Ovie Omo-Agege is senator representing the Urhobo nation and the people of Delta Central. A scion of the Omo-Agege family from Orogun and son of former Chief Judge of Delta State, Justice James Omo Agege, he came into the Senate as a member of the Labour Party (LP) before moving to All Progressives Congress (APC).
On Thursday, April 12, 2018, the Senate suspended him for 90 legislative days after receiving the report from its Ethics and Privileges Committee which had recommended that Omo-Agege be suspended for 181 days. The reason for the suspension of Senator Ovie Omo-Agege was that he expressed his constitutionally guaranteed right to expression of an opinion under Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). But the issue here is that the Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution is under attack. It is worthy of note that the Section 39 aside from the limitation encapsulated in Section 45 of the 1999 Constitution, is absolute.
But the Section 45 with its ordinarily attendant limitations on Section 39 does not apply as it cannot be inferred that the opinion of the senator is not reasonably justifiable in a democratic society. Omo-Agege in the exercise of his right of expression aired his views on the effect of the proposed amendment of the Electoral Act and should not be punished for opposing an amendment which he has a constitutional right to oppose.
Nigeria is a democratic society and democracy comes with the attendant effect of recognizing that while the majority will always have their way, the opinion of the minority must be heard. Opposition to majority opinion is not only allowed in a democratic society but is also highly encouraged. It is not a crime to dissent with the reasoning of the majority. In fact, opposition is fundamental in democracy. So the issue of Section 45 of the 1999 Constitution does not arise because such comments were made in the interest of fairness and justice. It is pertinent to point out that the enjoyment of Section 39 is not dependent on the veracity of the opinion held.
Without prejudice to the opinion of the senator, his opinion needs not be true to warrant protection by the Constitution. For what the Constitution seeks to protect is not the truth but ‘the opinion’. This provision is available to every citizen of Nigeria irrespective of where such a person is in Nigeria.
And if there is any place where laws must be obeyed, it must be in the hallowed chamber of the Senate, from where, laws are made. Granted that Section 60 of the 1999 Constitution gives the Senate the power to regulate its own procedure, it is debatable whether the Senate reserves the power to suspend a serving senator, let alone suspend him for more than 14 days.
Consequently the Senate is called upon to respect the rule of law and reverse its decision to suspend Omo-Agege for his opposition to the proposed amendment of the Electoral Act because the hallowed chamber of the Senate is a place where laws are respected and not flouted.
*Eshalomi, a lawyer, lives in Lagos