In what most of them have described as disrespect to the tenets of democracy, lawmakers in the Nigerian Senate were dumbfounded when it dawned on them on Wednesday that a government appointee had snubbed them again. For a third time, Ibrahim Idris, the Inspector-General of Police, on Wednesday failed to honour an invitation to appear before the upper legislative chamber.
It all started on Wednesday, April 25. The Senate gave the IGP a 24-hour notice to appear before its plenary to explain the circumstances surrounding the arrest of one of them, Dino Melaye, and killings across Nigeria. Mr Idris sent his deputy, who the Senate denied appearance. The police chief later through a statement explained that he was on an official assignment with President Muhammadu Buhari in Bauchi. He was told to appear the following Wednesday.
On Wednesday, May 2, the Senate had stood down their Order 17 to allow the police chief to enter the chamber; but he was not around. On this occasion, Mr Ibrahim, the chairman Senate Committee on Police Affairs, said he had not been able to reach Mr Idris for a while. He informed his colleagues that after the first summon, the National Assembly clerk wrote to Mr Idris and thereafter, he met with him and implored him to honour the Senate. The lawmakers deliberated on the development and resolved to give Mr Idris one week grace to honour the invitation. He was asked to appear on Wednesday, May 9. But on this day, same was the case. In fact, he did not send a representative.
SENATORS BERATE IGP
Upon realising that the IGP was not around, senators took turn to lash out at Mr Idris, describing the development as ‘unfortunate.’
First was the Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan, who said the police chief was acting against the interest of the public.
“I feel that a public officer should do what is in the interest of the public. Where any public officer feels he cannot then there is no need for him to continue to occupy that kind of office. This institution is at a crossroads on this. A decision has to be taken. But in a situation where there is consistent nonappearance by the IG, I don’t think we would make further sense to extend invitation,” he said.
Emmanuel Bwacha said the development was a “very sad moment for Nigeria, not for the parliament but for our democracy.”
“It is sad, it is inexcusable, unacceptable, it is condemnable and it calls for immediate action. We need to take a very serious action on the way forward. I suggest Mr President, let us have a closed-session for a very serious consideration on this matter. This is a national disgrace,” he added.
In his comment, Isa Misau said he is vindicated on allegations he raised against the leadership of the Nigeria Police.
He added that Mr Idris’ snub was a disrespect to President Muhammadu Buhari.
“On official capacity, there is no person here that is not bigger than the IG constitutionally. Anybody here can invite the IG officially because, by the Constitution, every senator is bigger than the office of the IG.
“What the IG is doing is not against the Senate, I think he’s doing it against the President. If an appointee of the president, somebody with one second, even the wife of the president can come out and announce that the IG has been sacked, would refuse to honour invitation of an institution which is to see to the democratic running of any country, I think it is unfortunate.
For Enyinnaya Abaribe, the police boss ‘has no respect for the Senate’ and should be made to face the music.
After entertaining comments briefly at the plenary, the lawmakers entered a closed-door session to decide on what next. After about 50 minutes’ deliberation, they resumed plenary. Mr Saraki announced the resolution.
“The Senate in a closed session deliberated on the non-appearance of the IGP to the senate to the plenary after a series of invitation. The Senate noted that this has been a gross disrespect to our constituted authority and to also know that his earlier refusal to appear before investigative committee was overruled by competent court of jurisdiction just in April this year.
“The Senate therefore views this persistent refusal is a great danger to our democracy and hence the Senate resolved to declare IGP as an enemy of democracy and not fit to hold any public office within and outside Nigeria. The leader of the Senate would also mandate to look into the matter for further necessary action,” Mr Saraki said.
For a grave offence such as snubbing the highest legislative body in the country, one would have expected a stiffer penalty but Mr Saraki said nothing more than contained in these two paragraphs.
WHAT NEXT FOR THE SENATE?
Although the Constitution gives power to the National Assembly to summon political appointees, the law does not give directly the power of effective retribution to the parliament.
Sections 88 of the 1999 Constitution says, “Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, each House of the National Assembly shall have power by resolution published in its journal or in the Official Gazette of the Government of the Federation to direct or cause to be directed investigation into – (a) any matter or thing with respect to which it has power to make laws, and (b) the conduct of affairs of any person, authority, ministry or government department charged, or intended to be charged, with the duty of or responsibility for – (i) executing or administering laws enacted by National Assembly, and (ii) disbursing or administering moneys appropriated or to be appropriated by the National Assembly.”
The powers conferred on the National Assembly under the provisions of this section are exercisable only for the purpose of enabling it to;
(a) make laws with respect to any matter within its legislative competence and correct any defects in existing laws; and (b) expose corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of laws within its legislative competence and in the disbursement or administration of funds appropriated by it.
Armed with this section, the Senate’s oversight functions under section 88 covers all persons who had input into matters over which the National Assembly has powers to make law.
By interpretation, the Senate has power to invite Mr Idris but lacks the constitutional backing to met out punishment to him.
To make the IGP atone for his ‘sins’ the Senate would have to report Mr Idris to Mr President who he directly reports to.
Having exhausted this option – the leadership of National Assembly met with Mr Buhari on the issue last week – what other constitutional option can the senators explore?
Ola Adeosun, a lawyer, said the police chief has the audacity to snub the Senate repeatedly because he has the backing of President Buhari.
He, however, pointed out that the only option left for them still is to report to the president.
“If it were someone else, the normal thing to do is to ask the IGP to arrest such person but now that it’s the IGP, it is so unfortunate but the only other option they have is to report to his (IGP) superior, which is the sitting president.
“For him to be able to snub the Senate three times, he must have gotten assurances from the man he reports to, which is the president.
“Our political class lacks moral. The Senate does not have any other compelling power over the IGP.
“It is now left for the president to show to the world whether he’s morally upright or not.”
Inibehe Effiong, a human rights lawyer, also agrees with Mr Adeosun. He described Mr Idris’ action as threat to democracy.
“By virtue of section 88 of the Constitution, the Senate has the constitutional power to summon anybody in Nigeria including the president. The only exception is that they cannot compel that person.
“Also, the IG is subject to the Senate’s summon. He does not have the right to deliberate it.
“In section 89, the Senate now has the power to issue a warrant of arrest to anyone that fails to adhere to their summon. But in this case, you can’t issue a warrant to the IG, can the IG arrest himself, or who will arrest him?
“What the IG has done is a threat to democracy and an attempt to ridicule our democracy.
“The Senate cannot do anything now, constitutionally. Except they want to go outside the constitution and punish him.”