieving its developmental goals.

He stated, “Definitely, many of us support the removal of the immunity clause in the Nigerian Constitution because it (immunity clause) has given the governors too much power. Some of them operate recklessly. That is why some of them are desperate to be in the Senate.

“However, they (President and governors) should be protected from civil litigations in order to avoid anything that will prevent them from achieving their developmental goals for the state and the country,” Essien said.

On how to solve the problem of corruption, he said, “The concentration of so much power at the centre is not good for the country. When the military took over in 1966, they adjusted the constitution to suit the military government.

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