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Lawmakers mull removal of immunity clause for president, govs

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The House of Representatives is considering a move to remove the immunity clause enjoyed by the president, vice-president, governors and deputy governors in the country.

A bill seeking to remove their immunity from criminal and civil prosecution is awaiting second reading at the House.

The Constitution amendment bill was sponsored by a member of the Peoples Democratic Party from Taraba State, Rimamnde Kwewum.

Kwewum, in the legislative brief on the bill, said it seeks to amend Section 308(1) (a), (b) and (c) and Section 308(2).

The lawmaker partly said, “This bill seeks to remove all forms of immunity whilst holding such office. Currently, Section 308 of the CFRN provides immunity for persons holding the office of president or vice-president, governor or deputy governor under Subsections 1(a), (b) and (c); (2) and (3) thereof. In effect, by this constitutional provision, restriction is placed on legal proceedings for persons holding these offices under Subsections 1 and 2, Section 308, CRFN.

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“The amendment proposed here, however, seeks to limit or remove such immunity, whether civil or criminal, provided however that the action and decisions contemplated therein do not relate to such issues as corrupted to the crime of murder, treason, or any other personal crimes committed by the office holder as an individual whilst in or out of office.”

According to Kwewum, the immunity for heads of the executive arm of government presumes that holders of the offices necessarily possess some form of divinity that immunes them from committing crimes; always act according to the law and the constitution; do not have any interest or loyalties that go against the state and its people and are above the law-meaning that the law does not apply to them.

He stated, “The above tenets do not conform to democracy and natural law of justice. Besides, deifying human beings these regulations have protected heinous crimes against the people and the state.

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“Increasingly, around the world the rules of accountability and equality before the law are being strengthened.”

The lawmaker cited various examples of other jurisdictions where immunity was limited or does not exist.

He said, “The United States of America: There is absolute immunity from civil litigation for official acts undertaken. The Supreme Court in the US held that the president does not possess absolute immunity from civil litigation surrounding acts he took before becoming the president. In 2020, the Supreme Court held that the president is subject to subpoenas in criminal prosecutions for personal conduct.

“The United Kingdom: Immunity from criminal prosecution is not immunity enjoyed by members of parliament. Parliamentary privileges are allowed. No prosecution for what is disclosed in parliamentary debates and processes.

“France: Only parliamentary privileges/immunity are allowed.

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“Germany: There is only parliamentary privileges/immunity but parliament can vote to lift the immunity for specific members and allow prosecution.

“Chile: Parliamentary immunity. No immunity for serving Presidents. Prosecutions can commence immediately leaving office.

“COTE D’Ivoire: President is liable for acts done in the exercise of his office; can be prosecuted for high treason.

“Fiji Island: Full unconditional immunity for president, prime minister, etc.

“Kazakhstan: Immunity for the president

“Lebanon: Immunity while discharging functions of the office.

“Niger: Immunity in the exercise of the function of office; no immunity for high treason.

“Russia: Inviolability of immunity for former and president.

“Syria: Immunity except treason.

Kwewum stated, “It is obvious that immunity exist only in countries that with weak democratic structures. Immunity for executives has stunted our development and engendered democracy, removing the blanket immunity clause would increase accountability and open up the creativity of Nigeria people.”

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