House of Representatives speaker Hon Femi Gbajabiamila has threatened to resign if members end up passing a resolution granting principal officers of the National Assembly immunity from prosecution during his tenure.
Earlier this week, members of the House approved a bill seeking to give leaders of federal and state legislatures immunity from prosecution. Sponsored by Hon Olusegun Odebunmi, the member representing Ogo-Oluwa/Surulere Federal Constituency in Lagos State, the highly controversial and divisive bill has already passed its second reading and will now go to committee stage.
Tagged the Bill for an Act to Alter Section 308 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to Extend Immunity to Cover Presiding Officers of Legislative Institutions, it will offer immunity to the four presiding officers of the National Assembly and two from each of the state houses of assemblies in the 36 states. Before the bill was debated, however, Hon Gbajabiamila said he was against it and was not willing to benefit from the privilege should it be eventually passed and assented to.
He stated that he would only support the proposal if it would take effect from 2023 after the end of the tenure of the current leadership. Making his objections clear, Hon Gbajabiamila said that if the bill took effect immediately, he would stand down as speaker of the House.
Hon Gbajabiamila added: “Honourable Odebunmi, before you lead the debate, this bill seeks to confer immunity on presiding officers, correct? I am going to need clarifications on some things here because if this bill is for presiding officers, then, I cannot preside on this bill because there is an inherent conflict of interest.
“But if the bill seeks to confer immunity on subsequent presiding officers, after this assembly, then, perhaps, I may preside. I will suggest that if the bill does not have a futuristic commencement date, we should put a commencement date from 2023, so that I’m not conferred with any kind of immunity.
“That is my suggestion but if you insist that it is supposed to be from this point, moving forward, as soon as the bill is signed, then I will need to step down.”
Hon Odebunmi said: “Extending immunity to the presiding officers of the national and state assemblies is not a means of shielding them from answering any question generated by their actions, or preventing members of the House from exercising their powers of choosing or changing their leaders when required as provided for by the laws but a genuine way of protecting the most sacred institution in a democracy.”
Opposing the bill, Hon Sergius Ogun, said the proposal came at a time when many Nigerians were asking for the immunity being currently enjoyed by leaders of the executive arm of government like the president and governors be removed. Another member, Hon Solomon Bob, said the bill, if passed, would show that the lawmakers were further indifferent to the security challenges facing the country.
Also opposing the bill, minority leader, Hon Ndudi Elumelu, said: “At this time in our nation, what is important is the provision of security and dividends of democracy for our people. Our people are desirous of being well taken care of but outside here, Nigerians are being butchered, they are being killed.
“People can’t even feed themselves and things are very difficult. Just yesterday, in one of the communities that make up my constituency, people were slaughtered.”
Majority Leader, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa, who was visibly angered by the rising opposition to the bill, argued that the lawmakers should not be jittery when legislating on issues affecting them. He said he agreed with some of the issues raised on the controversial bill but warned the lawmakers against being apprehensive when dealing with matters affecting them.