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NIGERIA IS TOO CORRUPT FOR PRESIDENTIAL IMMUNITY

Greetings, folks!

It amazes me that there are rational Nigerians who actually want us to retain a law that gives leaders the right to commit atrocities with impunity and disdain. Saner democratic climes like America may have immunity for president because there are strong democratic institutions and laws that do not allow the president to abuse immunity from prosecution while in office, but not Nigeria where the president is too powerful and literally above the law.

 Even more amazing is that some of us have taken the position to keep the controversial immunity clause in our constitution because, typically, we are too lazy to come up with a sensible solution to the simple problem. We find it much intellectually easier to simply leave the clause alone. We are very intelligent as a people, mind you; and the entire world knows it. We are only too nonchalant to put on our thinking caps and intelligently address our problems. Our current debate should be on how to stop the immunity-induced menace, and not whether or not we must stop it. 

Our debate should be on how to amend the faulty constitution to that effect, and not to question the obvious necessity to amend it.

I will briefly digress from the immunity controversy to demonstrate our peculiar intellectual laxity in solving problems, citing one interesting scenario that has existed at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport for some donkey years now. Without a single exception, departure and arrival lounges in every airport around the world is open to passengers, as well as their families and friends who are there to bid them farewell or to welcome them to town. 

That is what the lounges are meant for; believe me I know, I have seen quite a few airports in my time. Nigeria is the only country in the world with the barbaric practice of baring friends and families of travelers from entering airport lounges. I asked why, and the answer that I received was typically, peculiarly, Nigerian. The idea is “to keep touts out of the lounges.” What ridiculous, un-intelligent approach to a problem, I lamented! Rather than control or punish urchins for misbehaving in our airport lounges, my brethren at the Airport Authority decided that it is intellectually easier to humiliate the good guys, us Nigerians, along with all our foreign guests. 

We are too nonchalant to put on our thinking caps and intelligently address the problem of policing urchins at our airports. I see similar intellectual laxity raising its ugly head in the current debate on the immunity clause in the nation’s constitution.

I have listened to a few public opinions that argue for the retention of the immunity clause, with the rationale that removing the immunity would keep the leaders perpetually in court with “frivolous” lawsuits. This suggests to me that we are too lazy to think of ways of removing the clause and still protect the leaders from frivolous suits. The laxity does not bother me much when it comes from the general Nigerian public because I do not expect every Nigerian out there to examine the subject with a critical mindset. It does worry me quite a bit, however, when members of the country’s National Assembly seem to be approaching the matter in that same unintelligent manner that our Airports Authority has handled the airport-miscreants problem.

 Here is one fact that nobody can sensibly dispute—the privileged leaders grossly abuse the immunity clause. Knowing that they are above the law, they commit atrocities with impunity. Further, we all agree that the abuse of power costs Nigeria too much in many forms, including human lives, when some of our leaders go on rampage. Then the next rational step is to check the menace, period! How we achieve this is really secondary; we just have to do it, one way, or the other. One thing is certain; we would look like a bunch of idiots to the world if we do absolutely nothing about it.

Our lawmakers should stop the foot dragging and initiate moves to amend, bend, or do whatever it is that the legal jargon says they need to do to check the menace of our so-called leaders who hide under the immunity clause to commit atrocities with disdainful impunity. Naturally, a dilemma does exist, because there are clear disadvantages in removing the immunity clause. But that is how it is in every situation in human life; there are always pros and cons, advantages as well as disadvantages. No wonder there are notions called priority, and preferences in life’s many options. 

Our lawmakers cannot categorically jettison the entire idea of checkmating the excesses of our leaders. For crying out loud, we are paying them, good money I must add, to put on their thinking caps and come up with sensible compromises to resolve any dilemma that may arise in the process of giving us a workable democratic constitution. For instance, we can agree to keep the doggone clause if we must, but expunge criminal cases from it. In other words, only criminal cases can qualify for trial. Secondly, even with the criminal cases, we can still create safety mechanisms to check frivolity in lawsuits against the executives. But please, do not tell me that we must continue with this nonsense of allowing suspected criminals to continue in office, and covering their tracks with our money in the meantime.

The Grand Jury Compromise

The best argument put forward by the pro-immunity group is the fear of frivolity in lawsuits against the leaders, and there is an easy antidote for it. There is something called Grand Jury in the US legal system, which sifts frivolous lawsuits out of the system. A Grand Jury is a jury of 12 to 23 persons, who are designated to inquire into alleged violations of the law in order to ascertain whether the evidence is sufficient to warrant trial. That is one of the ways to go if we truly want to address the dilemma of the pros and cons of the immunity clause in our constitution. Remove the damn clause, and institute the Grand Jury safety mechanism to take care of possible frivolous lawsuits against the privileged leaders. If we must keep the immunity clause, then we must expunge the section that protects the leaders from criminal atrocities that can easily be substantiated. The substantiation would be done at the Grand Jury level to determine if an allegation is serious enough to go for trial.

Oh, by the way, permit me to take you back to my opening airport analogy with this rhetoric question: has anyone noticed that the urchins that caused the problem are now the ones that you find inside the lounges? Yes indeed! We, the good guys are barbarically kept outside the Murtala Muhammed Airport lounges, come rain or sunshine, and the urchins are inside, because they know the right thing to do in order to gain entry, if you know what I mean. Keeping airport visitors outside does make us look like barbarians to the rest of the world, but it does not bother us one bit, or does it? Well, the subject of immunity clause carries much more weight than airport urchins palaver, and we do have to take it a lot more seriously. We must put on our thinking caps to address whatever dilemma may arise as we fine-tune our constitution to serve us better. Presently, our focus should be on stopping our leaders from blatantly, criminally abusing the powers that we have given them, and whatever it takes to do it is exactly what we should do. A rational mind does not abandon a task at the mere sight of a simple challenge…that is what I call Bullshitting!

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