The House of Representatives has described outrage against the immunity bill passed by the House as due to misconception of the motive of the proposed law which it says will be limited only to words spoken during debates on the floor of the House or in committees.
It will be recalled that the bill for an Act to alter the constitution of the Federation Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) by providing immunity for members of the legislature in respect of words spoken or written at the plenary session or at committee proceedings, to guarantee that freedom of speech, debates and proceedings in legislative Houses are not impeached or questioned in any court or place out of parliament and for related matters, scaled through second reading penultimate Thursday.
A similar bill which sought to amend the constitution to grant freedom of speech and legislative Houses actions of members of the National Assembly was consolidated with the bill and approved for further legislative action.
Spokesman of the House, Hon Zakari Mohammed who briefed the press with the co-sponsors of the two bills, Hon Ali Ahmed and Ralph Igbokwe over the weekend, explained that the spirit behind the bill is a passion to strengthen democratic institutions.
“I am disappointed at the controversy the bill is generating. Rather than focus on the intendment of the bill and its merits, the debate is on alleged attempts to create immunity for ourselves. It is not for any other purpose than for actions taken during legislative business”, Ahmad said, adding that, “truth of the matter is that our parliament doesn't have any form of immunity as we speak. The only minimal one we have was annulled by the court in 2005. If that is the kind of parliament Nigerians want us to have, then so be it”.
In his own contribution, Hon Igbokwe explained further explained, “If a member hits any member on the floor of the House and causes body harm to him, he is liable and will face any sanction for it. The same applies to other offences. This bill is for nothing other than to allow us express our opinion during debates without fear of being sued thereafter”.
On safeguards against abuse of such immunity if obtained by members, Igbokwe said standing rules of the House have addressed such scenario against use of offensive words on the floor.?
“Our rules which is also recognised by the Constitution already censored the use of offensive language during debates,” he stated.
Spokesman of the House, Hon Zakari Mohammed gave an example of an incident in Malawi where seven Malawians lawmakers are facing trial for treasonable felony over what they said on the floor of the parliament.?
“What we are saying is we don't have to wait until such happens in Nigeria before we take action,” he said.?
The lawmakers also noted that the amendment is not different from the provisions of the Legislative Houses Powers and Privileges Act of 1953 which is old and gives very minimal protection ?to the Legislature within the legislative house premises.