Court refuses to protect senator who claimed he influenced his judge wife
The court says Bulkachuwa's comment was a confession of doing an act that is prohibited by law.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Bulkachuwa, who represented Bauchi North Senatorial District in the 9th Assembly, had, in a viral video clip on June 10, 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 judgment, held that the suit lacked merit and ought to be dismissed. He said 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 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.
Delivering the judgment, Justice Ekwo said the utterance made by Bulkachuwa on the floor of the Senate 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 that a person who is privileged to voice any expression will utter words or express opinion or impart Ideas or give 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, June 10, 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 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, June 10, 2023 was a confession of act on his part that is criminal in nature, substance and outcome," he said.
NAN recalls that Bulkachuwa, in the viral video clip, said, "I look at faces in this chamber who have come to me and sought for 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, Ahmad 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.
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