A heated disagreement is underway in Nigeria over how elected officials should be held legally accountable for their actions. Three years ago, the legislature created an anti-corruption board, designed to handle such cases. Officials would have to answer the board -- and not the country's courts. But some claim the board does not have the power to investigate high ranking officials. Now Nigeria's high court has been asked to decide.
Analysts say under the Constitution, the president, vice president, state governor and his deputy are immune from any civil or criminal proceeding while in office. They say these officers are also protected from arrest, from being required to appear in a court of law, and from being charged with crimes by the criminal justice system. They say the only legal way to investigate and remove a corrupt official is by impeachment by the National Assembly.
For that reason, some are upset over the government-sponsored Independent Corrupt Practices Commission – which was created by the National Assembly. Officials of the Commission say it can investigate cases of corruption -- and send them to the courts for prosecution. Commission authorities say no governor or deputy governor has been charged with corruption since the board was created three years ago. But they say it is currently investigating complaints against five governors and three deputies.
A voter in Benin City, Idaewor Bello, believes the investigations by the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission are a waste of time: " If there has to be a frontal attack on corruption in Nigeria, the constitution [must be amended]. This law that the Chief Justice can investigate governors who have immunity under the Constitution is neither here nor there, because the truth of the matter is that at the end of the day, the Constitution supercedes whatever (anti-corruption law) is passed by the National Assembly. " Some state governors are already in court challenging the constitutionality of the commission’s investigations against them. But a human rights activist in Benin City, Godwin Uyi Ojo, says the constitutional provisions on immunity for public officers are being misinterpreted. He says, "Immunity does not preclude being investigated and once you are and you are found guilty (culpable) then the (next) procedure follows as in impeachment [by a state assembly], for example."
Mr. Ojo says he is not surprised by the reaction of public officers to the possibility of being investigated. But he says they should be: "Definately," he says, "some may have skeletons in their cupboard."
Analysts are calling for the constitution to be amended to remove the immunity clause. They say this is a sure way to enhance the efficiency of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission and improve Nigeria’s chances of winning the war against corruption.