The federal house of representatives on Tuesday went into a rowdy session over a proposed amendment to section 308 of the Nigerian constitution to allow the national assembly leadership enjoy immunity while in office.
Sponsor of the bill, Leo Ogor, the minority leader of the house, said by providing immunity for the leadership of the national assembly, the independence of the legislature will be guaranteed.
“The amendment is straight forward but it needs some clear explanation,” Ogor said. “The amendment seeks to strengthen the national assembly, they (leadership) should be protected in the period they are in office.”
But kicking against the amendment, Femi Gbajabiamila, the majority leader, said the timing of the legislation is not right.
“We must feel the pulse of the people; there is something about timing, timing in any piece of legislation is important,” he said. “There are issues in the senate and I pray it’s resolved.”
At this point the house went rowdy for about 15 minutes, as the lawmakers all spoke on top of their voices and it was impossible to hear anyone.
While some of the members were calling for the speaker to rule on the amendment, others wanted it to be thrown out.
When calm was finally restored, Yakubu Dogara, the speaker, said according to the house rules, the bill would be sent to the special committee on constitutional review.
“The bill can die even at the committee, “he said.
Guiding the house, Ayorinde Olabode, the deputy chairman rules and business, cited order 8 rule 98 of the house rules, which states that any bill that seeks to alter the constitution be sent to the special committee.
In his ruling, the speaker passed the bill for second reading and referred it to the special committee on constitutional review.
Section 308 of the Nigerian constitution states: (1) Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this Constitution, but subject to subsection (2) of this section –
(a) no civil or criminal proceedings shall be instituted or continued against a person to whom this section applies during his period of office;
(b) a person to whom this section applies shall not be arrested or imprisoned during that period either in pursuance of the process of any court or otherwise; and
(c) no process of any court requiring or compelling the appearance of a person to whom this section applies, shall be applied for or issued:
Provided that in ascertaining whether any period of limitation has expired for the purposes of any proceedings against a person to whom this section applies, no account shall be taken of his period of office.
(2) The provisions of subsection (1) of this section shall not apply to civil proceedings against a person to whom this section applies in his official capacity or to civil or criminal proceedings in which such a person is only a nominal party.
(3) This section applies to a person holding the office of President or Vice-President, Governor or Deputy Governor; and the reference in this section to “period of office” is a reference to the period during which the person holding such office is required to perform the functions of the office.
While Ogor is seeking to include the national assembly leadership in the class of protected elected officers, debates over the necessity of the clause itself have recently intensified, particularly since the freezing of the Zenith Bank accounts of Ayodele Fayose, governor of Ekiti state, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).