A lot of ignorant social media commentators are beating up on the Nigerian Senate for passing “Bill Number 8,” which grants legislative immunity to members of the National Assembly. One social media commentator cynically called it “legislative impunity,” and he was barracked by a band of nescient cheerleaders. The truth is that legislative immunity, also called parliamentary immunity, exists in all modern democracies, as I’ll show shortly.
Contrary to what most people imagine it to be, legislative immunity doesn’t mean freedom from consequences for crimes committed while serving in the legislature. It merely means legislators can’t be sued for libel or slander for things they SAY when the legislative bodies they are members of are in session or when they are in committee meetings. They are not shielded from prosecution for other legal infractions they commit in and outside the National Assembly.
I’m surprised that this protection didn’t exist in our laws until now. There is no modern democracy in the world that doesn’t have it. In the UK, Canada, and other Westminster systems, it’s called “parliamentary immunity.” It protects members of parliament from being sued for libel or slander for things they say while the parliament is in session.
In France, it’s called parliamentary “irresponsibility.” Note that “irresponsibility” has a completely different meaning in French; it means freedom from consequences. French parliamentarians have freedom from legal responsibility for whatever they say in the course of their parliamentary duties.
Benin Republic, Nigeria’s western neighbor, enshrines parliamentary immunity for its lawmakers
<a target="_blank" ="https:="" www.constituteproject.org="" constitution="" benin_1990.pdf?lang="en"">As people who are familiar with this column know, I am not a fan of the National Assembly. In an August 1, 2015 article titled “Urgent Need for ‘Braintashi’ in the National Assembly,” for instance, I wrote:
“From the outside looking in, the vast majority of National Assembly members come across as brain-dead, monomaniacally mercantile knuckleheads who have no business being in the business of lawmaking. This is, frankly, a regrettable thing to say because there are a few truly honorable, clear-headed men and women in the National Assembly. But it’s difficult to ignore the huge joke that the National Assembly has become.
“If National Assembly members are not exchanging fisticuffs over inanities—like hyperactive, ill-bred high-school kids—they are arguing interminably over unearned perks and over who chairs cushy, ‘juicy’ committees or leadership positions. If they are doing none of the above, they are luxuriating in sybaritic lavishness….
“Perhaps the lowest water mark yet in the show of brainlessness by the National Assembly happened a few days ago when 5 senators and 20 members of the House of Representatives constituted themselves into an ad hoc committee of bodyguards around Mrs. Toyin Saraki when she was invited by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to answer questions over allegations of corruption against her….
“Although I am being facetious when I say the National Assembly needs an overabundant supply of ‘braintashi,’ I am truly concerned that the National Assembly is fast earning notoriety as the place where brains die, as the graveyard of commonsense.”
Nonetheless, it is also true that the National Assembly has become the convenient bogeyman of the disgustingly contemptible and vile hypocrites called “Buharists” whose favorite pastime now is to blame the Buhari-inspired dysfunctions in the country on the National Assembly—and to instinctively criticize everything the National Assembly does while turning a blind eye to the spectacular “ungovernance” of the presidency.