The National Assembly may reconsider and strengthen the bill that seeks immunity from arrest and prosecution of serving lawmakers, LEADERSHIP SUNDAY investigation can authoritatively reveal.
Worried by the incessant arrest of its members by security agencies, contrary to the treatment being meted out to the operators of the other arms of government — the executive and judiciary — the federal lawmakers who will be resuming from recess this week, our checks revealed, would revisit the passage of an immunity bill.
The recent arrest of the speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon. Adeyemi Ikuforiji, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over alleged embezzlement of N7 billion, it was learnt, informed the new stance of the legislators, who believe that the arrest following a petition was “the reveal witch-event by the executive arm against the legislative arm in Nigeria.”
Hon. Emmanual Jime who represents Makurdi/Guma Federal Constituency of Benue State in the House of Representatives, told LEADERSHIP SUNDAY that the passage of the immunity bill would be a leveller for functionaries of all the arms of government.
“If we claim we are in a democracy and we operate a principle of the separation of powers, then, all arms of government should enjoy equal privileges under the constitution; the president, the governors and judicial officers are immune from arrest and prosecution but not National Assembly members.
“And if you think about it, we are the true symbol of democracy, yet we are the most harassed and disrespected arm of government.
“I think there is a need to dust up a bill pending before us that seeks to protect lawmakers from indiscriminate arrests and prosecution while in service,” he said .
A Bill seeking to restrict security agencies from arresting and prosecuting members of the legislature within the precincts of the National Assembly” was sponsored by Hon. Henry D. Seriake(PDP Bayelsa).
The bill entitled “An Act to Amend the Legislative Houses, Powers and Privileges Act, CAP.L122004, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria and for Other Related Purposes”, in its section 29 under the sub-heading “Procedures for Arrest of a Member of the National Assembly”, lists stringent conditions for the arrest of a lawmaker for certain offences.
Section 29 states in part that, “A member of Legislative House to which this law applies shall not be arrested without warrant duly issued by a judge of the Federal High Court, High Court of the Federal Capital Territory or High Court of the Federal Capital Territory or High Court of a state except in the following circumstances:
•Upon a reasonable suspicion or allegation of commission of treasonable felony against the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
•When the member is physically caught in an actual commission of treason or treasonable felony against law or the law of the State.
(2) A warrant duly issued in accordance with the provisions of subsection (1) above for the apprehension of a member of the National Assembly shall be deemed to be duly executed, if such warrant is served on the presiding officer of the Legislative House through the Clerk of the House.
“The presiding officer of the Legislative House concerned shall within seven Legislative House concerned shall within seven legislative days endorse or cause the said warrant to be endorsed to or served on the member against whom it is issued and requiring the said member to appear before the issuing Court within fourteen legislative days.”
The Bill if passed into law will ensure that any move for arrest and prosecution of a lawmaker is duly authorised by the National Assembly authority.
“Where a member of the National Assembly is (a) arrested or detained in custody upon the warrant or order of a court or sentenced by a Court shall, as soon as practicable, inform the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Representatives, as the case may be, according”, it states in part.
Though the Bill does not expressly seek to confer immunity on members of the National Assembly, Hon. Jime, said the National Assembly might consider strengthening it to give lawmakers immunity.
Recall that Late Hon. Morris Ibekwe, who represented Isiala-Mbano/Okigwe/Onuimo Federal Constituency of Imo State in the House of Representatives from 1999-2003, was arrested on May 28, 2003 by the then newly established Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) within the precincts of the National Assembly over allegations that he swindled a German business man, Mr. Munch Klause of $350,000.
The charges against the Late Ibekwe, who was the Chairman, House Committee on Internal Security, were that “he allegedly obtained $300,000 and $75, 000 Deutshmarks, $45, 000, under false pretence”.
The accused died on Saturday, March 20, 2009 at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), still under the custody of the EFCC.
Since his death, there has been a debate among lawmakers and in the public domain on what the Legislature can do to stop the unfettered arrests and detention of lawmakers over cases of fraud or alleged fraud.
The National Assembly in the course of the Bill’s second reading may even consider tinkering with section 308 of the 1999 Constitution that protects the Presidency, Governors and their Deputies from arrests on whatever charges, while they are still in office.
The Sponsor of the Bill, Mr, Seriake was the Attorney General of Bayelsa, during the Administration of Diepreye Alamieyeseigha.