The Senate has reportedly started a much awaited process of amending the Constitutional provision of the Consttitution that gives the President, Vice-President, governors and deputy governors immunity against court actions while they remain in office.
Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, lawyer and Senator representing the Delta-Central district, proposed the bill which has been forwarded to the Senate Committee on Constitution amendment chaired by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu.
Section 308 of the Constitution, the affection section under review, has been a hot point for years now and many Nigerians habve canvassed for its removal while others have argued for an amendment which will restrict the scope of the section.
The Section provides:
(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 party.
(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.
Hence, while a civil action may be instituted againt the office of the President, Vice-President, Governor or Deputy Governor or against such executive office holder in connection to his or her official duties, no other court processes or actions may be instituted against them – not civil nor criminal.
Those who canvass for its removal have argued that although the section does not guarantee life-long immunity, the circumstances in Nigeria are such that it is almost imposaible to prosecute a former executive office holder as they have enough room while in office to remove all traces of the civil wrong/criminal act.
Senator Omo-Agege’s concerns about the section appear partial. He’s reported to have said that “in the U.S, the President and the Vice President as well as the Governors and their deputies are only immune from civil actions arising from their official actions. They are not entitled to immunity from litigation for actions not germane to their work. For example a president or governor who buys a car for a child and refuses to pay can be taken to court while in office.
His concerns mirror those of the people who have argued for the partial removal/amendment of the Section.
Senator Omo-Agege’s goal with his bill is to ensure that these office holders will be more careful with handling the nation’s resources.