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[OPINION]: Between the Senate and the IGP: Who blinks first?- Abubakar Sani

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The face-off between the Senate and the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, over the insistence of the former that the latter appears personally before it in connection with the seeming inhumane treatment being meted out by the Police to Senator Dino Melaye, and the state of insecurity and killings in parts of the country, seems to be gaining traction by the day. 

Background

On the three occasions when the Senate summoned the Inspector General of Police (IG) as aforesaid, the IG failed to show up, and instead despatched a subordinate, the Deputy-Inspector General-In-Charge of Operations (DIG), to represent him on the second of those occasions. The Senate rejected the DIG’s delegation, and insisted on the personal appearance of his superior. This was countered by the Police, who have argued that, on official matters, the IG can delegate his duties and does not have to appear before the Senate personally, as, according to them, the DIG in question - like all DIGs - was properly seized of all the issues and was legally competent, under the Police Act, to deputise for his boss, the IG. 

So, which of them is correct?

It depends on whether the purpose of the summons can be accomodated within the four corners of Sections 88 & 89 of the 1999 Constitution. Its prescriptions are both substantive and procedural, as follows:

88. “(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 an 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 the 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; an d 

(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 99 of this Constitution 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 hi 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, refusal 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 authorized in that behalf by the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Representatives, as the case may required”. 

Shorn of its legalese, these provisions are clear enough. Starting with the former, it can be seen that such a summons ought to be in connection with an investigation being conducted by the Senate into either a matter within it’s legislative competence or the conduct of any person or agency of government responsible for either administering laws made by the N/Assembly or disbursing funds appropriated by the Assembly. In terms of procedure, such an investigation will only be valid if it is authorised by a resolution published in either the Assembly’s Journal or the Official Gazette of the FG.

It is obvious that these powers are not at large. This fact is underscored by Section 88(2) which provides that they are to be exercised exclusively for enabling the Senate (or the House of Reps) to make laws within their legislative competence or for exposing corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution/administration of such laws or in the disbursement of funds appropriated by them. 

The Court of Appeal interpreted identical provisions in the 1979 Constitution in SENATE vs.TONY MOMOH (1983) 4 NCLR Vol. 4 pg. 264, where it held that those provisions “do not constitute the  National Assembly into a universal ‘ombudsman’ inviting and scrutinizing the conduct of every member of the public”  even if its purpose is constitutionally recognized. The IG is obviously not an ordinary member of the public, but is a high government official by virtue of his position as the head of the nation’s Police Force. Accordingly, he is within the investigative (and therefore, invitational) remit of the Senate.

In the cited case, however, the court insisted that “the purpose of the investigation, its composition and terms of reference should be clear from the proceedings of the House which authorises it and be seen to be within the four corners of the constitutional power.”  For good measure, the court added that “It is not enough that the matter for investigation be within the legislative competence of the House. A proper and lawful investigation must have been constituted”. In this particular case, the question is not only if the procedural requirements of Section 88(1) of the Constitution (publication in the Gazette/Journal) were complied with, but whether the purpose of the summons to the IG was an investigation by the Senate into the conduct of the IG as an official of government who is charged with executing/administering laws enacted by the N/Assembly (presumably the Police Act).

 This might appear to be a plausible justification for the invite in this case, but is that the reality, or is the Summons a smokescreen or pretext for haranguing the IG, given the on-going face-off between him (or the Police generally) and Senator Dino Melaye? Is the Senate’s invite to the IG motivated more by a desire to solidarise with a colleague in distress at the hands of the IG-led Police, than any genuine, altruistic legislative investigation within the contemplation of the Constitution? The jury is out on this, but if public perception (not helped by the Senate’s own antecedents) is anything to go by, the Senate would have a hard time convincing a neutral observer that the former is the case.

Conclusion

Coming on the heels of the recent invasion of the same Senate by political thugs who made off with its Mace in full glare of Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike, the current face-off between the Senate and the IGP, is one controversy too many. National interest, political maturity and statesmanship ought to be the hallmarks of the Senate in line with international legislative best practices. Regrettably, these presently appear to be the exception rather than the rule. 

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