By Yusufu Shehu Usman
The question has been asked whether the Vice president can waive his immunity and submit himself to trial while still in office or whether he can maintain a civil suit against another party while in office as vice president.
On the first question, I am of the view that the Vice president can not waive the immunity granted to him by section 308 of the constitution
The immunity is not granted to the person of the vice president in his personal or private capacity but the main purpose is to protect him from civil or criminal prosecution for acts done in the performance of his duties as vice president, while still in office. It is in my view, a protection granted in the public interest and for the benefit of the public
The immunity clause is provided in the constitution to allow the occupant of the office to concentrate on his enormous responsibilities imposed or entrusted on him by the constitution. It is expected that he should not be distracted by court cases which could divide his attention between performance of his duties to the state and the enormous weight and time required to attend the court on civil or criminal cases.
That is why the law says he could be held to account on such cases after leaving office. The Supreme Court recently held in a landmark decision that the immunity does not extend to shielding the President, the Vice president, a governor or deputy governor from being investigated. The law grant the immunity only in respect of prosecution or being subjected to civil proceedings.
It is pertinent to observe that the constitution is silent or mute on whether a person shielded by the protection of immunity can surrender or waive it under any circumstances or in any event
I believe it is not a lacuna in the constitution. It is deliberate. If it is the intention of the framers of the constitution to grant a waiver or the right to surrender the immunity, they would have said so in express terms.
It is my further view that it would have either contradicted or defeated the purpose of granting the immunity if the beneficiary of the protection were allowed to waive it, regard being had to the fact that it was meant to allow him concentrate on his constitutional duties and serious affairs of the state
Therefore, in respect of criminal allegations against him, the Vice president can only succumb to investigation which in any case, he is not immune from, but with regards to civil cases, it is my considered opinion that he can not sue or be sued while in office as Vice president.
Since the constitution prohibits any person from suing him, it is only right, reasonable, just and fair that he should also have no right to institute a civil claim against any person. He can’t turn a shield into a sword at the same time and for the same reason
And I am sure Timi Frank has this in mind, that is why he is adamant on the allegations and mounting the challenge on the Vice president to sue him if he can.
In my view, if the vice president institutes a civil action against Timi Frank on the tort of defamation, he would raise an objection to the suit on the constitutional ground that the vice president lacks the power by virtue of section 308 of the constitution to institute or maintain a civil action while occupying the office of the vice president
However, the law is meant to be explored and sometimes the unexpected could happen in a law suit, as its commonly said, the law is not interpreted with the exactitude of mathematics
This one case that if tested, has the potential of expanding the scope of our jurisprudence of constitutional law