America is unequivocally a strong nation. It’s not only strong because of its military might, it’s its strong veritable institutions that allow the country to flex its military power and at the same time foster internal durability for democratic institutions. Thus, America has strong institutions that have been able to sustain its democracy for over 200 years. Nowhere is that potency more evident than in its judicial system that seriously attempts to make both private and public officials accountable to the people.
Based on a very strong legal institution, no one is above or below the law regardless of highly placed in the society that person is. The sharp jaw of the law does not discriminate and that is why some public officials have not been able to escape its long reach. Public officials, such as the President, judges, Senators, House members, and governors, as well as others are held beyond reproach and are accountable to the public. They are not immune from judicial inquiry or any possible legal prosecution if they are found legally and morally wanting in office.
Rod R. Blagojevick, a powerful tow-term former Illinois governor found the above to be very true with his personal experience with the law. Blagojevich, born on December 10, 1956, was the Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney and subsequently a member of the US House of Representatives before being elected in 2002 and sworn in as the governor of Illinois on January 13, 2003. Since his re-election in 2006, he was marred in legal problems. Blagojevick was under federal investigation for corruption while in office. He was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, as well as soliciting bribes.
The charges included attempted extortion, and conspiracy to solicit bribes, “personal benefit in exchange for an appointment” and racketeering among other charges. The scandal resulted in Blagojevich’s impeachment by the Illinois General Assembly and subsequent removal from office in January 2009 by the Illinois Senate. Soon after the ordeal, on April 2, 2009, Blagojevich was indicted by the federal grand jury on the charges filed by Patrick Fitzgerald, a no-nonsense federal prosecutor. Also, on June 27, 2011, Blagojevich was convicted of 17 charges of corruption and sentenced to 14 years in federal penitentiary on December 7, 2011.
He is currently serving his 14-year sentence in Colorado. It was reported that at his sentencing, Blagojevich apologized to his people and Judge and blamed himself for his corrupt actions. He said, “I have nobody to blame but myself for my stupidity and actions, words, things that I did, that I thought I could do.” It’s clear that in the United States, any allegation of impropriety or graft against a public official—elected or appointed—is fully investigated to either exonerate the alleged or find him/her liable/guilty and consequently removed from office in addition to other legal retribution. The process of removing an elected official from office may be a long one.
However, the culprit may elect to resign instead of putting the public through the impeachment process. That was precisely what Mr. John Rowland, 47, a Republican governor of Connecticut, who was easily reelected to a third term in 2002 as governor, did on July 21, 2004. He resigned on that fateful day as governor of Connecticut effective July 1, 2004 instead of facing a rancorous impeachment recommended by the State Committee investigating him.
Mr. Rowland’s resignation virtually halted the impeachment proceedings. The crux of Rowland’s problems—at that time under federal investigation—started in 2003 when it was found that he accepted gifts and favours from friends, state contractors, and state employees and lied about it. Sadly in Nigeria, corruption among some governors is protected by the immunity clause in Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, which states: “(1) Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this Constitution, but subject to subsection (2) of this section – (a) No civil or criminal proceedings shall be instituted or continued against a person to whom this section applies during his period of office; (b) A person to whom this section applies shall not be arrested or imprisoned during that period either in pursuance of the process of any court or otherwise; and (c) No process of any court requiring or compelling the appearance of a person to whom this section applies, shall be applied for or issued: Provided that in ascertaining whether any period of limitation has expired for the purposes of any proceedings against a person to whom this section applies, no account shall be taken of his period of office.” Without expunging the preceding section, Sections 174 and 211(1) would be mute on the sitting governors.
Section 211 contains, “the Attorney General of a State shall have power: (a) to institute and undertake criminal proceedings against any person before any court of law in Nigeria other than a court-martial in respect of offence created by or under a law of the House of Assembly; (b) to take over and continue any such criminal proceedings that may have been instituted by any other authority or person; and (c) to discontinue at any stage before judgment is delivered any such criminal proceedings instituted or undertaken by him or any other authority or person.” While the debate rages, the human toll of immunity-aided corruption in Nigeria continues to be alarming and beyond description at this point. Some argue that it’s necessary for the governors to enjoy the immunity from prosecution so that they will be able to concentrate while discharging their duties.
They say that without the immunity, the governors will be distracted with malicious lawsuits. The advocates for immunity also argue that governors will be ineffective in office without it. The entire argument of the proponents of immunity for the governors is invalidated by the American experience, where the absence of immunity helps to guide the conduct and behaviour of public officials. The strident agitation for expunging the immunity clause in the constitution is growing louder with each passing day. It is believed that if the immunity clause is expunged, Nigerians will begin to experience effective government. Though some governors will go to any length to protect their selfish interest to the detriment of public good, many will equally persist that the immunity clause be removed in order to effectively make a dent on war against corruption.
It’s further true that people charged with the protection of the citizens of their respective states would continue to recklessly usurp and abuse power. Abuse of power has permeated the fabric of the society that people have begun to think it’s normal. It’s not normal and can no longer be tolerated if Nigeria wants to rebuild its economy. The consequences of the presence of the immunity clause will continue to permeate the fabric of the nation. Without expunging it, Nigeria will be bound to experience the following at an alarming rate: bribery, selective prosecution, increase in abuse of power, corruption, reckless disregard to the needs of the masses, and a host of other ills that have already hamstrung the nation’s economic development.
Thus, expunging the immunity clause in the constitution would help with the war against the jinx that has plagued the country for so long. The idea of expunging the immunity clause in Section 308 of the Nigerian constitution was borne out a theory that the absence of the clause would make the governors more accountable—less corrupt thereby strengthening public service.Immunity clause that protects the sitting governors from prosecution is bad for Nigeria. The rule of law should apply to everyone regardless of office, gender, ethnicity, wealth and social status. No one should be above the law.
The existence of laws and prescribed punishments for violations is to deter people from committing crimes in the first place. There should be no immunity for anyone! Immunity clause is simply an ill-conceived machination for loot of state treasuries at the expense of the populace!