Opinion: Why the Senate’s sanctity must be guarded jealously By – AZUKA ONWUKA
As expected, the refusal of the Inspector General, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, to honour the summons of the Senate repeatedly attracted mixed reactions from Nigerians. Those who usually see the Senate as “the enemy” of President Muhammadu Buhari saw the Senate as getting what it deserved, while others found reasons to condemn the action of the IGP.
But let us keep our views aside and look at the issue dispassionately. The legislature is one of the three arms of government: the other two being the executive and the judiciary. The three of them make up the tripod upon which governance stands. But there is something unique about the legislature: It is the only arm of government that is absent in a dictatorship. When dictators are in power, they represent the executive arm of government. They usually allow the law courts to function, even if they most times influence the decisions of the courts or create laws to restrict the powers of the courts. But the only arm of government they usually don’t allow to exist is the legislature. The laws are made by the executive.
Therefore, it is the legislature that makes a government democratic in nature. Anytime the military takes over government in Nigeria, it suspends the constitution, sacks the legislature and takes over the role of lawmaking.
When the President of the nation or any individual walks into the legislature, they bow. That person is not bowing to the Senate President or Speaker or the legislators in their personal capacity, but to the authority that the legislature represents. The legislature represents the laws of the nation. A similar thing happens when one walks into a law court.
Therefore, there is no gainsaying the fact that the legislature should be respected irrespective of the person occupying the post of the head of the legislature or our perception about the calibre of the individuals in the legislature. The same thing should obtain in the case of the judiciary.
Some have argued that the Senate has a right to invite any Nigerian, while some have argued that there are exceptions. Some have also argued that since the IGP had sent his lieutenant to represent him at the Senate, which was rejected by the Senate, it should have sufficed.
The legislature and the judiciary are not in charge of the security and law-enforcement agencies which have the instruments of force. So they cannot directly implement their pronouncements. But even though the heads of the police, army and other security agencies are appointed by the President, they are meant to uphold the constitution of the country, not choose the laws to execute or not. It was what played out in Benue State when the state legislature passed into law the anti-open grazing bill. The IG of Police, who was meant to execute the law, chose to disregard it. He went ahead to condemn the Benue State Governor, Mr Samuel Ortom, and the anti-open grazing law as the cause of the killings in the state. Such actions make states to increase their demand for state police. If the nation’s police and military can choose the laws to enforce and the ones not to enforce, then a state governor, who is called the chief security officer of his state, is not better than a toothless bulldog.
Last month, Justice Abba-Bello Muhammad of the FCT High Court, Jabi, dismissed the suit filed by the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, alleging violation of his fundamental human rights by the Senate over the investigation into the allegations raised against him by Senator Isah Misau.
The judge said that the suit by Idris lacked merit as Section 88 and 89 of the Nigeria’s Constitution empowers the lawmakers to carry out investigations on issues of public interest. He stated that the IGP failed to establish the element that constituted infringement on his fundamental human rights as he alleged against the Senate.
Justice Muhammad said: “His right has not been infringed to require the court’s intervention. Inviting the applicant is a mere invitation to shed more light on the allegations levelled against him. More so, the Police Act also empowers the Police to carry out investigation about itself which the Police were already doing as of the time the allegations were raised.”
On three occasions (April 26, May 2 and May 9), the IG failed to appear before the Senate over the arrest of Senator Dino Melaye as well as the killings across the country. He sent his subordinates on the three occasions. The Senate refused to speak to the IGP’s representatives. Consequently, the Senate declared him an enemy of democracy unfit to hold any post locally or internationally.
No matter how frivolous the summons of the Senate appears, the Senate (the legislature) should be seen as a distinctive arm of government that deserves maximum respect. The same way the office of the President should be respected is the same way the office of the President of the National Assembly as well as the President of the Judiciary should be respected. Whoever respects them does not respect the individual occupying those offices but the government of Nigeria.
In the same vein, nobody has a right not to honour the summons of the police, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, the Department of Security Services, or any agency that is empowered to investigate crimes. It does not matter the status or position of the person. By not obeying the invitation of the police, Senator Melaye disrespected a critical institution of the nation. It does not matter whether his invitation is presumed to be an act of intimidation or not by his political opponents. The bottom line is that when one is invited by an appropriate institution, one should comply, and complain later.
President Buhari should also be wary of giving tacit support to his subordinates who disrespect national institutions. That Idris could disobey the Senate and stand firm is because he probably has the support of his principal. It is the same Idris that Buhari said he was not aware that he did not obey his order to relocate to Benue earlier in the year during the peak of the killings. The import of that open confession by the President was that Idris disobeyed him. Surprisingly, the nation has not been told what the President did to the IGP for that act of open disobedience. That issue and other issues of open disagreement and confrontation between government agencies have led many people to argue that it seems the President is not in control of those he gave appointments.
In the same vein, the judgments or pronouncements of the law courts should be obeyed by everybody and every institution, no matter how inconvenient they may appear. The only way to quash such pronouncements is not to choose which is the “right” or “wrong” judgement to obey or disobey but by appealing such decisions and obtaining a counter-judgement. It is hypocritical and unpatriotic for one to be elected via the constitution, get sworn in via the constitution, empowered to govern by the constitution, get some remuneration and benefits via the constitution, but choose to determine which laws one should obey or not. The supposed good intentions of a leader who disobeys the constitution do not matter.
It is by respecting laws and institutions that a country grows and gains stability. When those in high places disrespect institutions, they send a message to the masses that they can also do so. That is how anarchy breeds. Punch