A tug of war currently ensues between two disreputable ‘opponents’ on the national stage. On one end is the Senate, puffed by ego and shameless self-importance, and on the other end is the incompetent head of an under-performing police force haunted by the shadows of his many misadventures. The bone of contention is something as trifling as an invitation, a mere formality in today’s government. The casualties of this clash of egos have been the rule of law and simple logic, but there’s no telling what more may fall in this absurd wrangling.
Ibrahim Idris, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), had earlier generated controversy late in 2017 when he reluctantly appeared before the Senate with his lawyer and a written statement, refusing to speak with the senators on that occasion. This time, he has sent a deputy and the Senate is not buying it. Even with all the cries within the Senate about the IGP’s flouting of the rule of law that has now led to him being labelled an “enemy of democracy”, the upper legislative house continues to expose the limits of its powers, thereby showcasing a characteristic lack of understanding of its own functions.
In the purely legal consideration of this issue, a key provision of the federal Constitution is vital. Section 88(1) of the Constitution grants both legislative houses the power to direct 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 the National Assembly, and (ii) disbursing or administering monies appropriated or to be appropriated by the National Assembly”.
A lone reading of this provision would give legitimacy to the decision of the Senate to issue indiscriminate invitations to any member or part of the government or civil service without qualification, so far as some Act of the National Assembly covers the duties and functions of that person or department. However, as is common with laws, there is an important caveat inputted in the Constitution which serves as a qualification of what would have ordinarily stood as wide powers of summons and investigation that the Senate now claims to have.
Section 88 (2) of the Constitution provides that the National Assembly’s powers under Section 88(1) 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 and administration of funds appropriated by it”.
As far as is evident in this case, the lawmakers are interested in general queries about the security situation in the country and a very specific enquiry about a judicial matter concerning the prosecution of Mr. Melaye, a member of the house, which is beyond the purview of their powers and adds or removes nothing to any extant laws made by the National Assembly.
A joint reading of the two provisions provides clearer insight into the intention of the draftsmen of the Constitution. Section 88(2) effectively ties the National Assembly’s power of summons and investigation to matters relating to the creation, amendment or administration of laws, which is the primary objective of the legislative houses. No part of the provisions permits the National Assembly to roam from its primary duty. It stands to reason then that in extending an invitation to any person based on constitutionally provided power, as has been reproduced here, the lawmakers ought to properly tie that invitation to specific laws whose mal-administration or inadequacies have occasioned such an invitation. As far as is evident in this case, the lawmakers are interested in general queries about the security situation in the country and a very specific enquiry about a judicial matter concerning the prosecution of Mr. Melaye, a member of the house, which is beyond the purview of their powers and adds or removes nothing to any extant laws made by the National Assembly.
In the widest consideration of the power of the Senate to summon the IGP in this case, Section 88 (2) (b) may be argued as providing enough ground to summon the IGP, particularly to expose “inefficiency” in police duties across the country. However, this would be likened to a performance review by the Senate of an appointee of the president. In the most robust political systems, this will not be unheard of, especially when there are present problems facing the country. The problem here is that, an invitation coming after a somewhat vindictive arrest of one of the senators already suggests suspicious motives.
The fact that the IGP needs a performance appraisal and needs to answer queries about his handling of the police force since he took control is immutable. His watch has been spotted with incompetence and a similar lack of understanding of his role. The police force has made little to no input in fighting the myriad security concerns currently facing the country, choosing instead to dabble in local politics and pacifying its puppeteers. The IGP’s ego has increased too, in all the time he has been able to keep his job while delivering little – he has threatened to withdraw police protection of lawmakers and other VIPs in the past, no doubt for a selfish end.
In any case, the controversy about the IGP’s invitation by the Senate underscores the politics of ignorance and ego that has plagued the country in all these years. If government functionaries cannot separate matters of pure politics from logical and effective governance, then we are bound to go around in circles for the foreseeable future.
The police force is in serious need of reform or at least a shakedown of leadership, but the Senate is not exerting pressure where it ought to be exerted. The president alone has the power of removal of the IGP and this includes the power to launch any serious query of the IGP.
On the one hand, the Senate could have received the IGP’s representative if their true motive was to gather information about the security situation in the country. On the other hand, the IGP need not have been so dismissive of the Senate invitation, if for nothing else, but to show respect for the Nigerian people and his duty to them. That we have to witness this back and forth by the Senate and the IGP while the country is burning is unacceptable. The IGP clearly is in the wrong job, but sadly, the members of the Senate may be too.
Right now, there is no right side in the ensuing duel. Both parties are wrong in their decision-making on this issue, and they have been wrong about a great number of things even before this present drama. What is more, the only authority that may perhaps have the power to end the useless debacle and restore some sanity has been characteristically silent. Such silence emboldens the likes of IGP Idris in their wrongdoing and almost legitimises every misstep made.
The police force is in serious need of reform or at least a shakedown of leadership, but the Senate is not exerting pressure where it ought to be exerted. The president alone has the power of removal of the IGP and this includes the power to launch any serious query of the IGP. The senators ought instead to contemplate laws that will make it easier to exert this pressure rather than chasing shadows by inviting every government appointee that crosses them the wrong way. The poor politics of the National Assembly members has led to continued humiliation of the house through the continuance of people like Ibrahim Magu in their positions. It appears that the lawmakers are yet to learn any lessons from past occurrences.
For lawmakers, Nigeria’s legislators are very ignorant of the law and its purposes. Perhaps the people should think of electing more legally astute lawmakers and less of career politicians, whose self-interest is their major driving force. The Senate is presently populated by ex-governors and indeed is headed by one. This may be why the Senate tends to step out of its core function of law-making. As for the IGP, his lack of respect for his duty as the top police officer in the country may best be handled by relieving him of the burden of that duty. Either ways, there is food for thought for the president and the electorate in the ensuing drama
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