Nigerian opposition favours corruption immunity

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President Umaru Yar’Adua’s proposal for the removal of an immunity clause from the Nigerian Constitution has been met with a stumbling block following a rejection by the country’s main opposition party– Action Congress (AC).

The party described the proposal, which aims to prosecute corrupt serving public officials in the fight against corruption and has received the President’s endosement, as ”an emotional reaction not grounded in fact”.

The party indicated that the “immunity is clause” was not the main factor hindering the cause of the country’s tepid anti-graft battle but rather the absence of a strong political will to fight corruption.

“Unless we have a strong political will, develop an institutional capacity backed by a massive re-orientation of public officials in particular and make corruption unattractive by subjecting offenders to a stiff penalty, the fight against corruption is doomed, whether or not we remove the immunity clause”.

The party also said that the fight against corruption would not go anywhere for as long as the wrong set of people get into public offices, ”aided and abetted by a cash-and-carry, discredited electoral system”.

“Today, 419ers (financial fraudsters), crooks and people of dubious characters are serving in state and federal legislatures or as councillors, council chairmen and governors. How did they scale the hurdle to contest before they were even elected or selected in the first instance? This is the fundamental issue we should be tackling,” they said.

It said those who are clamouring for the removal of the clause had forgotten, ”perhaps conveniently so, that a total of only 74 officials enjoy immunity”.

”State commissioners, federal and state permanent secretaries, directors and assistant directors and other top public officials do not enjoy immunity, yet they form the bulk of those who implement policies and therefore oversee huge amounts of money allocated for various projects.

“How many of these categories of officials have been charged with corruption? Is corruption only limited to state chief executives, their deputies, the President and the Vice President…”

”Unless of course we are saying that state governors and their deputies as well as the President and Vice President are the only corrupt public officials in Nigeria, the continuous clamour for the removal of immunity, which protect offices and not persons, should end forthwith,” the party added.

It wondered why former state governors and their deputies have not been arrested since they lost their immunity after losing office, if indeed immunity was the problem.

Nigeria’s bicameral legislature is currently reviewing the country’s 1999 Constitution, and calls have heightened for the removal of the immunity clause, which bars governors of the 36 states and their deputies as well as the President and his deputy from criminal prosecution while in office.

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