Immunity clause is no go area in constitution review – Reps

The House of Representatives’ Special Ad-hoc Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution has said it would not recommend the removal of the immunity clause that shield the president and state governors from prosecution while in office.

The Chairman of the committee, Yusuff Lasun, at a press conference Saturday night in Abeokuta said his committee considered the provision “a no go area”.

?Mr. Lasun, who is also the Deputy Speaker of the House, was in the Ogun State capital for a three-day retreat of the committee, entitled “The Imperatives of Constitution Review/Amendment in Nation Building.”

He said there was nothing wrong with the immunity clause as it does not shield the beneficiaries from prosecution after they leave office but only protects them from likely distractions of civil litigation.

Mr. Lasun said to remove the clause as being canvassed by some Nigerians could result in distracting the president and governors from proper administration of the country and states.

“There is nothing wrong in the immunity that is already in the Constitution because it doesn’t say that the person cannot be prosecuted after he has left the office,” he said.

“The maximum (number of) years a governor stays in office is eight years and whatever offence that he might have committed while in office will still be fresh.

“What people must do is to bring out such offences when the governor has left office. So it is about institutions and individuals being lazy, nothing is shielding anybody from being prosecuted after leaving office,” Mr. Lasun said.

He said the committee already looked at the report of the 2014 National Conference and picked recommendations it considered relevant to the current efforts at amending the constitution.

The deputy speaker disclosed that the novel thing about the ongoing amendments, which he referred to as “the fifth alteration,” is that it would not be presented to President Muhammadu Buhari as a single bill for his assent as was the case with the fourth amendment by the 7th National Assembly during the last administration, “where both the bad and good aspects of the amendments were rejected by the then President because all came in one single package”.

Mr. Lasun said presenting amendments as separate single bills would “save time, remove all forms of technicalities and help the President to know what to give assent or not, instead of the previous pattern of throwing away both the baby and the bath water”.

He listed 14 resolutions as basis for the amendment of the constitution, including areas already reviewed by the 7th Assembly.

Some of these included separation of the offices of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice; financial and administrative autonomy for local government councils; and establishment of the office of the Accountant-General of the Federal Government.

Others are authorisation of expenditure, devolution of power/legislative lists, electoral matters, new states and boundary adjustment, among others.

Mr. Lasun lamented that state governors had rendered local governments redundant by starving them of funds meant for development.

“All over the world, the centre of development has been found to be at the grassroots because we are talking about people who form small components of the society, from the family to the compound, to the villages down to the towns.

“We have discovered that over time local governments are no longer existing, it is not even a question of whether elections are conducted or not, but we have considered that states will not be able to access local government money any longer if there are no elected officials at the local governments.

“That is part of the alteration that we are going to do. If you don’t have any elected local government officials, we will make sure that you don’t get the money of such local government.”

Mr. Lasun said he was confident that the amendment bills would be ready for the President’s assent before the end of his second year in office.

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