A bill seeking a one year jail term or one million naira fine, or both, as penalty for ministers, heads of agencies and other public officers who ignore invitations to appear at investigative hearings in the National Assembly or fail to submit requested documents, has passed the first reading in the House of Representatives.
Sponsored by Sunday Karimi, representing Kogi state, the proposed legislation, a Bill for an Act to Amend the Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act Cap L12, Laws of the Federation, 2004 to make more stringent Offences of Failure to Attend Investigative Hearings of Legislative Houses and for other related matters, divided lawmakers who either opposed or supported it.
The bill equally seeks to empower the Sergeant-at-Arms office in the National Assembly to effect warrants of arrest.
In the proposed bill, the Senate President or Speaker of the House of Representatives are to forward confirmed cases of contempt of the legislative house to the Attorney-General of the Federation for prosecution.
Karimi, in his lead debate, decried what he said were several cases of disregard for the investigative power of the National Assembly shown by the Executive, who simply refuse to appear before committees conducting investigations or provide relevant documents.
He further stated that amendment of the law was important as presently, the National Assembly still needs the Police, which is an agency under the Executive arm of government, to execute bench warrants issued against government officials.
“We had a situation here in the last Assembly where we invited a minister who refused to appear before a committee and nothing happened,” Karimi noted.
The lawmaker explained that the law em while adding that the bill will strengthen National Assembly’s to deal with contempt of legislative house.
But, another member, Musa Soba, who raised a point of constitutional order, expressed reservations on the content of the bill. He said it is against the provisions of sections 88 and 89 of the1999 Constitution, as amended.
“If the Constitution already guides the conduct of investigations by the National Assembly, then, there is no need for this legislation”, Soba said.
Another member, who also raised a point of constitutional order, Iduma Igariwey , cautioned against enacting a law that would be in breach of section 6 (68) and section 4(8) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
Igariwey maintained that both sections empower the Judiciary to compel guests who failed to appear before investigative committees of the National Assembly, to do so.
“Our powers are spelt out. We don’t have judicial powers” he said.
But his argument was punctured by Edward Pwajok, who is also a senior advocate of nigeria, who supported the bill. He relied on sub-section 1 (c) (b) of section 89 of the Constitution, which gives the National Assembly powers, as it is with courts, to issue warrants of arrest and fines, as penalties.
In his intervention, Deputy Speaker Yussuf Lasun, who presided at plenary, blamed old cases of ministers ignoring invitations from investigating committees on “impunity.”
He, however, advised that the bill be carefully handled. “It’s a technical bill that we have to take time to fine-tune so we don’t go against the Constitution,” he said.
Following his intervention, the Deputy Speaker put the bill to a voice vote, with it receiving more ‘ayes’. It was subsequently referred to the committee on Justice.