Ordinarily, there is nothing wrong in confering immunity or priviledges on legislators, against civil or criminal trial, for speeches/debates made at plenary or in their committee proceedings. That, in fact, is the standard in all democracies.
But the present efforts of the National Assembly to amend the constitution and insert what they call “speech immunity” for legislators is highly suspect if not actually fraudulent. It is in fact self-seeking and Nigerians must resist what i consider a fraud and an attempt to pull a whool over our eyes. Why?
There is presently a law in Nigeria called Legislative Houses [Powers and Privileges] Act, Cap L12 LFN, Volume 8, LFN, 2004. In fact, this law has been with us since 1958 and the Nigeria legislators have always enjoyed the immunity and priviledges provided under it. The law contains several provisions for priviledges and immunity for legislators. For example, section 3 of this law provides thus:
“No civil or criminal proceedings may be instituted against any member of a Legislative House-
(a) in respect of words spoken before that House or a committee thereof; or
(b) in respect of words written in a report to that House or to any committee thereof or in any petition, bill, resolution, motion or question brought or introduced by him therein.”
The questions then include, why are the legislators proposing another “speech immunity” at this time? What are the details of their current proposals and how exactly are they different from the present law and what they have always enjoyed in immunity and priviledges before now? How many legislators have been arrested or prosecuted or sued for speeches made in the parliament since 1999 till date? None!
While the amendment proposals are generally laudable, the several self-seeking landmines planted here and there by our ordinarily redundant lawmakers must be resisted by Nigeria. It is painful already that efforts at devolution of powers to the states are not succeeding. Nigerians must resist every other self seeking, abnormal and fraudulent attempt to overload the constitution with inanities such as the proposed “speech immunity”.
Untill the NASS can tell us what is wrong with the current law on immunity and pribiledges and also reveal the details of their proposal for public scrutiny, the ongoing attempt remains a fraud in my view. We must resist all legislative impunity in the name of immunity.
By M.A LATEEF