House: Saraki, Dogara, not Beneficiaries of Immunity Bid

  • Sex scandal committee ready to visit Entwistle

By Damilola Oyedele in Abuja

If the bid to include presiding officers of the NationalAssembly and state houses of assembly, in the immunity clause through an amendment of Section 308 of the 1999 constitution, scales through,

Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, and their deputies, will not be beneficiaries.

Rather, future presiding officers would enjoy immu- nity from civil and criminal prosecutions while they occupy offices.

The Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas disclosed this yester- day while briefing newsmen.

Namdas dispelled specula- tions that the proposal for immunity, is to protect Senate President Bukola Saraki who is facing separate trials on al- legations of false declaration of assets, and forgery of Senate Standing Rules.

The proposed amendment had caused a sharp divide among members of the lower chamber, resulting in rowdiness which stalled proceedings at plenary last Tuesday, for about 25 minutes.

Some lawmakers backed the proposal on grounds that the current constitution, which was handed down by a military government, only protects the Executive, and disregarded the need for immunity for heads of the other arms of government.

Others, however queried the timing, saying it may portray the lawmakers as out to only protect personal interest.

Namdas insisted that the proposal was not intended to protect the interest of either Saraki or Dogara, but to strengthen the legislature as an independent democratic institu- tion, and shield the presiding officers from distraction caused by harassment from other arms of government.

“The amendment was not done with any hidden agenda. It is not about immunity for Saraki or Dogara; no. We are thinking of how to build

this institution, which is the mainstay of democracy. We are thinking of good governance where the presiding officers can do their work without distractions.”

“In any case, an amendment does not mean that the bill has been passed or that we have granted immunity to the presiding officers. Not all members even agreed with the bill. It was referred to the Adhoc Committee on Constitution Review for debate. The bill will be analysed there, before a report is sent to the whole House,” Namdas said.

He added that amendments require a painstaking process, “therefore, the report (of the adhoc committee) will still be debated by the lawmakers before the decision is reached to adopt it or reject it.”

Another member of the committee on Media, Olufemi Adebanjo (Lagos APC) disclosed that he had opposed the bill, and would vote against it.

He hinged his stance on the premise that presiding officers of the legislature, do not deserve immunity

“The bill has not been passed. It is with the constitution amendment committee. It will come out and all 360 members will still examine it holistically.

On this score, there is no cause for alarm; Nigerians should relax,” he said.

Namdas also fielded ques- tions on the investigations into alleged sexual misconduct by three lawmakers (Hon. Mark Gbillah, Hon. Samuel Ikon and Hon. Garba Gololo), indicating that the Committee was ready to visit the US Ambassador, Mr. James Entwistle, to take his testimony, if he does not honour the invitation of the House.

Under the Vienna Con- vention, a diplomat enjoys immunity from appearing before such investigations in a host country.

The investigating committee, comprising Ethics and Privi- leges, and Foreign Relations, had to postpone its hearing from Thursday to next Thursday, following the absence of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama and Entwistle.

“The committee can adopt that option (of visiting Entwis- tle), though the feeling of many of us is that the Ambassador too did not follow the appropriate diplomatic channel when he chose to write the Speaker directly instead of routing his letter through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” Namdas said.