Immunity for Impunity: Time for amendment!

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The Immunity clause in the Nigerian constitution was originally designed to protect government officials in the discharge of their legitimate function. But alas, it has been turned upside down and now used to protect criminals in government.

Sovereign immunity, or crown immunity, is a legal doctrine by which the sovereign or state cannot commit a legal wrong and is immune from civil suit or criminal prosecution. The role of the immunity clause is to protect government and not just the individual who commits crime in government.

But with the way it is applied in Nigeria, the immunity clause provides the President, Vice President, Governors and their deputies, with protection from prosecution from offences they commit while in office. Anyone would wonder why we cry foul when our Governors run the states as their private empires, when we have granted them supreme coverage in the form of a so-called immunity.

Some of Saraki’s supposed crimes and offenses were committed 12 years ago when he was governor of Kwara State and therefore untouchable! Had Saraki died within that period, all his supposed sins and infractions would have been gone and forgotten. What a country!

Nigerians have watched with mixed feelings the trial of Senate President Bukola Saraki, over alleged false declaration of assets. The first emotion is sadness and the second is joy but the two are intertwined, you cannot separate them.

Public officers in Nigeria are not answerable to the people and so are not usually tried in any court of law. So the first question the average Nigerian would ask watching Saraki in the dock is, “is this for real or only a show? Are things changing in Nigeria?”

On a second thought, the person remembers the brouhaha which preceded Saraki’s accession to the “throne” as Senate President and wonders if the ensuing legal battle is not a witch-hunt to nail the man who went against his party’s unwritten rules and regulations and contested for the top job. With that knowledge, the Nigerian concludes that the trial of Saraki is not necessarily in the interest of the nation, neither is it a way of cleaning up the country but a cleverly devised plan by political opponents to embarrass, disgrace and disorganize the Senate President in order to bring him down and eventually replace him with a preferred candidate. This is Nigeria!

The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) alleged that the president of the Senate committed different infractions of the code for public officers. Some of Saraki’s alleged breaches include, failing to declare Plot 2A, Glover Road, Ikoyi in Lagos State, No. 1, Tagus Street, Maitama, Abuja (Plot 2484, Cadastral Zone A06, Abuja) and No. 3, Tagus Street, Maitama, Abuja (Plot 2481, Cadastral Prop­erties Limited). He was also charged with dec­laration of No. 42, Gerard Road, Ikoyi and claiming to be earning N110 million from the property yearly at a time it was still under construction, failure to declare N375 million GTB credit facility converted into 1.5 million Pound Sterling and used in acquiring property in London, operation of foreign bank account, transfer of $3.4 million from GTB to a foreign bank account during his tenure as governor of Kwara State and failure to declare his lease of No. 42, Remi Fani-Kayode Street, Ikeja, Lagos State.

Saraki was also accused of anticipatory declara­tion of a property in Ikoyi in his asset declaration form submitted in 2003.

Many Nigerians laughed at the list because they sounded too familiar and are not the kind of things Nigerians punished anyone for. The more laughable thing is that the CCT waited all these years to raise the red flag. They waited for Saraki to become Senate President before putting him in the dock. What if Saraki did not win his current position, would the CCT or any other have considered it an offence for him to own so much or not declare them publicly as governor?

This is where Nigerian miss it? Even when we are doing the right thing, we always tend to do it the wrong way and with an ulterior motive. Saraki has declared himself not guilty and argued, understandably, that the only offense he committed was becoming the Senate President – who would doubt him?

If the CCT believes that Saraki has erred for not correctly declaring his worth, then it is time the country took a bold step to amend, if not delete, the obnoxious immunity clause from our constitution, knowing it is nothing but a blank cheque we give to Governors, in particular, to steal and plunder when in office.

While several past governors facing corruption charges have yet to be convicted, former presidents never get to face the law, even for a day. Let the immunity clause be thrown out entirely or in the least amended, if we are at all serious about fighting corruption.

 


 

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