Posted by Emmanuel Onwubiko | 1 November 2014 | 3,500 times
At the risk of sounding immodest, I must say that I am disappointed that a group of persons in the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria appear set to continuously drag Nigeria back by 500 years, with their retrogressive tendencies and ultra-conservative approaches to the serious business of lawmaking. This is not to say that I consider the members of the upper legislative chamber as buffoons, no. But what we are analysing here is the quality of their current legislative inputs into the on-going constitution amendment which, in some instances, could be considered as misguided. I will call a spade by its name but, of course, in doing this I will still recognise the senators as lawmakers, and nothing less.
After clearing the fogs surrounding the propriety or otherwise of the title of this piece, let me immediately state without equivocation that the height of these shenanigans got to a shocking crescendo when the story hit the newsstands that, indeed, there is a contemplation in the Senate to amend the Nigerian Constitution and insert a most bizarre provision shielding members of that legislative chamber from criminal and civil proceedings in the competent courts of law, meaning that they will henceforth have the immunity to even slaughter their wives, should they be provoked, for running sinister rings of multiple mistresses.
This is shocking and indeed a primitive slap on the face of democracy and decency, because it has come about the same time that the popular clamour is for the removal of some obnoxious provisions in the Nigerian Constitution, which were cleverly inserted by the then military dictators with little or no democratic credentials, including but not limited to the obscene Immunity Clause. Such provisions like section 308 (1), which is popularly branded the Immunity Clause in the extant constitution, has abysmally graded the federal and state executive political office holders – president, vice-president, governors and deputy governors - to be above the law so long as they remain in political offices for eight years of four-year term each. And true to the fears of most Nigerians the governors and in some cases the Presidency, that have consistently been shielded by these obnoxious and anti-democratic provisions in the constitution now being amended, have used it to maximise the criminal tendencies of stealing and looting federal and state treasuries, even at the risk of subjecting a majority of Nigerians to become slaves in their own country because, clearly, a majority of Nigerians who work genuinely for a livelihood are going through crushing and extremely excruciating poverty stricken conditions. Transparency International has just rated Nigeria as the 30th most corrupt nation globally, even as the World Bank has expressed fear that the grinding poverty rate in Nigeria may make Nigeria one of the greatest contributors to crushing global poverty. Such primitive laws as these immunity protections are clear invitation to impunity and financial recklessness on the part of the elected political office holders so categorised as being above the law.
So, why is this Senate bent on not only refusing to remove these criminal provisions that guarantee open-ended licence to elected executive politicians to steal as much as they want, but have proceeded to commit the anathema of introducing immunity for members of that overfed elitist class of politicians who do nothing but run rings of rogue contractors, largely without ever attending to their oversight functions substantially.
A democracy inclined non-governmental organisation, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), has carpeted the Senate over attempt to confer limited or unlimited immunity from prosecution for themselves while in the chambers; even as it asked the Joint National Assembly Constitutional Amendment Harmonisation Committee to maintain the version adopted by the House of Representatives, on the aspect of changes made by the lower chamber regarding withholding of the section 308 (1), which hitherto conferred immunity from prosecution for governors, deputy governors, president and vice-president.
“The Senate should borrow a leaf from the House of Representatives by removing this notorious immunity provision, which is like a wild card for this category of executive politicians to commit heinous crime and massive corruption. The removal of this immunity clause is a positive dimension and, indeed, constitutes a revolutionary step by the House of Representatives to actually empower the generality of Nigerians to own the process of anti-graft war.”
Conversely, HURIWA commended the Senate for including provisions in the proposed amendments to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which will grant autonomy to the local government areas in Nigeria, and the abolition of the highly compromised States Independent Electoral Commission [SIEC]. It affirmed that granting autonomy to local governments will enhance the practice of good governance and quality leadership.
In a statement jointly signed by the National Coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko and the National Director of Media, Affairs Miss Zainab Yusuf, HURIWA categorically condemned what it calls the hasty inordinate ambitions of the senators to convert themselves into emperors, by granting immunity of whatever form or shape on themselves while in the line of duty.
HURIWA, which commended the heroic decision of the House of Representatives chamber of the National Assembly in striking off the notorious section 308 (1) of the 1999 Constitution which grants immunity from prosecution to certain executive political office holders also expressed shock and consternation as to the rationale why the Senate should try to play smart by restoring the immunity clause as contained in the extant constitution, which is undergoing amendment but further aggravated the ‘irrational scheming’ by conferring on themselves certain categories of immunity. “This primitive acquisition of crude immunity clause for mere selfish and undemocratic reasons by the Senate chamber of the National Assembly must stand condemnable, and is hereby repudiated, for being the classical case of attempting to steal powers that does not belong to these politicians.”
On a positive note, the Rights group commended certain far-reaching and radical transformational provisions introduced by the Senate, such as allowing for independent candidates in the national and local elections and the conferment of autonomy to local government councils which, according to it, will restore meaning and pragmatic relevance to section 7 of the 1999 Constitution that has always prescribed democracy as the best way of constituting the leadership structures at the local government level. HURIWA also applauded the Senate for abolishing the heavily compromised States Independent Electoral Commission, which it believes has always been manipulated by state governors, to install their handpicked bootlickers and sycophants as council executive and legislative leaders.
HURIWA noted: “We are particularly delighted that the National Assembly has finally decided to liberate the local councils from the enslavement that the 36 state governors have hitherto imposed on them, which seriously undermined infrastructural development of these local government councils over the last 15 years or so that the 1999 Constitution came into effect. The stifling of freedom and independence of the local councils by state governors had further escalated poverty among the rural populace and engendered rural - urban migrations, which consequently meant that the population of active farmers have always been on the progressive decline.”
Nigerians who bear the brunt of poverty occasioned by the lawlessness and rascality perpetrated by politicians of all classes should speak out and demand transparency and accountability from politicians. We must collectively remove the enslaving tendencies systematically being introduced by the current set of national and state lawmakers.
•RIGHTSVIEW appears twice a week on Wednesday and Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, popular activist Emmanuel Onwubiko, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).
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