Nigeria: Mr Idris, visit the Senate

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

Ibrahim Kpotun Idris, Nigeria’s Police chief, has rebuffed the invitation of the country’s Senate to appear before it to render explanations for myriad security issues thrice already. When Mr Idris first “shunned” the distinguished senators on 25 April, he did not do so carelessly. He sent a representative. The Senate or anyone else could hardly disagree with his reasoning for not showing up at the time; albeit it was probably a God-sent excuse. He accompanied the president, Muhammadu Buhari, to Bauchi, a security hotspot; a planned event known to the Senate and in fact, the wider public. The second time he missed his appointment with the “Red Chamber” on 2 May, he was clearly more in control of his itinerary. Just like in the first instance when he sent his deputy to the Senate to act on his behalf, one of his subordinates could similarly have gone in his stead to Birnin Gwari in Kaduna, where killings had just occurred. So on the second occasion, at least, he likely made a choice not to attend. The most recent summons by the Senate was on 9 May. Mr Idris simply went about his day; much to the chagrin of the Senate. How is the impasse to be resolved then?

Know the law you make
It is tempting to quickly decry Mr Idris’ supposed disrespect of the Senate. Not that it would not be justified: whether we like the current crop of senators or not, they are our representatives. A slight on them is a disregard for “We, The People.” But when you hear the legal arguments, you are awakened to the reality that the Senate may not have acted wisely. One senior lawyer categorically stated in a widely aired television interview that the Senate did not have the powers to summon the Police chief. Instead, they should have invited the interior minister, who has supervisory authority over the Police (in part) and other internal security agencies. The well-spoken and oft-impassioned lawyer was very persuasive. But he only spoke about the side of the elephant his hands chose to feel. Another silk – “Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN)” in these parts – weighed in on the same medium subsequently. He revealed the powers of the Senate extend beyond that: they can invite anyone. The more practical insight, in my view, came from neither of them. A bright young lawyer, who regularly comments on such issues, gave a very brilliant assessment. (If you follow my Twitter handle, @DrRafiqRaji, you’ll know who.) He explained how because the legislature’s right of summon is qualified and restricted to issues of public policy, national security and so on, the inclusion of the travails of a particularly colourful senator in the hands of the Police as one of the reasons for summoning Mr Idris may have vindicated his actions. I agree.

Restrain yourself
In any case, should one summoned refuse to show up, the legislature has the powers to issue a warrant of arrest. The dilemma, of course, is that the Police is the body that implements any such warrant. Who would arrest the Police chief then? His subordinates? True, a former Police chief has been arrested before. But the order came from the president of the country at the time, not the legislature. And it was for an entirely different matter. Were President Buhari to order the arrest of anyone in this country at this time, it will happen. But is Mr Buhari likely to allow the arrest of Mr Idris in the event the Senate issues a warrant of arrest against him for failing to honour its summons? I doubt that very much. Lest I forget, the Senate once summoned a senior lawyer and he refused to show up on the basis of law. Well, that ended that matter. To put it bluntly: the Police chief was well-advised, the Senate was not. The mistake of the latter, I believe, was in allowing its hurt about the supposed maltreatment of a member of its chamber by the Police to cloud its judgement. In its summons of the Police chief, it should not have given the slightest hint the legal troubles of one of its own was a matter to be discussed. Having done so, Mr Idris had the backing of law in shunning the Senate.

Change the headline
The Police and the Senate have both issued elaborate statements explaining their positions. The Police says the Senate was primarily interested in questioning its chief on the case of their embattled colleague. The Senate says this was never the case, insisting its main interest has always been to find a solution to the spate of killings going on in the country unabated. The terms of reference are now very clear, at least. Bearing in mind the fragility of power and how those who wield it effectively know not to allow it be pushed to its limits, Mr Idris should kindly now send a positive “signal” to the Senate.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz.

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