By Emeka Asinugo
A lot of Nigerians and friends of Nigeria have expressed concern about what is said to be going on between the Nigerian senate and the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris. A few weeks ago, Nigerian media reported that, in an action most of the senators described as a show of disrespect for the country’s fragile and evolving democracy, the lawmakers found it difficult to believe that a public officer who was appointed into his position by the government could decide to snub the highest legislative body in the land, again and again. For the third time, Ibrahim Idris, the Inspector-General of Police failed to honour the invitation by the senate to appear before its plenary session.
As a result of what most senators saw as uncomfortable developments in the country, and more especially the civic unrest that followed in the wake of several unprovoked killings in various states in the country, the senate had given the IGP 24 hours leading up to Wednesday 25 April to appear before the upper legislative chamber. The senate wanted him to explain the circumstances that warranted the arrest of Senator Dino Melaye. He was also to explain why so much bloodshed had been allowed to go on in parts of the northern states.
The IGP was said to have sent his deputy to represent him. The Senate refused to grant audience to the IGP’s representative. Few days later the IGP explained in a statement that he had been on an official assignment in Bauchi state with President Buhari, which was why he sent his deputy to represent him. The senate told him to appear the following Wednesday.
On Wednesday, 2 May, the senate was said to have stood down Order 17 to allow the police boss entry into the chamber. But the IGP did not show up. The APC chairman of the senate committee on police affairs, Mr Abu Ibrahim [representing Katsina South] said he hadn’t been able to get across to Mr Idris despite the frantic efforts he made. He told his parliamentary colleagues that after Idris failed to show up on the first day he was invited, the Clerk of the House wrote to him. He met with the IGP later and requested him to oblige the Senate. He was hopeful the police boss would honour the invitation this time.
After deliberations, the legislators resolved to give Mr Idris one more week to honour their invitation. They asked him to appear before the plenary on Wednesday, 9 May. But again the IGP failed to show up. And this time, he didn’t even send a representative or a letter to explain why he could not come, possibly because of his past experience with the National Assembly when he sent his deputy and they turned him down.
As would be expected, his refusal to appear before them the third time infuriated most of the lawmakers. Some of them said the development was unfortunate. Some said the police was acting against the interest of the public. One senator said if a public officer felt he could not do what was in public interest, there was no need for him to continue to occupy that kind of office. The National Assembly, he said, was at crossroads on that particular development. A decision had to be taken. But in a situation where there were consistent non-appearances by the IGP, he didn’t think the legislators would be making sense extending further invitations.
Another said the development was a very sad moment for Nigeria, not for the parliament but for the country’s democracy. He said it was sad, inexcusable, unacceptable, condemnable and that it called for immediate action. The action of the IGP, he stressed, was a national disgrace. He urged his parliamentary colleagues to take a very serious action as a way forward and suggested the National Assembly should have a closed-door session to consider how to handle the matter. Others who contributed said Mr Idris’ snub was a show of disrespect to the President, Muhammadu Buhari. Some said the police boss had no respect for the senate and should be made to face the music.
After brief discussions at the plenary, the lawmakers entered a closed-door session to decide on a follow-up. After nearly an hour of deliberations, they resumed plenary and senate president, Dr Saraki, announced the resolution. The senate noted that there had been gross disrespect to their constituted authority by the IGP. The senators also noted that the IGP’s earlier refusal to appear before its investigative committee had been overruled by a competent court of jurisdiction in April, barely a month ago. The senate viewed this persistent refusal as a great danger to the country’s democratic values. Therefore, the senate resolved to declare the IGP an enemy of democracy who was unfit to hold any public office within and outside Nigeria. Dr Saraki said the senate would mandate a committee to further look into the matter for necessary action.
It is important to realise here that, generally, politicians and public office holders in Nigeria are usually very ostentatious people who like to show off their power, their money and their guts. And when a scenario like the one that is unfolding happens, the people then have something to talk about, something that creates a forum where they can come together to discuss their country and to laugh or cry together. They cherish these beer parlour and eatery depot gossips very much.
I remember an incident that happened in the Nigerian Statesman in 1980. I was the features editor of the state-owned newspaper at the time. The news editor had run a story on a federal minister in Lagos. By error, the photograph of the minister was captioned with his name but with a different ministry from the one the minister was actually heading. It was like inserting the picture of the minister of education on the news page of the newspaper and below the photograph, you caption him the minister of aviation.
This man flew all the way from Lagos to our office in Owerri, fuming. “Am I so small in this country that you and your boys don’t know me?” he queried our editor-in-chief. The minister was so furious that practically everyone in the editorial department came out of his office to beg him to forgive us, that it was the printer’s devil. He flew back to Lagos after nearly an hour with us.
Immediately he left us, the editor-in-chief summoned an emergency meeting of the editorial board and warned us to be more careful with what we wrote and how we captioned our photographs. But just to think that this pompous man came all the way from Lagos simply to ask us if we thought he was so small in Nigeria! It was unbelievable. But generally that is the mental attitude of Nigerian public office holders. So, the muscle flexing between the senate and the IGP shouldn’t come as a surprise. Nigerians would usually say, “Na them way”.
So, even among the civilian population, many Nigerians say they see danger looming with the recent developments. They don’t understand why the various security arms of the Buhari administration should snub the elected representatives of the people. They don’t understand why the security organisations in the country should consistently defy court orders with impunity and nothing happens. They are unhappy and some are angry. One former law maker even suggested that since the allocation of funds for the country’s security departments is made by the National Assembly, they should withhold the approval of such funds until the larger than life-size bosses of these departments curtail their excesses. Others suggested it would complicate matters because if the police and other security departments withdrew their services due to non-payment of their wages, a lot of havoc would be wrecked on the country. Boko Haram, Fulani herdsmen, cattle rustlers and all the other bad people in the society would take advantage of the situation and bring the country on its knees.
The crucial point is that the 1999 constitution established the Nigeria Police Force under the Nigeria Police Council. And it gave the President of the country operational control of the Force. Therefore, while the Inspector General of Police is charged with command of the force, he can only exercise that right under the directive of the President. Only the President can give directives to the Inspector General of Police with respect to the maintenance of law and order and the security of persons and properties as he considers necessary. The IGP must comply with those directives or cause them to be complied with.
When we realise that this constitution was drafted by the military, we begin to see why things are happening the way they are. In the first place, military and para -military institutions by training adhere strictly to command hierarchy. A military establishment is like a one-party government. Therefore, a military establishment is not in any way equipped to manage a multi-cultural society like Nigeria, with over 250 languages and a diversification of cultural backgrounds. And so, any constitution they produce for Nigeria, no matter how they colour it must reflect those characteristics that distinguish a one-party system of government. Only a democratic government can produce an authentic constitution for the country because democracy thrives on dialogue, a shared set of values and consensus, exactly what the country needs to produce a meaningful constitution that can address and effectively deal with its economic and security challenges.
So, it appears that from the look of things, the National Assembly actually has no right to impose its “directive” on the IGP, unless the President intervenes. What all this confusion calls for then is that the National Assembly should sit down and produce a constitution for Nigeria that will take into account the diverse interests of its multi-ethnic and multi-religious groups. They should draw up a constitution that is civilian-friendly and close up all the loopholes the 1999 created to keep power directly or indirectly in the hands of the military. It is their challenge and they should produce a new constitution with the political expediency it deserves so that for once Nigeria can march confidently on the road to true democracy and great nationhood. Judging from what is going on between the senate and the IGP it is obvious that Nigerians deserve a better deal.
By Emeka Asinugo