Constitution Review: House Committee Rejects Immunity for National, State Assembly, Judicial Officers

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•Turns down state police

•Recommends 111 additional legislative seats for women

•Bill ready for Buhari’s assent in February, Says Deputy Speaker

Udora Orizu in Abuja

The House of Representatives Committee on Constitution Review, has rejected the Bill seeking to confer immunity on presiding officers of the national, state assemblies and judicial officers.

The committee at its meeting yesterday, which was attended by its consultants, also rejected the Bill on State Police, while recommending 111 additional legislative seats for women.

Both chambers of the National Assembly had in May and June 2021, held zonal public hearing across the 6 geopolitical zones of the country, during, which clamour for creation of state police, restructuring and fiscal federalism dominated presentations made by stakeholders.

President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, in his closing remarks shortly after the end of plenary in December, declared that the lawmakers would commence work on the report of the committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution once they resumed from the Christmas break in January.

However, one of the consultants working with the committee, Abdulhamid Mohammed (SAN), presented the position of the consultants on the Bill to the lawmakers.

Addressing the lawmakers, Mohammed said even though the bill allowed citizens to seek the leave of the court to sue any of the mentioned public officials, it would create a conflict of interest, particularly, as it related to the judicial officers.

He also said the Bill did not indicate which court had the competence to hear such cases.

His words: “It seeks to restrict that immunity that you can sue with the leave of a competent court, but actually, the bill did not go further to indicate, which of the court within the federation that will have the competence to grant the leave for you to sue the public officer concerned.

“We need to consider what are the conventions all over the world, in terms of immunity. It is really unconventional all over the world for judicial officers and presiding officers to have immunity. It could also be self-serving from the angle of morality.

“There could be a conflict of interest if the immunity is now extended to judicial officers and that you need to go to the judiciary to seek leave to sue the officers concerned, you are now going to apply before the judicial officers, because these are courts of competent jurisdiction. There are perhaps issues of bias.”

Speaking against the bill, a member of the Committee, Hon. Uzoma Abonta (PDP, Abia), opined that immunity should only cover issues regarding duties and functions of those public officers, not criminal acts like rape or murder.

While noting that there are examples of abuse of process by the executive against the legislature and judiciary, he however, argued that blank immunity was not acceptable.

Another member, Hon. Rimamnde Shawulu (PDP, Taraba) in his contribution, said he had a Bill on the floor of the House, seeking to strip the executive of immunity, adding that fast-tracking the bill would be the right step to go.

On his part, Hon. Babajimi Benson (APC, Lagos), urged that the Bill be stepped down, but section 308 of the constitution, should be amended to allow citizens to sue executive officers by leave of the House.

Deputy Speaker and Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Ahmed Idris Wase said legislators were already covered by immunity on activities on the floor of the House by virtue of the powers and privileges act.

He added that even though there were instances, where some executives have been “reckless” in action against lawmakers and judicial officers, it was left for the House to decide on the bill.

Wase thereafter ruled that the Bill be stepped down.

Also at the meeting, the Bill seeking to substitute section 214 of the Principal Act for new section 214 (1) for the establishment of state police was rejected.

During consideration of the clause, Wase had put it to a voice vote, while 11 voted for, 14 people voted against.

The lawmakers also recommended the creation of 111 additional legislative seats in the National Assembly to be solely occupied by women beginning from the next general election.

They also recommended the creation of two additional seats per senatorial zone reserve for women in state Houses of Assembly and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

The committee adopted changes to section 48, 49, 71 and 91, which dealt with composition of the Senate, the House of Representatives and State Houses of Assembly to create additional seats for women.

Earlier in his remarks, the Deputy Speaker said the report of the Committee is to be submitted to the entire House for adoption before the end of February, for onward transmission to President Muhammadu Buhari.