By Tonnie Iredia
Section 89 of the 1999 Constitution, provides that the National Assembly can summon ANY person in Nigeria to give evidence before it over any matter that the Assembly can enact legislation. Although what the provision on its face value confers on our legislators is huge power, a few knowledgeable persons in the polity have argued that there are people that cannot be summoned by the legislature.
One of those cited to have such privilege is President Muhammadu Buhari. According to Abubakar Malami, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, a plan by the National Assembly to summon the President over security issues was wrong because “the management and control of the security sector is exclusively vested in the President.”
Those who didn’t agree with Malami had their points but what much can the legislature do to a President or indeed a state governor who can shun an invitation and get away with it by virtue of their constitutional immunity? It was also canvassed that in certain cases, the National Assembly could not summon a Minister. A former Minister of Petroleum, Mrs. Diezani Allison Madueke, once told a court that both the Senate and the House of Representatives were required by law to first obtain the President’s consent before they could validly summon her.
To back her claim, she cited Sections 88 and 89 of the Nigerian Constitution1999, as amended and Section 8 of the Legislatives Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act Cap. L12 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2010. Veteran constitutional lawyer, Itse Sagay had similarly opined that not being a civil servant or a member of any commission, he was outside the group that the legislature could summon.
The cases cited above were however never fully tested to ascertain the true position of the law as Sagay, Madueke and the President did not appear before the legislature. In fact, some other Nigerians successfully shunned summons from the legislature without repercussions. But beyond legal arguments, it is rational to accord the legislature such powers to enable her gather ample data to make or amend laws; and to expose “corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of laws or the disbursement of funds appropriated for it.”
If so, what encourages some citizens to think they can ignore our National Assembly? The reasons are many butone of them has to do with the conduct of some of our legislators. Such lawmakers usually depicted much of ego chasing with their summons – a posture which tended to imply that the summons were deployed just to establish the superiority of the legislature over other bodies.
Sadly the summons often disrupted organized schedules in other segments of government because the legislators would insist that office holders must put off whatever they were engaged with to personally answer any legislative summons.Who says such summons are more useful to society than the functions they forcibly disrupt? The more unacceptable aspect of the rather combative summons is that which discountenances the usefulness of delegation of duties.
Why would legislators insist that only the chief executive of an organization can appear before them? Is it offensive for a deputy to deputize for his boss who is unable to break-off from a prior commitment? Interestingly, on many occasions, we see principal officers of the National Assembly representing the Senate President or the Speaker of the House of Representatives at functions. If that is allowable in the legislature, does it mean that the principle of delegation of duties is in order only when employed in the legislature?
Of course, that is not true because the principle is permissible worldwide. Thus when applied to the Nigerian Army,it is not out of place for Major General Charles Ofoche, Commandant of the Nigerian Army War College, to represent the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen, Ibrahim Attahiru at a crucial meeting. As a result, the anger expressed on national television the other day by the ad hoc committee auditing arms and ammunition procured by the military only because the Army Chief was represented by Ofoche was unnecessary.
Both the Legislature and the Military are partners in the task of national development- none should derogate from the other. Both have different strategies of doing their jobs and the nature of each ought to be appreciated by the other. While the job of legislators especially in Nigeria is laced with pleasure, that of our armed forces is lined with harsh conditions. That seems to explain why Nigerian legislators have the leisure of functioningas armchair censors.
Last week, they began a 3-week holiday to mark the Easter season while other public officers, are yet to begin their only two days’ break. Our military on the other hand, may find themselves paying the supreme sacrifice on Easter Sunday making even a one-minute break impossible. What this implies is that because the job schedule of the military is exceedingly tasking and markedly different from that of legislators, the latter ought to help the former by ensuring that nothing is done to disrupt their job strategies.
Asking General Attahiru to give priority to a chat with the legislature over and above his tactical schedule of understanding the state of affairs within the first few weeks of assuming duty is to our mind a distraction. This is more so, when the issue agitating the legislators was handled by former military leaders that the same lawmakers had just given a clean bill of health through a fast clearance to become ambassadors. Our premise is that if the relevant committee of the legislature had done an effective oversight through proper monitoring of the arms purchase business, what the nation is looking for now would have been easier to uncover before Attahiru took office.
Instead, the immediate past service chiefs that the entire nation including legislators appeared dissatisfied with were hurriedly cleared without being tasked on accountability. Such attitude of ‘wisdom after event’ is to our mind shadow chasing. At the beginning of the tenure of the current service chiefs, President Buhari gave them a tough order to end insurgency before the rainy season which was some 5 weeks away. The team led by the Chief of Defence Staff; Gen. Leo Irabor offered assurances that they would deliver.
Many Nigerians particularly those in the North East were happy with the officers who had previously acquitted themselves creditably in their assignment in the fight to end insurgency. With such commendable track record, admonishing them at a point when all their attention is focused on routing out the insurgents could be counterproductive. The expectation of the military from the rest of us is not a reproach but the provisioning of nonkinetic strategies that can push the war effort to success.
The National Assembly should therefore seek to boost the morale of our armed forces by mobilizing the entire nation to prioritize the fight against insurgency. It would be a different result, if as it is now, the nation’s political leadership remains more pre-occupied with the politics of 2023 such as organizing defections and compiling membership register by the ruling party and political engineering efforts by the main opposition party to regain power. We must all learn to avoid distracting the military from the current all-important task of bringing peace back to Nigeria.