The House of Representatives is mulling a bill seeking to grant immunity to the Supreme Court justices, chief judges of the Federal High Court, and the 36 states of the federation and that of the Federal Capital Territory.
The bill scaled second reading at the green chamber on Thursday, July 23, 2020.
Sponsored by Iduma Igariwey (APC, Ebonyi), himself a lawyer, the proposed law seeks to alter section 308 of the 1999 constitution as amended by restricting legal proceedings against heads of courts in the country.
Mr Igariwey said if it becomes law, the bill will “protect the integrity and independence of the Supreme Court, the Federal and state High Courts.”
The lawmaker argued that the proposed legislation will entrench the doctrine of separation of powers, thereby protecting “the Judiciary from the excesses of the Executive arm.”
In 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari controversially suspended former Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Walter Onnoghen, for false and non-assets declaration.
Onnoghen would later resign, after which he was convicted by Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, April last year.
More so, section 308 shields the quartet of the president, the vice president, state governors, and their deputies, for their period in office, from all forms of civil and criminal prosecution.
Also narrowly scaling second reading, a bill that would grant immunity to the presiding officers of the National and State Assemblies is being mulled by the House of Representatives.
“I really think that if there is an arm that should enjoy immunity, it is the judiciary. I think that this is the arm that should enjoy immunity to avoid distraction. What is good for the executive is good for the judiciary,” Mr Igariwey argued in his lead debate.
He said this makes the bill “expedient in order to protect the integrity and independence of the leadership of the superior courts of records at the state and federal levels.”
“The immunity clause as contained in Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) should be extended the Chief of Justice of Nigeria and justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court and the Chief Justices of the State High Courts and Federal Capital Territory.
“This will be in the best interest of maintaining the doctrine of separation of powers, as contemplated by the 1999 Constitution and the protection of our judiciary from the excesses of the executive,” the lawmaker added.
The bill is now up for consideration at committee level, followed by a public hearing and a concurrence by the Senate after which the president will be required to assent to it.