With a unanimous vote last week, members of the Saraki senate voted to grant immunity to themselves in a clearly unpopular move that runs against the expressed opinions of Nigerians. The voting to grant immunity to themselves was one of the highlights of the voting to amend the present constitution. The voting itself was in furtherance of the so-called constitutional amendment bill which stood out for hacking down popular demands from the Nigerian people and upholding the fanciful cravings of the senators. The process was outstanding for shooting down those suggested amendments that should have impacted on the present Nigerian structure. Such rejected proposals include the widely popular demand for the devolution of power to states, the abolition of the Land Use Act, the enshrinement of the affirmative action, among other proposed amendments. The Saraki senate even veered into a deeper fanciful folly by voting to outlaw the powers of the president to assent to the constitutional amendments. We shall broach on this in the course of concluding this report.
I am not much interested in the so-called amendment of the constitution because I doubt if most of the fanciful provisions the legislators granted themselves would finally see the light of the day. I am not in doubt that most of the amendments, especially the ones the legislators granted to themselves, will neither address the rising agitations in the country nor lift the fate of Nigerians a tad higher than where it is at present. I am yet to see the patriotic vigor and intent in the process happening now because if there were, there would not be the rejection of some critical recommendations that could help foster the peace and unity of the country. Besides, I see the present bunch of lawmakers, as their predecessors too, as a bunch of unserious people that lacks the drive, the seriousness and the capacity to amend the constitution.
I do not believe the problem of Nigeria lies on the constitution; I believe the most critical factor holding down the country is the failure to muster enough patriotic capital to invest in the country. The deliberate decision by Nigerians to strip the country of the patriotic attachment to make it work is the greatest impediment hampering the evolution of the Nigerian state. This has made the present constitution sterile and will certainly make any constitution sterile. Contrary to the belief in some people that Nigeria’s diversity accounts for this unpatriotic zeal, I bet the problem will persist if Nigeria breaks even to family units. That singular patriotic fervor is the reason why the United States, with a far less voluminous constitution, has turned its own diversity into strength. Its lack has been a source of divisive clamor and endless constitutional tinkering. This is a report for another day.
For now, I am concerned that Saraki’s senate (of course, the House of Representatives joined the following day) wants immunity, not only for themselves but for all lawmakers. By the provisions of our present constitution, lawmakers extend to local government councilors. So does the National Assembly believe that granting immunity to lawmakers is one of the critical constitutional problems holding Nigeria down? I doubt if this derives from altruistic conviction rather than selfish desire for cover for the sins of legislators. The lawmakers want to grant themselves the freedom from prosecution for their misdemeanors. They crave to be untouchable. They desire to be above the law. They want to free themselves from prosecution for their sins. You can’t believe it but it is true. They have proceeded to vote to have it enshrined as law.
Before now, immunity is restricted to the President and governors as well as their deputies. The immunity waiver granted these were to free them from distractions to attend to their critical roles to the federal and state tiers of government. Now, Saraki’s senate and its House of Representatives cahoots want the leverage to be extended to lawmakers; running from the senators to local government councilors. You will imagine what critical service such liberalization of immunity serves the needs of the country. You will imagine how such license will aid the development of Nigeria. At a time there had been converging clamor for the removal of the immunity clause in existence presently, it jars decent minds that the National Assembly is working on the opposite direction, expanding the immunity to include lawmakers. It is unthinkable that legislators now want to cover themselves with the immunity clause thereby expanding the radius of those that can commit crime and evade prosecution.
One will wonder why the legislators want themselves to evade justice for their acts. Some have argued that the immunity covers only the actions done during their plenary. I doubt that was the intendment of Saraki and his legislators. What crime can a legislator commit in plenary that could require such cover from the law? Had there been any previous cases of legislators prosecuted for acts committed during plenary to necessitate the enshrinement of legislators’ immunity in our law books? So, the motive for the selfish immunity desire is for any acts committed by lawmakers. The intent is for legislators to enjoy immunity as being enjoyed by the president, governors and their deputies and that would be disastrous to even think of. You can bet their intention in hacking this cover for themselves is as dubious as it is dangerous to the health of the country. It is as nefarious as it is detrimental to the quest for probity, accountability and sanity in the disheveled Nigerian state and it will certainly fail. Why won’t it fail when in such countries like Venezuela, with a more sane and responsible legislature than Nigeria, senators were the other day sacked by club-wielding citizens who could no longer bear their noxious value any longer? You can bet that what Venezuelans saw in their senate was quite a prologue to a Nigerian legislature that has retched up voluminous notoriety for primitive appropriation of hefty chunk of national resources while doing very scant and often, valueless job to the interest of the country.
Why do I state that Saraki’s national assembly will fail in its dangerous acquisition of immunity for its misdemeanors? Why do I say that the National Assembly is on a futile flight of folly? Why am I confident that Saraki and his bunch of primitive power mongers in the National Assembly will not succeed in their quest for freedom from prosecution for their bad deeds? I know that Nigeria has always been a jungle where the likes of Saraki and his band who are criminals that have spent their entire lives evading justice for sundry crimes, maintain suzerain lordship over the rest, but I am confident that they will not walk through the entire process of constitutional amendment with their rich shop list they had given themselves. The process of constitutional amendment does not start and stop with a mischievous Senate and House of Representatives stacked full with active and retired criminals desperately seeking cover for themselves. The proposals will still have to get the support of two-thirds of the 36 state assemblies to survive. The states will play a critical role here and I don’t see Saraki and his National Assembly waltzing through this hurdle. Of course, the pressure from Nigerian citizens will deter the state assemblies to accede to this covetousness by Saraki and his gang.
And this brings me again to the issue of removing the President’s power to give assent to the amendments for it to become law. Yes, this is in Saraki and gang’s shopping list. They want themselves to be the final authority in constitutional amendment and have voted so in their assembly of folly. However, this itself still needs the President’s assent to become law. Will the President willingly concede to the legislator’s foolish urge by agreeing to assent to exclude himself from the constitutional amendment process? I will not answer for the President but this is where the foolishness of Saraki and his bunch of legislators comes so starkly unmasked. I can bet that in seeking immunity for themselves, for God-knows-what, Saraki and his National Assembly have hit the zenith of foolishness and I can wager that their present effort at amending the constitution will end up a huge anti-climax because there are selfish interests splashed all over the effort. It will end up as a futile flight of folly; full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Peter Claver Oparah writes from Ikeja, Lagos. You can reach him at [email protected].