Immunity for NASS Presiding Officers: Rowdy session ensues in House of Reps

The issue of constitutional amendment to provide immunity for Presiding Officers of the National Assembly and state legislature led to a rancorous session at the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
House Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, decided to refer the issue to the Constitution Amendment Committee for deliberation, instead of being debated on the floor of the House, and this ignited the row.
lawmakers were sharply divided on whether or not the Senate President, Deputy Senate President, House of Representatives Speaker and his deputy as well as speakers and deputy speakers of the state Houses of Assembly should enjoy immunity as the President, Vice President, Governor and Deputy Governor.
Minority Leader of the House, Leo Ogor, who represents Isoko Federal Constituency of Delta State, led the call for the ammendment.
Ogor is of the opinion that Presiding Officers should be protected from prosecution while in office, but should answer for alleged crimes when they stepped down.
According to Rep. Ogor, “the amendment is straight forward but it needs clear explanation; the amendment seeks to strengthen the National Assembly, they (leadership) should be protected in the period they are in office.”
But opposing the idea, Majority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila, said there was no  democracy in the world where heads of the legislature enjoyed immunity.
Gbajabiamila added that even if it would work, the timing was wrong; especially now that the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, was facing trials.
According to him, majority of Nigerians assumed that the lawmakers were embarking on the venture because of what was happening to Senator Saraki and his Deputy, Ike Ekweremadu.
Both men face charges of Forgery of the Senate Rules Book, and have been dragged to court by the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami.
Saraki, is also being tried at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, for alleged false declaration of assets.
Gbajabiamila said: “We must feel the pulse of the people we represent. Timing in any piece of legislation is very important. There are issues in the Senate and I pray it is resolved so that we don’t send wrong signals or message to the public.
“I don’t know any democracy in the world where the head of the legislature has immunity. I am not aware that the Chief Justice of Nigeria is under any immunity by constitutional provision.”
Supporting the bill, Ossai Nicholas Ossai, who represents Ndokwa/Ukwuani Federal Constituency of Delta State, said the constitution, as it was currently, only protected the executive.
He said: “We have to include the National Assembly. The legislators need protection to do their work. When you protect the legislature, you protect the people.”
The House went rowdy when the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, abruptly ended debate on the matter, as he referred it to the Special Ad-hoc Committee on Constitutional Amendment, headed by the Deputy Speaker, Yusuff Lasun.


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