8 April 2013

Nigeria: Legislative Immunity Bill Targets Corrupt Lawmakers, Media Houses

The controversial bill seeking to confer immunity on the legislative houses may have its advantages after all, as some of its provisions are geared towards eradicating bribery and corruption in the National Assembly.

However, a glance at the bill showed that it had some provisions that could be dangerous to media houses as it seeks to punish journalists for preemptive reports and other publications which the parliament may consider scandalous and defamatory.

Apparently, to save the parliament from recurring bribery scandals, Section 11 of the bill prohibits acts geared towards influencing members of the legislature to take action or suspend action on any matter before the parliament.

"Any one who runs foul of this provision shall be liable on conviction to a fine or two years imprisonment or both.

The provision read thus: "A person who offers a member or officer of a Legislative House, any bribe, fee, compensation, reward or benefits of any kind in order to influence him in his conduct in respect of promotion of or opposition to any bill, resolution or report submitted or intended to be submitted to the legislative house or

(b) threatens to make use of force, violence, restraint or inflict any temporal, metaphysical or spiritual injury, or damage against a member or officer of the legislative house in order to compel such member to declare himself in favour of or against any matter pending or being expected, commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of N500,000.00 or two years imprisonment or both.

"A member of a Legislative House who accepts or agrees to accept bribe or attempt to obtain for himself or for any other person any bribe, fee, compensation, reward or benefit of any kind for speaking or refraining from speaking, voting or refraining from voting or influencing any report submitted or intended to be submitted to the Legislative House, commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of N500,000.00 or two years imprisonment or both."

Section 13 of the bill which deals with the issue of contempt of a Legislative House prohibits the publication of a report of a committee before it is laid to the House in plenary session.

The bill prescribes punishment for publications that may be injurious to the image of the House or its principal officers.

Section 15 of the bill states thus: "A person who publishes- (a) any statement which falsely or scandalously defames a legislative house or any committee; (b) writing reflecting on the character of the President (Senate) or Speaker or chairman of a committee of a legislative house in the conduct of his duty; or (c) writing containing a gross, willful or scandalous misrepresentation of the proceedings of the legislative house, commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of N2,000,000.00 or twelve months imprisonment or both."

It similarly prescribes a fine of N2,000,000.00 or twelve months imprisonment or both for any person who falsely prints or causes to be printed a copy of any Act, law, committee report or votes on proceedings of a legislative house on the pretext that it was printed by government printer or by the authority of the legislative house.

The House of Representatives recently passed through second reading, a Bill for an Act to repeal the Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) and enact the Legislative Powers and Privileges Act 2012 in order to give the legislature the desired powers and immunity to be able to carry out its responsibilities.

The bill seeks to shield members of the legislature from criminal or civil proceedings against them in respect of words spoken or written at plenary sessions or at committee proceedings.

It also passed a bill for an Act to alter the 1999 Constitution (as amended) by providing immunity for the members of the legislature, to guarantee that freedom of speech and debates and proceedings in legislative houses are not impeached or questioned in any court or place out of parliament.

The bills were sponsored by the Chairman, House Committee on Justice , Hon. Ali Ahmad and Hon. Nnanna Igbokwe and consolidated into one at plenary.

In the alteration of the constitution, the proponents of the bill are seeking the inclusion of the following clause: "in the course of exercising its legislative functions, civil or criminal proceedings shall not be instituted against a member of a the House in respect of words spoken or written before the House or a committee thereof, unless that House shall have waived this privilege or immunity in respect of that member."

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