Senate seeks to amend Constitution to protect federal, state lawmakers from all criminal, civil cases

Nigeria’s battle to exit the league of corrupt nations will suffer a setback as the Senate plans to amend the 1999 Constitution to protect lawmakers from all criminal and civil cases.

Civil society organisations yesterday warned that the proposal could erode confidence in the law, especially in the eyes of the global community that sees Nigeria’s political class as being ‘fantastically corrupt.’

They expressed the concern that with such immunity for all lawmakers at national and state levels, legislators will now be able to blatantly ask for bribes with impunity.

Immunity for Nigeria’s more than 1200 lawmakers at federal and state levels of government means they will escape criminal and civil prosecution for at least four years if the Senate succeeds in altering any part of the constitution for this purpose.

The Guardian obtained the Senate Bill number 342 yesterday and found that it has already been gazzetted and being given accelerated legislative processing.

The main objective of the amendment is to ensure that leaders and members of the legislature — particularly National and State Assemblies — are not subjected to any form of prosecution or legal persecution on account of their actions or statements in the course of carrying out their legislative functions.

Those opposed to the amendment, however, expressed the fear that it could be misconstrued to mean, “The Bill is simply seeking to give the presiding officers of the Senate protection against being prosecuted for their alleged involvement in the Senate rules forgery case.”

It was learnt that the body of Principal Officers of the National Assembly was able to clear the way for the amendment following the withdrawal of the Senate forgery suit by the office of the Attorney General of the Federation last October.

In withdrawing the suit against Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu last October, the Ministry of Justice filed an application to amend the charges and attached the amended charges. In the new charges, only the former Clerk of the National Assembly, Mr. Salisu Maikasuwa, and a former deputy clerk, Mr. Ben Efeturi, were listed as accused persons.

Sponsored by Senator Solomon Olamilekan, a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC) representing Lagos East Senatorial District in the Senate, the constitution amendment bill is aimed at strengthening “our democratic institutions (The Legislature) by guaranteeing the freedom of speech and protection of members of Parliament over words spoken and actions taken in the normal course of legislative business.”

Specifically, the bill seeks to amend Section 56 of the Constitution by adding new Sub-Sections which read: “No civil or criminal proceedings may be instituted against any member of the Senate or the House of Representatives in respect or words spoken before that House or a Committee thereof or in respect of words written in a report to that House or to any Committee thereof or in any petition, bill, resolution, motion or question brought or introduced by him therein.”

According to Olamilekan’s Bill, the Constitution will be further amended by adding new Subsections (4) and (5) in Section 98 to read:

“No civil or criminal proceedings may be instituted against any member of a State House of Assembly in respect of words spoken before that House or a committee thereof; or in respect of words written in a report to that House or to any committee thereof or in any petition bill, resolution, motion or question brought or introduced by him therein.”

It was learnt that the earlier disagreement generated within the National Assembly on the matter has been resolved at regular meetings of the body of National Assembly principal officers where it was stated that the amendment was not just to benefit presiding officers but to protect all lawmakers from frivolous political machinations that could manifest through litigations.

The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) described the proposed amendment as self-serving and an attempt to frustrate democracy in the country.

FG Orders Separate Cut-Off Marks for Varsities, Others

The Federal Government has directed the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board to consult with the relevant stakeholders so as to come up with new and separate cut-off marks for admission into universities, polytechnics and colleges of education from next year.

A statement issued on Monday by the Deputy Director (Press and Public Relations), in the Ministry of Education, Ben Goong, said the Minister of State for Education, Prof. Anthony Anwukah, gave the directive after a one-day meeting with chief executive officers in the ministry.

According to him, it is wrong to subject candidates seeking admission to different higher institutions to the same cut-off marks when the duration and contents of their courses are different.

The minister also approved the decision by JAMB to reduce its cut-off marks for admission into tertiary institutions.

Anwukah maintained that the current policy of adopting 180 as the uniform cut-off point for admission lacked fairness, equity and logic.

Goong said, “The minister is in full support of the decision of the board to introduce discriminatory cut-off marks for admissions into the institutions.”

Anwukah also directed JAMB to publish, in full, the list of unutilised admission slots into all universities, polytechnics and colleges of education on a course-by-course basis at the end of the first leg of the admission process to enable students and parents  to take full advantage of existing admission vacancies in institutions where such exist.

The minister said this would prevent a situation where some institutions had more than the number of students they needed, while others could hardly fill their quotas.

At the meeting, JAMB Registrar/Chief Executive, Prof. Is-haq Oloyede, told the minister that the belief that the carrying capacity of Nigerian universities was far below the number of candidates that qualified for admission was wrong.

According to him, only those with 180 cut-off mark can be considered for admission, adding that out of those who met the criterion, a significant number might not have the five credits required.

Reps fault Federal Civil Service recruitment exercise

The House of Representatives has called on the Federal civil service commission to, without further delay, declare publicly, the number of vacancies available and distribute some according to States in accordance with the Federal character principles.

The call, made yesterday, follows a motion on the urgent need to investigate the unwholesome practices involving the Federal civil service commission with respect to the on going recruitment exercise announced by the commission, sponsored by Hon. Henry Archibong and Mustapha Bala Dawaki.

Hon. Archibong who expressed concern over the inability of Nigerians to access the recruitment portal, disclosed that the portal uploaded by the Commission is non functional as unemployed Nigerians have been unable to apply for various positions.

“Thousands of qualified Nigerians have over the past days been trying to apply for various positions advertised by the commission via the portal but are unable to due to an ineffective portal.

“By uploading a non functional recruitment portal, the commission is deliberately denying thousands of suitably qualified Nigerians who wish to contribute their quota to the service of their fatherland through gainful employment into the civil service, thereby subjecting them to hardship.

The non functional portal according to him, “is a ploy by the commission to come up with names of friend and the children of the high and mighty in the society as the only ones that applied for the employment thereby depriving the children of the poor and the Federal Government of willing and qualified hands to move the country forward”.

The lawmakers noted that the action of the commission is against the change agenda of the present administration, principle of equity, justice, fairness, transparency and above all, the principles of federal character as enshrined in Section 14(3) and (4) of the constitution.

The House also directed its Committee on Federal Character to investigate the practice of the commission and ensure a 24 hour accessibility of the recruitment portal for intending applicants and extend the deadline of the submission

Federal Government Warns of Fraudsters In The Ogoni Cleanup

The Federal Ministry of Environment has issued a warning to the people of Ogoni and the entire Niger Delta region on the emergence of dubious individuals who will pose as Government officials, in order to extort money from communities in the Niger Delta, in the name of Ogoni cleanup.

The Ministry of Environment issued this warning through a statement signed by the Ministry’s press director, Alhaji Isiaka Yusuf. The statement reiterated that the Federal Government is undertaking the clean-up project in Ogoniland alongside other stakeholders in the oil industry, and it will not authorize any individual or group to collect money from people in the Niger Delta.

Read the full statement below.

Ogoniland Clean-up, FG Cautions against Fraudsters

“Following the Flag off of the clean-up of Ogoniland, and other oil impacted communities of the Niger Delta by President Muhammadu Buhari, the Federal Ministry of Environment has been consulting with the stakeholders in the Niger Delta with a view to ensure proper commencement of the clean-up project

However, It has come to the knowledge of the Federal Ministry of Environment that some dubious individuals may use the opportunity of the project to extort money from the unsuspecting people of the Niger Delta communities. This includes the forgery of Federal Government Agencies letters.

Without doubt, we wish to state that the Federal Government in collaboration with other stakeholders in the oil industry is funding the project. It has not and will not authorize or contract individuals, groups and or organizations to collect money from the good people of the Niger Delta on behalf of the government for the purpose of cleanup of Ogoniland and other oil impacted communities in the Niger Delta region.

In view of the foregoing, the ministry hereby warns that anybody, groups or organisations found extorting money from the people for the purpose of the Ogoniland cleanup project will be made to face the full wrath of the law

The General public is therefore requested to report anybody, group and or organization, collecting money from people for the cleanup exercise to the police or any other law enforcement agency.

The ministry, therefore, takes this opportunity to reiterate the Federal Government’s commitment in ensuring the transparent and successful cleanup of Ogoniland,’’

In a related development, Guardian Newspapers reports that the lack of funds may stall the actual start of the clean-up.

A source who is said to be from one of the oil companies was quoted by Guardian in the report, saying that there is no money currently set aside by the Federal Government, or any oil company for the clean-up.

“It is the joint venture partners that are supposed to come up with 90 per cent of the funding. It is not factual that any oil company has kept money aside to fund the cleanup. For the government there is implication for funding, NNPC has to come up with its share of the funding. There is no $1 billion anywhere that Shell has kept,” the source said.

Guardian also reports that the Ministry of Environment’s 2016 budget does not make any provision to cover the clean-up.

At the weekend, the Federal Government approved 23 members of Governing Council and Board of Trustees for the Cleanup. The members are expected to be inaugurated on Thursday.

EFCC Uncovers 37,395 Ghost Workers In Federal Civil Service- Magu

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) said on Tuesday that the Federal Government had uncovered 37,395 ghost workers on the Federal Civil Service payroll and that the government lost about N1 billion to them.

The EFCC’s acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, made the disclosure during an anti-corruption sensitization programme organized by the commission for staff of works and housing sectors.

Mr. Magu said that apart from the widespread procurement frauds in Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), the issue of ghost workers was a source of serious concern to the commission.

“EFCC has uncovered 37,395 ghost workers in the Federal Civil Service and investigation is still going on.

“Our investigations have so far revealed that the Federal Government has lost close to N1 billion to these ghost workers.

The figure will definitely increase as we unravel more ghost workers buried deep in Federal Civil Service payrolls.’’

Mr. Magu also explained that the commission had established a Procurement Fraud Unit in order to handle the increasing number of petitions relating to violations of the Public Procurement Laws.

He, therefore, advised civil servants to avoid any act that was in breach of public procurement, warning that violators risked terms of imprisonment and dismissal from service.

Credit: PremiumTimes