The Problem Statement
The legislative arm of the Nigerian government is primarily vested as one of its statutory responsibilities, the responsibility of making laws. This cardinal duty has been carried out by the National Assembly comprising the Senate and House of Representatives at the Federal level and House of Assembly at the State level since the return to democracy in 1999. In the discharge of its duties, the legislature is required to have laws that guide its operation and define certain powers, privileges, and immunities of the Legislative Houses, both at the Federal and State levels established under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The Policy Solution
This set of laws is also required to regulate the conduct of members of the legislative houses and other persons connected with its proceedings and for matters concerned therewith. At the inception of the National Assembly in the fourth republic, an Act was enacted to prescribe the operations of the legislative houses. The same Act had undergone amendments and presently, the most recent is the Legislative Houses and Powers sponsored by Hon. Onofiok Akpan Luke from Akwa Ibom State. The LHB was read for the first and second time on 24th July 2019 and 12th December 2019 respectively and it has been referred to the House Committee on Justice for consideration. In a rather related twist, another Legislative House (Powers and Privileges) Act (Amendment) Bill (LHB) 2020 and sponsored by Hon. Fulata Abubakar Hassan from Jigawa State is also under consideration at the House of Representatives. The LHB was read for the first and second time on 2nd July 2019 and 14th July 2019 respectively. This Bill was referred to the House Committee on Tertiary Education and Services. The draft Bills are however not available for analysis as to its particulars.
The legislative or parliamentary immunity and privilege are sometimes used concurrently to describe the protection afforded the Legislature in the performance of their legislative function. However, this is in contrast to what most people assume it to be, legislative immunity doesn’t mean freedom from criminal or civil prosecution while in the active capacity as a legislator. It simply connotes legislators can’t be sued for libel or slander for actions and statements which the legislator undertakes directly in his or her capacity as a politically elected representative and lawmaker. It is neither perpetual nor inalienable. They are not shielded from prosecution for other legal infractions they commit in and outside.
From the foregoing, the vast majority of National Assembly members come across as powerful and influential actors who are not subject to the rule of law. It’s simply not proper for these lawmakers to be the chief proprietors of immunity for corruption. This is a form of political corruption for the parliamentarians to abuse their legislative powers, intended for use in the national interest but instead for personal advantage. This is frankly regrettable and an unacceptable proposition as it gives a vague recalling that both the principal officers of the National Assembly are above the law.
NIGAC Constructive Position/Take
In any modern democratic governance, legislative immunity necessitates the performance of a constitutional role which isn’t intended to exercise pressure on legislators to change their official behavior rather be accountable and responsible as governmental officials. Having such a bill passed into law will stiffen Nigerians of their rights to accountable government. Public and civil officials who are genuinely honorable and clear-headed to the well-being of the state and its citizens, and to the establishment of an effective and functioning system of administration of justice, should have absolutely nothing to fear.