By Ola Agbaje and Chris Iwarah
LAWYERS at the weekend, held divergent views about the alleged restriction of foreign trips of two governors on the Federal Government’s security watch list.
Speaking on the development, Chief Ladi Rotimi-Williams (SAN), Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) and Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa insisted that the alleged directive by the Federal Government, that the affected governors should seek presidential permission before embarking on a foreign trip, was offensive to the immunity granted them in section 308 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the principle of federalism.
But former chairman of the Ikeja branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Monday Ubani and Steve Aderamoye hold a different opion.
Rotimi-Williams said: “I agree that the restriction offends section 308 of the 1999 Constitution. The governor, in his domain, is sovereign. You can’t do that; it’s unconstitutional in its totality. Even if they (governors) were committing treason, they are immune. Unless they are impeached, they are immune. No writ can issue against a governor or a deputy governor. No matter how bad their activities, they are immune.
The government of Nigeria can’t stop them from travelling out of Nigeria, for good reason, for bad reason or for no reason at all.”
Agreeing with Rotimi-Williams, Ozekhome insisted: “Section 308 of the Constitution provides that the president, the vice president, governor and deputy governor enjoy immunity from civil and criminal proceedings against them while they are still in office. The Supreme Court has held in the case of Fawehinmi vs. IGP that they can be investigated, but cannot be prosecuted for any crime until they leave office. To that extent, governors are lords and masters in their states, just as the president is lord and master at the Federal Government level.
The president cannot give instructions to a state governor, just as a state governor cannot give instructions to the president. It is, therefore, an anathema and a constitutional aberration for the Federal Government to seek to ban a state governor who has suzerainty and sovereignty over the state that he governs. Even under military dictatorship, that terrible scenario didn’t play out, let alone in a constitutional democracy. I advise that the government should not generate more problems because Nigerians already have too much in their plates.”
Adegboruwa said: “We are running a federation and the governors, as heads of the autonomous units, are not accountable to the president. There is no supervisory power conferred on the president, under the constitution, over governors. So, a governor is a president in his own state, and he doesn’t require the consent or approval of the president to travel.”
Former chairman of the Ikeja branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Monday Ubani, however, differed. Although Ubani acknowledged the constitutional protection offered governors, he insisted that security agents could stop the foreign trip of a governor where there was evidence indicating that the conduct of the latter was a threat to the wellbeing of the nation.
“Authority, power and immunity vested in the governor are not absolute. There are exceptions, just like the rights conferred on the citizens under Chapter VI of the Constitution are not absolute. In the case of a governor, security threat or concern can be a valid ground for putting a governor under security watch and halting his foreign trip, if there is clear evidence to that effect,” he said.
Mr. Steve Aderamoye agreed with Ubani. He insisted: “If you have a governor that is constantly and consistently “setting yourself against the wellbeing of the nation”, the security agencies have a duty to put you under security watch and if need be, stop you from travelling abroad if it is perceived that, having regard to your antecedent, permitting you to travel may further enhance your capacity to endanger the security of the nation.” The Sun