Yes, Yar’Adua, Let The Immunity Clause Go!

by Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

Unless, this is merely another of those statements he usually makes to grab the headlines and circulate the misleading impression that some form of governance is going in Abuja, after which nothing more is ever heard about the matter again, last week’s call by President Umar Musa Yar’Adua on the National Assembly to expunge the irredeemably iniquitous Immunity Clause from the Nigerian Constitution, most surely, ranked, in my opinion, as the most significant thing the man had uttered since he assumed office in May 2007. The Immunity Clause gives statutory protection to the president, his deputy, governors and their deputies against arrests and prosecutions for any unlawful acts throughout their tenure of office. In other words, even if a governor or president empties the whole treasury into his pocket, the much anyone can do (since the lawmakers are also in his pocket) is to wait patiently until he is out of office before he could be brought to book for such a hideous crime. The purpose of this odious law, we are told, is to ensure that this category of public officers are spared every distraction which their arrests and prosecutions could constitute, so they could devote their whole self and time to govern the people well.

But, as we have all sadly found out, this has become the most abused law in Nigeria. The Immunity Clause may have been added with good intentions, but given our bitter experiences with successive rulers, nothing now justifies its continued retention in our statute books. Unfortunately, the governance of our hapless nation has been hijacked by a criminal class whose only mission in the various Government Houses is to loot the places dry. After they had stolen so much and stashed billions in coded accounts abroad, they would abscond once they leave office, and only return to the country to enjoy their filthy wealth after they had successfully used the billions they had stolen to install and sustain one of their own in power, so that no matter the national outcry against their boundless criminal accumulations while in office, the various anti-corruption agencies would endeavour to look the other way once their names are mentioned. “Corruption is endemic in this country,” President Yar’Adua said last week, “and there is no way this country can achieve its potential until and unless this evil is confronted promptly by all Nigerians, and one of the steps and measures that we may have to take in order to entrench this fight against corruption is to look at some of our laws. I today call for the abrogation of the constitutional provision of immunity for president, vice president, governors and deputy governors, and I want all Nigerians to join me in this call … this provision of immunity should be expunged from the Nigerian Constitution.”

With my whole I heart I endorse this most important call by the president. We have always been fed with such bunkum like how irresponsible and unpatriotic Nigerians would use countless frivolous petitions and lawsuits to “distract” the governors or the president from his determination to turn Nigeria into another paradise. And how instead of spending all the time “transforming” the state and delivering “democracy dividends,” he would be in one court or the other where he had been charged for corruption or other criminal activities. Please, spare all such trash for hare-brained fools. Since the immunity clause had protected these fellows from “distractions” what have they achieved? For eight years, 1999-2007, Nigeria enjoyed unprecedented prosperity from oil exports, which sold as high as $135. But despite the total absence of “distractions,” what did our rulers achieve? Nigeria is still battling with prehistoric darkness, with industries folding up and relocating to neighbouring countries, as a result of the total collapse of the power sector. Roads have remained impassable. The school and health systems have since packed up, and no one is even attempting to extend them the honour of an autopsy. Indeed, the immunity clause has only helped the heartless, thieving rulers to mindlessly steal without “distractions.” This just must stop! We require only one quarter of what was stolen by public officers in this country to turn it into another Europe. Imagine what this country of highly creative people would become if we had uninterrupted power supply? No nation where thieves are kings ever survives! The greatest hindrance to Nigeria’s development is CORRUPTION. No more, no less.

So, let the immunity clause go. If it only helps the governor or president to realize he is NOT some emperor to be worshipped, and that state funds are not his to squander the way he likes, that’s okay for now. Whoever thinks he would be unable to take the “distractions” from “frivolous petitions” can simply excuse himself from aspiring to become president or governor. Maybe, after this, the genuine servant-leaders, whose mission is to truly serve the people, would emerge to rescue this nation from the resilient criminal class that has held it to ransom for many years now. Every other nation seeks daily to transfer more power to its people to enable them hold leaders accountable, but in Nigeria, everything is done to render the people voiceless and powerless. I see the removal of this immunity clause as one effective way of returning power to the people. By the way, what is all this fetish about “distractions”? Anambra people still retain pleasant memories of the brief tenure of Chris Ngige as their governor, yet, only few people remember that Ngige did all he did to win the love of his people in the midst of a most savage fight against him by Aso Rock-empowered renegades. So much for “distractions.”


What is Gov Ohakim Afraid Of?
Mr. Ikedi Ohakim has said countless nice things and did a few things right since he happened in Owerri as Imo Governor, including tarring the road to my village in Umuaka halfway – something previous regimes could not even attempt despite profuse promises. And, although, many people on this side of civilisation recoiled at his suggestion the other day that treasury looters should be stoned (to death, I suppose), such an outburst, however, was construed by many as indicative of the governor’s deep revulsion for corruption. But just a few days after his historic statement, and President Yar’Adua had called for the abrogation of the obnoxious immunity clause, Ohakim thoroughly embarrassed his admirers and Imo citizens by becoming the first serving public officer (in less than twenty-four hours or so) to voice his public disagreement with Yar’Adua on this issue. “I believe that there are many areas of the Constitution that require amendment to assist Nigeria in fulfilling its manifest destiny, and not the issue of corruption,” he told reporters in Kaduna. Indeed, given that corruption has since distinguished itself as the most destructive enemy of Nigeria’s development, Ohakim’s uncritical stand certainly cost him countless friends, and placed a halo of doubt over his past media posturing on transparency in governance. Did he see the degrading comments his unedifying position attracted from enraged Nigerians on the internet? But why is Ohakim suddenly jittery? Is he scared of a past to which the removal of immunity clause might attract more discreet scrutiny or a present which when exposed by the removal of the immunity shield might look very scary? Or was he merely, characteristically, dropping another headline-grabbing bombshell? A sad day for Imo indeed!

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