A Federal High Court, Abuja, has dismissed a suit filed by Senator Adamu Bulkachuwa against the ICPC and the Department of State Services (DSS) over the comment he made during the valedictory session of the 9th National Assembly (NASS).
Bulkachuwa, who represented Bauchi North Senatorial District in the 9th Assembly, had, in a viral video clip on June 12, said his wife, a former Court of Appeal President, Justice Zainab, assisted his colleagues at the National Assembly.
The ex-lawmaker, however, filed the suit against the law enforcement agencies, including the Nigeria police, in his bid to stop them from investigating him over the alleged corrupt comment.
Justice Inyang Ekwo, in a judgement, held that the suit lacked merit and ought to be dismissed.
Justice Ekwo said that Bulkachuwa, being a lawmaker, ought to understand the implication of the statement that he made on the floor of the Senate.
He described the utterance as “an act of corruption.”
According to him, the legislative immunity which the plaintiff (Bulkachuwa) claims in this case does not avail him.
“It is the duty of every law-abiding citizen to assist and cooperate with law enforcement agencies in their quest to carry out their statutory function.
“It is only where a law enforcement agency breaches the fundamental right of a citizen in the process of carrying out their statutory function, then a cause of action could be said to have arisen,” the judge said.
Bulkachuwa had, on June 27, sued the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), the NASS clerk, DSS, ICPC and the Nigeria Police Force as 1st to 5th defendants respectively in the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/895/2023.
He prayed the court to declare that he “is covered, privileged and protected by the parliamentary immunity as enshrined in Section 1 of the Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act 2017 and freedom of speech and expression contained in Section 39(1) of the 1999 Constitution while making his speeches and expression made thereto is privileged.”
He also prayed the court to declare that without exhausting the internal disciplinary mechanism, recommendations and approval of the 9th House of Senate, no other law enforcement agent of the Federal Government can invite any member of the Senate for questioning/interview.
Bulkachuwa urged the court to declare that the ICPC’s invitation on June 15, requesting him to appear for an interview in respect of the inchoate speech made during the valedictory session was illegal, unconstitutional, and ultra-vires the commission’s power.
Also, the National Assembly Clerk, Magaji Tambuwal, in a counter affidavit filed as 2nd defendant in the suit, argued that the ex-lawmaker enjoyed immunity from any form of proceedings in respect of words spoken or written at the plenary session.
The clerk, in his application filed by his lawyer, Charles Yoila, averred that as at the time Bulkachuwa made what he referred to as the inchoate statement, “he still enjoyed all the privileges and immunities of a legislator under the Nigerian Laws.
Tambuwal, however, argued that Bulkachuwa had no cause of action against him (2nd defendant) to warrant the institution of the suit against him.
He said Bulkachuwa was not cut short or gaged by him when he was making his valedictory speech as a sitting senator in the 9th National Assembly “as the 2nd defendant was not presiding over plenary on that day.”
Delivering the judgement, Justice Ekwo said the utterance made by Bulkachuwa on the floor of the Senate on June 10 was not covered by Section 39(1) of the 1999 Constitution.
The judge said though Section 39(1) stipulates that every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference, he said this “cannot be interpreted to mean that a person can say anything he likes.”
“In a formal setting like that plenary session or committee proceedings of the Senate, It is not expected-a person who is privileged to voice any expression will utter words or express opinion or impart Ideas or gives’ Information that cannot be defended under the constitution.
“Upon studying the provision of Section 39 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), it Is my opinion that the words uttered by the plaintiff on the floor of the Senate on Saturday, 10th June, 2023 was a confession of doing an act that is prohibited by law.
“When a person confesses that he influenced a judicial officer to help his friends and colleagues, such a person has gone beyond the limit of freedom of speech that is reasonably covered and protected by the provision of Section 39 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
“A person who has used the opportunity given to him by the constitution to express himself freely and uses the opportunity to expose his actions or conduct which the law of the land criminalises, has unwittingly invited law enforcement agencies to question him.
“This is what the plaintiff did in this case. I therefore find that the speech of the plaintiff on the floor of the Senate on June 10 was a confession of an illegal act and Section 39 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) cannot be invoked to cover such and I so hold,” he declared.
The judge admitted that though Section 1 of the Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act 2017 provided that “a criminal or civil proceeding shall not be instituted against a member of the legislative house in respect of words spoken or written at the plenary session or at committee proceedings of the legislative house.
“There is no gainsaying that such is not covered by Section 1 of the LH (P&P) Act 2017 and I so hold.”
“The answer Is simple; he influenced his wife to deal with the cases concerning his colleagues favourably,
“He impressed upon her to give partial judgements to his friends who approached him for such favour.
“This is an act of corruption. The conclusion to be reached at this point is that words spoken by the plaintiff on the floor of the Senate on Saturday, 10th June, 2023 was a confession of an act on his part that is criminal in nature, substance and outcome,” he said.
He held that Bulkachuwa’s invitation by the ICPC was interpreted wrongly by the ex-legislator and particularly, the NASS clerk, “who apparently is blowing hot and cold” in his affidavit evidence and articulation in the written address.
According to Ekwo, it is the law that a party to a case ought not to approbate and reprobate in the same breath.
“I have studied the defence of the 2nd defendant and I find that it is in effect, an attempt to shield the plaintiff (Bulkachuwa) from investigation and no citizen whether natural or corporate is authorised by law to do so,” he said.
Bulkachuwa, in the viral video clip, said: “I look at faces in this chamber who have come to me and sought my help when my wife was the President of the Court of Appeal.
“And I must thank particularly, my wife, whose freedom and independence I encroached upon while she was in office, and she has been very tolerant and accepted my encroachment, and extended her help to my colleagues.
“I did my best and in most cases I succeeded,” while the then Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, tried interjecting him.
But his wife, now a retired justice, later debunked the comments saying she never favoured any party during her time as a judge.