By Sadeeq Sheshe
Nigeria is a democratic country on course to possibly reach a 30-year milestone of uninterrupted democracy. Ever since the start of the 4th republic in 1999, the country’s democratic journey has been evolving. The resulting pillars of this Democracy; The executive, Legislator, and Judiciary have through various legal means, continued to be strengthened.
Section 308 of the 1999 amended constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria has provided a “classical immunity” to certain members of the executive in order to smoothen their ride towards dispatching their duties. The section reading as follows;
“(1) Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this Constitution, but subject to subsection (2) of this section –
(a) no civil or criminal proceedings shall be instituted or continued against a person to whom this section applies
during his period of office;
(b) a person to whom this section applies shall not be arrested or imprisoned during that period either in pursuance
of the process of any court or otherwise; and
(c) no process of any court requiring or compelling the appearance of a person to whom this section applies, shall be
applied for or issued:
Provided that in ascertaining whether any period of limitation has expired for the purposes of any proceedings
against a person to whom this section applies, no account shall be taken of his period of office.
(2) The provisions of subsection (1) of this section shall not apply to civil proceedings against a person to whom this
section applies in his official capacity or to civil or criminal proceedings in which such a person is only a nominal
(3) This section applies to a person holding the office of President or Vice-President, Governor or Deputy Governor;
and the reference in this section to “period of office” is a reference to the period during which the person holding
such office is required to perform the functions of the office.”
According to such a section, no criminal or civil proceeding can be instituted against a sitting President, Vice President, Governor, and Deputy Governor in the Nigerian state.
A lot have discussed the reasons for this section being allowing smooth running of activities of the executives without possible interference (be it political or any other) and diversions as discussed by Fabamise(2017).
Such a logical basis for establishing this in our constitution might have been feasible at that particular moment. However, within our 22nd-year democratic journey in Nigeria, we have visibly seen how this section has become a major tool for driving corruption, impunity, and abuse of rights and freedom. The very set of people that have been protected by this section of the constitution are the ones topping the abuse of such a section. From the flagrant abuse of the immunity provided by such a section to the rapid facilitation of corruption. This section, which was initially enacted to be a tool to drive good governance has ultimately become a nightmare along the course of democracy in Nigeria.
As such, there have been continuous calls and movements for either abolishing or amendment of this section as one of the ways to curtail the horrors of corruption and impunity in Nigeria. Calls by various organizations including socio-cultural and social-religious organizations have over the years gained massive momentum.
Out of nowhere, a recent move by some corrupt and self centered legislators in connivance with some benefiting executives and their political cronies has rather left everyone in the greatest possible shock. With the recent ongoing process of more amendments to the constitution, these elements managed to come up with clause 42 intended to amend section 308 of the constitution. One could have initially thought that it was that massive call around the country that was heard. Unfortunately, No! Rather , a more ridiculous insertion.
The clause rather intends to amend the 308 section to include the President of Senate and his deputy, Speaker of the House and his deputy as well as speakers of state assemblies and their deputies, Unbelievable! This means, in addition to the parties previously protected in the section, the latter could also be part of such immunity. This clause has rather left a lot of Nigerians in shocking states.
It is a case of fighting to contain a catastrophe while some elements inviting more tsunamis. The height of irresponsibility by such elements is the fact that they have reduced the provisions in our constitution as parcels of bargain. In a rather ridiculous move to make a somewhat bargain with the judicial arm, the clause also added the Chief Justice of Nigeria as part of the array to be immuned. Upon it, all was the inclusion of State assembly speakers and their deputies who have rather become a democratic liability to everyone due to them being reduced to rubber stamp and errand boys of governors in various states of the federation.
Why are politicians always wanting to be immune?
Why are they always trying to avoid checks and balances to ensure transparency, justice, and fairness?
Why do they want this immunity so much?
Such kind of politically motivated legality- intended blackmail on Nigerians need to ultimately stop. With the current crop of politicians in the arena, section 308 in itself should rather be repelled in my opinion. Nobody should be immune to anything in this Nigeria and particularly these fantastically corrupt politicians.
As such, The time has come for Nigerians to come together and fight off such disasters that have continued to draw back the democratic progress of our country. NGOs, religious bodies, cultural groups, and other necessary stakeholders need to wake up to their senses. Importantly, We Nigerians as a whole need to immediately wake up to fight off this illegality waiting to be made legal.