Some months ago, Senator-elect Buruji Kashamu was to be arrested by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) operatives at the request of the United States Government for drug-related offences committed some years ago. As soon as his house was barricaded by NDLEA men, the debate started about the “legality” of his impending arrest. Many of those in the senator’s support cited his “immunity” being a senator, even though he was then yet to be sworn in.
I simply avoided contributing to the matter at that period because I couldn’t wait for then President-elect, General Muhammedu Buhari to be sworn in as President. So, Kashamu’s case was the least of my concerns!
Recently, a certain Leo Ogor, the Minority Leader in the House of Representatives came up with a shocker: immunity must cover the National Assembly too. I had to check to know if the man wasn’t speaking from excessive dosage of alcoholic beverage for him to ejaculate this (for want of more appropriate words to describe it) trash. One wonders if clowns and drug barons like Kashamu in the Senate and other fraudsters who have numerous cases of corruption against them, including the principal officers, will not translate the so-called immunity to impunity.
Still on Ogor, let me quote him (I am assuming The Vanguard reporter got him right): “If the head of the executive arm, the President and his vice should enjoy immunity, the heads of the other two arms of government, the legislature and the judiciary, should also benefit from the immunity” (The Vanguard 5 October, 2015).
Let us agree with this man for a moment that the principal officers at the National Assembly in fact need not be distracted, hence deserving immunity. Let us equally accept without conceding that members of the National Assembly are in fact the “Honourables” they are taken to be and so should be excused from prosecution during their tenure in office. What baffles me is how some of them will account for offences committed before they fraudulently joined the House. What happens to persons with questionable integrity who find their way into the House hence bringing it to disrepute? Should they also be granted immunity? If these last classes of people have immunity, we can easily conclude that they will commit acts of impunity!
Was he requesting for “Parliamentary Immunity”? I have heard it said by one of the lawyers who was a guest panelist during the Kashamu saga that after being sworn in, he is immune from arrest or prosecution because of “parliamentary Immunity.” Oh my God!
I am not a lawyer but I know this man must have been poorly educated. If there is anything I know about Parliamentary Immunity, as the name connotes, it is that the immunity covers only “offences” or speeches committed during parliamentary debates or committee meetings. This has nothing to do with criminal prosecutions.
The issue of parliamentary immunity started in England during the Glorious Revolution that led to the adoption of the English Bill of Rights in 1689 sharply limited this practice by granting immunity to members against civil or criminal action stemming from the performance of their legislative duties. The Bill provided that “the Freedom of Speech, and Debates or Proceedings in Parliament, ought not to be impeached or questioned in any Court or Place out of Parliament.”
In the United States, parliamentary or immunity preserves the independence of the legislature by reinforcing the Baron de Montesquieu’s principle of separation of powers, thereby, preventing intimidation of legislators by the executive, and protecting parliamentarians from unwarranted appearances before a possibly hostile judiciary. So much so for parliamentary immunity!
Ogor and people like him need to hear this. The most important thing in applying parliamentary immunity is whether the legislator’s actions fall within the “sphere of legitimate legislative activity.” There are actions a legislator may take, even when s/he is engaging in activities related to his/her legislative office, that do not fall within this sphere. If an action is not a legitimate legislative activity, the legislator is not protected by legislative immunity. Nothing in granting parliamentary immunity to National Assembly members prevent them from arrests save from, performing their legislative duties.
When we say, “legislative duties” we mean: actions that a legislator takes during formal legislative proceedings, such as chairing a committee, debating, making motions, and voting; legislative committee investigations; impeachment proceedings; enacting and enforcing legislative rules and others. Also, a legislator is “immune” from arrest on his way to, or from a parliamentary proceeding; committee meeting or any other official legislative function(s) or for whatever he said or has done on the floor of the parliament. This is how far the issue of parliamentary immunity goes. Any other thing which people like Ogor are asking for will only end in impunity!
So, as to whether Kashamu can be arrested while serving his term in the senate, I say it with all the emphasis I can muster, “Yes”. But my question is: Will they ever arrest him, even if he were not in the Senate covered by the so-called “parliamentary immunity” this “charge and bail” lawyer referred to? This is the impunity we talk about this time represented by people like Leo Ogor!