By Idowu Abdullahi,
In a bid to join the list of public officials enjoying immunity while in office, the House of Representatives has passed a Bill for an Act to alter section 308 of the 1999 Constitution to extend immunity to its presiding officers.
The bill, which imbues immunity to National Assembly presiding officers during their tenure, was received by public outcry and several social media campaigns against its passage.
The sponsor of the bill, Olusegun Odebunmi (APC,Oyo) , while leading the debate said that the bill seeking immunity for presiding officers was to ensure Nigerian lawmakers activities are in tandem with international best practices, and also to ensure that principal officers could focus on the job of lawmaking without any distractions.
Contributing to debate on the bill which had passed second reading at plenary, on Tuesday, House Majority Leader, Ado Doguwa (APC-Kano), advised his colleagues not to shy away from discussing matters that would aid the institution’s effectiveness, and added that immunity should be conferred to presiding officers of the parliament as was being enjoyed by the executive arm of government.
Doguwa stated that if the legislature was backbone of democracy, then its presiding officers were to enjoy immunity as well, in order to protect the institution.
In response, House Minority Whip Toby Okechukwu (PDP-Enugu) recalled that the bill had been passed in 2015, though not signed, and noted that the former presiding officers of the eighth Senate had been sidelined by litigation which affected entire parliament and the country as a whole.
The bill was, however, opposed by House Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu (PDP-Delta), who advised his colleagues to focus on more important challenges facing the country rather than seeking immunity for the lawmakers, which he described as unnecessary, as long as all lawmakers obeyed the laws they were being charged to make.
Elumelu noted that Nigerians were being killed on daily basis and that the clamor, buy citizens, to hold their leaders accountable was on the increase, adding that he expected the lawmakers to think first of the electorate and not themselves.
“What is important to the Nigerian people is security of lives and property and not immunity for presiding officers. I think it is wrong and should not be allowed; I think we should jettison this bill as there is nothing presiding officers are doing that cannot be accounted for”.