By Obi Nwakanma
The Chambers of the National Assembly is the shrine of liberty. Whoever enters it is protected from the molestations of power. That is why, by law, every elected legislator has immunity from arrests or retribution within the grounds of the parliamentary building, and cannot be prosecuted for slander or libel or for any utterance of defamation made in the course of debate within the parliament. In the French system in fact, this privilege is called the parliamentary right of “irresponsibility” and “inviolability.” Citizens who seek sanctuary in the grounds of the National Assembly, unless expressly authorized by the siting Assembly for removal, and only by the Sergeant-At-Arms, such citizens are protected from arrest.
The legislator also enjoys partial immunity from prosecution. Any legislator arrested for crime retains his or her seat until they are recalled by their constituents. If the criminal prosecution of such a legislator becomes necessary, it is customary for his or her parliamentary privileges; his immunity and inviolability be first suspended either by a competent justice of the High Court or by his parliamentary peers before such prosecution. It is thus quite strange the kind of things that have taken place with Police and the DSS hounding, arresting, and detaining elected Legislators in Nigeria recently. The violation of these privileges destroys the dignity of the National Assembly. It weakens not only the significance of the institution of law-making, but the integrity of the National Assembly. It was the same situation that attended the attack on the Judiciary, when in an unprecedented move, never, ever heard of before, an Associate Judge of Nigeria’s Supreme Court was arrested and humiliated, and brought before a lower court. Judges of the Court of Appeals had their homes searched, property taken in evidence by the Directorate of State Service and the police, and brought before a lower court. Not even the military in all their madness did this. This administration has been making the Goebellian pitch about “fighting corruption,” as its excuse for lawlessness; as if only the executive branch has the power, or the moral authority alone to fight corruption, or hound the corrupt.
These attacks under this Buhari administration were intended not only to humiliate but to weaken, intimidate, and render the administration of Justice in Nigeria servile, and turn the people against the established courts of the land, and in doing that, cast both doubt and aspersion on the integrity of the courts and the dignity of the judges who ensure justice. The serial attack on the National Assembly is all part of the agenda of the executive arm, to undermine the other two arms of the federal government capable of exerting oversight, and creating the necessary checks and balance of power that could prevent the Buhari government from fully transforming into a tyranny.
What is under attack by the Buhari administration using its powers of control over the police and the security services who carry out his orders, is the foundation of the republic itself, and of constitutional rule. These attacks on the judiciary and the Legislature is a means towards destroying their capacity. This is the very context we must now put the invasion, and the forceful sealing of the National Assembly by secret service men under the instruction of the Director-General of the DSS, Lawal Daura, now relieved of his duties. This is a second time such an attack and violation of the National Assembly has been conducted. The first time was when sponsored thugs invaded the chambers of parliament and stole the mace of the senate. Nigerians are still waiting for arrests to be made and sanctions exacted for that crime. But last week’s invasion must be seen as the climax of the power struggle in the National Assembly, between supporters of the President and his APC party, and those who stand in opposition to his conduct of the affairs of Nigeria.
Certainly, Mr. Yemi Osibanjo stepped in quickly, and arrested the situation, relieving Mr. Daura of his job and placing him under arrest. Since then however, partisans of the APC have been flying all kinds of kites, alleging that Lawal Daura was working for the opposition. He had been bribed to stage-manage this assault and it was intended to save Saraki from impeachment. This is hogwash at best. In his address on the issue, the president of the senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki called for investigations. “We call for an investigation, and we demand that all perpetrators are brought to book,” he declared. Well, I do not know what or who he is waiting for to conduct the investigation, or what he thinks his job is all about. As Montesquieu wrote, “The legislative power in a free government…has a right and ought to have the means of examining in what manner its laws have been executed.”
Upon this principle rests the investigative power of parliaments in a republic. The National Assembly already has the power under the constitution of Nigeria to investigate this, and can constitute its own Legislative inquiry, or empower a special prosecutor with extraordinary powers, and back this prosecutor by an extraordinary Act of the National Assembly, and compel the Attorney-General to prosecute its findings, and failing which be impeached. Here is what the Nigerian constitution says:
- (1) 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.
- (2) 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. 89.
- (1) For the purposes of any investigation under section 88 of this Constitutional and subject to the provisions thereof, the Senate or the House of Representatives or a committee appointed in accordance with section 62 of this Constitution shall have power to (a) procure all such evidence, written or oral, direct or circumstantial, as it may think necessary or desirable, and examine all persons as witnesses whose evidence may be material or relevant to the subject matter; (b) require such evidence to be given on oath; (c) summon any person in Nigeria to give evidence at any place or produce any document or other thing in his possession or under his control, and examine him as a witness and require him to produce any document or other thing in his possession or under his control, subject to all just exceptions; and (d) issue a warrant to compel the attendance of any person who, after having been summoned to attend, fails, refuses or neglects to do so and does not excuse such failure, refusal or neglect to the satisfaction of the House or the committee in question, and order him to pay all costs which may have been occasioned in compelling his attendance or by reason of his failure, refusal or neglect to obey the summons, and also to impose such fine as may be prescribed for any such failure, refused or neglect; and any fine so imposed shall be recoverable in the same manner as a fine imposed by a court of law.
- (2) A summons or warrant issued under this section may be served or executed by any member of the Nigeria Police Force or by any person authorised in that behalf by the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Representatives, as the case may require.
I have taken liberty to quote this part of the Nigerian constitution in full just to elaborate the wide powers and latitude given the National Assembly to investigate, and summon any person – including presumably the president – to appear before its investigative panel on any matter, and the power of either the president or Speaker of the House to issue the order to arrest anybody, including presumably the president, who fails to appear before it “as the case may require.” Such an order of arrest may even be carried out by a corporal in the police. The ball is in Saraki’s court.