Mr Suleiman Abba seems to have settled fine into his new job. More importantly, he is making it into the headlines quite splendidly. Such notoriety comes with the territory—being the Inspector General of Police of Nigeria and all.
However, his recent order to withdraw the security aides of the Speaker of the federal House of Representatives seems to have caused some political uproar and general indifference. Frankly, I opt for the indifference option, because, you see, I don’t think Mr Aminu Waziri Tambuwal—or any current Nigerian politician—deserves any better protection than I do. Not because I lay any claim to some special considerations, but just because I believe that if basic security is still unavailable to a Nigerian citizen in 2014, then why should the politicians rest easier?
To pursue that subject a bit, I would be quite happy if all policemen were withdrawn from individual politicians and added to the general patrol—there is more hope of the security personnel adding more value to the society this way. If a politician feels threatened, he or she should examine his or her handiwork. The only protection a politician deserves should be the protection of the people they serve—but let us reserve that discussion for now.
So, back to Mr Abba and the Speaker: if the news reported the policeman correctly, he claimed to be enforcing the provisions of the 1999 constitution, and considering that, to him, the Speaker had breached the Constitution, he was constrained by his oath of office to sanction the Speaker immediately. This was quite an overreaching decision.
All this moral outrage is admirable, and it is a conscientious interference of a type that one hopes would be emulated on even worthier causes. But (sad as it may seem to many in the armed forces) we do not run a police state; instead, we are, somehow, running a constitutional democracy. And, flawed as this system may seem, we still have to abide by its fundamental principles if we are not to make a total nonsense of it.
Now, what does this constitutional democracy have to say about these problematic circumstances? Let’s start with the granddaddy of our laws, the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which says, in s. 109(1) that a member of the House should “vacate” his seat if, he becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of his term. Now, since “vacate” is a rather individualistic decision when it comes to practical terms, s. 109(2) requires the Speaker of the House to give effect to the vacating process after he provides satisfactory evidence on the matter.
Now, this is awkward.
And you can see why: because, in this case, the Speaker is also the person who requires vacationing. And he only can give effect to his own vacationing. In short, the Constitution dropped the ball on that one.
Personally, I would have suggested that such a member be “lifted up and bundled out by citizens from his constituency” or such other exciting procedure. But, for now, we are stuck with the Speaker being required to give effect to his own removal. Which leads us to three other possibilities.
One, the House elects a new Speaker and, once the old Speaker is an ordinary member, he is summarily vacated or bundled off as required. But, this is a political solution and we know how tricky that is.
Two, the Speaker does the honourable thing and vacates himself from office without ado—but we know the chances of that happening. Zero, just to be clear.
Three, the Attorney General of the Federation goes to court, on behalf of “we the people”, and asks for an judgement declaring the Speaker’s seat vacant and removing Mr Tambuwal by force—which would then justify using the police to execute the court order. That is, if the AGF or the President cares that much.
Now, to make matters worse, the Constitution proceeds to offer an escape route by permitting legislators to defect if there was a split, merger or factional dispute in the political party. And because everyone knows every party in Nigeria is constantly suffering from identity crisis, a lot of legislators have based selfish defections on this particular excuse.
And so, the law and the facts have made a right mess of things. And when the law goes messy, we ought to turn to the lawyers and the judges to straighten things out. We don’t call the police to sort it out. Every police action in a constitutional democracy has to be traceable to either a direct order from the president, or a direct provision from the enabling law of the police force.
Otherwise, no sir, it is not the duty of the Nigerian Police Force to interpret the law for Nigerians. The alternative scenario, if we were to push it to the logical conclusion, would then result in policemen marching into homes and offices to enforce provisions of the Constitution directly—and we will have to skip that pesky process known as litigation.
Now, to emphasise: by all means withdraw the security detail of the Speaker, but do so as a direct executive order—and leave the constitutional interpretation for the judges.
Ayo Sogunro is the author of The Wonderful Life of Senator Boniface and other Sorry Tales. A lawyer by profession, he also indulges in quasi socio-legal philosophy on this blog. You may interact with him on Twitter via @ayosogunro.