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National Assembly: Toothless bulldog?

By Obi Nwakanma

I have noted frequently in this column that the parliament is the most powerful arm of state in a democracy and under a constitutional government. It is not only the body that makes the laws on which every institution is governed or regulated, it is also the protector of the republic.

The parliament does this by acting as a formidable check, using its power of the purse essentially, to create oversight over executive authority. It is called “checks and balances.” It is the mandate of the Judiciary to interpret the laws of the nation flowing from the various acts of parliament, but judges are forbidden to legislate from the bench. They cannot revise the laws as it suits them by creating false precedents. However, the courts can act as judicial watchdogs on constitutional issues between the two arms of government, should a constitutional boundary be crossed.

The enforcement of the laws, following its interpretation, is the function of the highest Law enforcement Agency of the land, the Police. The relationship between these institutions is subtle and often complex, and mediated by the rational interrelationship that govern inter-departmental privileges and relationships. Part of what has become clear over the last twenty years of return to constitutional rule is that the constitution of Nigeria – the very basis upon which her government is established and her citizens governed – is profoundly defective.

Part of its flaws is the ways it allocates power across institutional boundaries. For example, under this constitution, a president can introduce something called a “presidential bill.” The budget bill itself is presented by the president, through someone he calls “Adviser on National Assembly Matters,” not by the Whip of his party in Parliament. This is constitutionally defective. Normally, the presentation and defence of budgetary estimates to the Legislature from the presidential office must be transmitted through the leader of the president’s party in the parliament whose chief task is to push the votes to fund the president’s programs outlined through his budget proposal. This happens following conferencing with the leadership of his party in parliament who would be expected to whip through the budget.

Neither the president nor any of his agents un-elected into parliament must be seen near parliament unless specifically invited to clear up an issue relating to the governance of the state or of their department specifically funded by parliamentary votes. In the United States from where we have copied this system of rule, the President comes once a year to address and account to the nation through the “State of the Union,” address. At this time, all arms of the state gather in the US parliament building on Capitol Hill.

The other time a president comes to parliament is if he is subpoenaed to appear before it, and account to parliament on issues arising from his handling of his oath of office; on his moral standing; on whether he has broken any laws – the financial laws of state, the national security laws; the human right laws; and so on. A president may be subject to impeachment and trial if he either directly or indirectly reveals or hands Nigeria’s national security secrets to a foreign power either to secure immediate or long term personal or partisan advantage; a president may be investigated by parliament and tried for treason following impeachment if he arranges with an external power or body to subvert the constitution, and the internal coherence or safety of Nigeria.

There are many who think that President Buhari is in collusion with the rampaging gunmen we now call “Fulani Herdsmen” to subvert the nation and people of Nigeria. That the president’s highest loyalty is not to the nation but to an external body – a transnational Fulani movement whose intention is to settle and dominate Central West Africa. That the president has adhered to and aided a foreign body to levy war against Nigeria and the citizens of Nigeria, and as part of his ploy, he has appropriated and appointed like-minded agents of this movement to the highest National Security Apparatus of Nigeria. These are weighty allegations. This is treasonable ground for which a president can be impeached and tried for treason against Nigeria.

But it is not such an easy and frivolous process or claim, and requires iron-girded proof. The National Assembly – Nigeria’s Federal Legislative body – is designed to be the highest parliament of the land that can investigate the president. If it summons the president, the president must appear before it. The president is under obligation to appear before the National Assembly which has the power to suspend or evacuate his immunity protection. But we are talking about where there is the rule of Law.

Where a police system is designed, and programmed to be loyal to the constitution, not to the president, and therefore can arrest the president if his immunity is suspended and a magistrate issues the warrant. This is because the state as an institution is bigger than any individual. The president is not a monarch, and the president is not the state, and does not embody the state. The president is elected to serve, and serves, like everyone else, his duty to the state. But when the president assumes that he could transform into the state, even in presuming that his actions, whatever its intentions, are for the good of the state, such a situation breeds tyranny and lawlessness, and incrementally, larceny. Very often, in Nigeria, because they are appointees of the president, the Inspector-General of Police thinks himself loyal, and answerable only to the president.

The Nigerian Police Service was destroyed and its powers dismantled by years of Military rule, under whose authority it was subsumed to play merely a second fiddle. Otherwise, the National Police Service is the arm of Nigeria’s National Security service constitutionally mandated to provide domestic security for Nigeria. They should have a spy-network that would aid the detectives of the CID – the Criminals Investigation Directorate – to anticipate, investigate, prevent, and document any crimes in evolution: be they high or low crimes; crime involving financial transactions, to terrorist conspiracies, and other acts subversive of the state and all what not. Soldiers defend the nation from external invasion, or fight external wars if Nigeria were to be at war. Unless Nigeria is at war, the president should never have the authority nor be granted such a power by the National Assembly to deploy soldiers directly, domestically, under the guise of a national security emergency.

Nigerian soldiers should be constantly training for warfare – amphibious, desert warfare, guerrilla warfare, jungle warfare – but not war on the streets of Nigeria.

The Nigerian police must have the capability – including a highly trained mobile rescue and Special Forces division that can engage the acts of domestic terrorism, from Armed Robbery to kidnapping to the kind of subversion that the so-called Fulani herdsmen currently engage in. The Nigerian police is both administratively and infrastructurally currently not equipped for that. As a matter of fact, the Nigerian Police is institutionally not properly established or led.

The office of the Inspector-General of Police, given the equation, must be removed from the office of the President and placed under the administrative oversight of the Attorney-General’s office. The Attorney General – the third in the hierarchy of the state protocol – is by Law, not the president’s lawyer, but the Chief Law officer of the Federation, and Adviser both to the Executive and the Legislature. That office is designed to be independent, for it is the Attorney General that handles or should handle all National Security issues – Domestic and International – within the context of Nigeria’s national laws. It is the office that should also direct the investigation of the executive office to determine whether the president has committed acts inimical to the constitution or not, working with the National Assembly. In our current instances, however, neither the Attorney-General nor the Inspector General of Police feel themselves answerable to the National Assembly. They have at different times defied the summons of the legislature.

It is defiance that flows from the penumbra of the protection of a reckless and lawless presidency which feels itself in total control of the power of the state. The recent act of defiance of the Inspector-General of Police, and his refusal to come to the senate and answer questions is emblematic of executive presumption. So, what can the Legislature do? Two things: assert its power by passing an Act of the Nation Assembly containing the function of office of the Inspector-General of police, or generally use its power of the purse: defund that office, and provide a new funding protocol for the police outside the authority of the Inspector-General.

It should be the administrative equivalent of the Nigerian Police under receivership. Until the Legislature asserts its own enormous power to check executive excesses, the story of the hunt will belong to the executive branch. And the legislature will seem inconsequential. Like the proverbial toothless bulldog. It snorts, but does not act.


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