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National Assembly: Bill seeking immunity for presiding officers scales second reading

House of Representatives on Tuesday passed into second reading a bill, seeking immunity for presiding officers of the National Assembly.

The Bill, sponsored by Odebunmi Olusegun (APC, Oyo) was titled: “An Act to Alter Section 308 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to Extend Immunity to Cover Presiding Officers of Legislative Institutions.”

Introducing the bill at Tuesday’s plenary, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, quickly disassociated himself from the bill and urged the sponsor to make the implementation date futuristic.

He said, being one of the presiding officers, he will not be the judge in his own case, saying he was not willing to benefit from the privilege of the bill when passed into law.

In his submission, Olusegun argued that the immunity bill was to protect the presiding officers from distraction to fully concentrate on their legislative duty without compromise.

House Leader, Alhassan Ado Doguwa, agreed that the Speaker doesn’t need the bill as an individual, noting that it’s important he accept it as leader of the Parliamentary institution.

So, we should not shy away from discussing matters that concerned the institution,” he said.

He added that the legislature was the backbone of democracy, saying “if the immunity covered the president and the governors, why not protect the presiding officers to discharge their duties without distraction?”

Also contributing to the debate, the House Minority Whip, Toby Okechukwu (PDP, Enugu) recalled how former presiding officers of the Senate were obstructed with litigation in the eighth assembly, which nearly put the entire parliament at a standstill.

Opposing the bill, the House Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu said “what is paramount is the interest of their constituents, not immunity for principal officers.”

“Our people are being killed and butchered and you are coming up with a bill on issue of immunity. I think it’s wrong and should not be allowed.

“I think we should jettison this bill as there is nothing presiding officers are doing that cannot be accounted for. “What is important to the Nigerian people is security of lives and property and not immunity for presiding officers,” he said.

Similarly, Sergius Ogun said a lot of Nigerians are calling for removal of immunity for president and governor noting, “I wondered why the leaders of National Assembly need immunity. It’s unnecessary.”

He said the immunity enjoyed by the Executive is abused, shielding the sitting president and governors from prosecution.

“Immunity for presiding officers in the legislature is not what we need at the moment,” he added.

Also speaking, Bob Solomon cited the America system as to why the immunity bill should not be passed, saying no president or governor is shielded from ‘trial’ in the United States.

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