Ardent readers of the Christian Holy Book must be familiar with the verse: “Once has the Lord spoken, twice have I heard him” (It was David the psalmist talking.).
They — as well as Nigerians of other faith — must be wondering how the Senate spoke not once but twice, yet Inspector-General of Police Ibrahim Idris failed to hear not even once. Twice has the Senate spoke, not once has the IGP heard!
Although the Senate said it wanted the IGP to, among others, explain the killings in some parts of the country, it was clear the primary motive for the summons was the arrest and detention of Dino Melaye, the senator representing Kogi West Senatorial District at the National Assembly.
When the IGP was first summoned to appear last Thursday, he nominated a Deputy IGP to represent him, instead accompanying the President on his visit to Borno. With Mr. DIG angrily sent away, the IGP was given another chance to appear before the Senate. Again, he spurned it, prompting the Senate to threaten fire and brimstone. But really, does the Senate possess the constitutional powers to punish the IGP, or anyone else, for ignoring its summons?
WHAT THE CONSTITUTION SAYS
Bala Ibn Na’Allah, Deputy Majority Leader of the Senate, already did us all a favour. While berating the IGP for the no-how on Wednesday, he quoted two sections of the Constitution empowering the legislature to summon public office holders.
Sections 88 (1) and (2) read: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
In addition, Section 89 of the Constitution reads : For the purposes of any investigation under Section 88 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 – (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.
SO, CAN THE SENATE PUNISH ANYONE WHO SHUNS ITS SUMMONS?
The Senate is indeed powerful, as can be seen in some parts of Section 4 of the constitution thus:
4. (1) The legislative powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be vested in a National Assembly for the Federation, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives.
(2) The National Assembly shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Federation or any part thereof with respect to any matter included in the Exclusive Legislative List set out in Part I of the Second Schedule to this Constitution.
(3) The power of the National Assembly to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Federation with respect to any matter included in the Exclusive Legislative List shall, save as otherwise provided in this Constitution, be to the exclusion of the Houses of Assembly of States.
(4) In addition and without prejudice to the powers conferred by subsection (2) of this section, the National Assembly shall have power to make laws with respect to the following matters, that is to say:-
(a) any matter in the Concurrent Legislative List set out in the first column of Part II of the Second Schedule to this Constitution to the extent prescribed in the second column opposite thereto; and
(b) any other matter with respect to which it is empowered to make laws in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.
However, a careful study of other sections of that same Constitution addressing the powers of the Senate shows that it lacks the powers to sanction the IGP or other officials who shun its invitation. The Constitution is clear that the legislature can someone anyone, but it is silent on what can be done to anyone who fails to show up.
STILL, THE EXECUTIVE MUST BE WARY
While the Senate cannot sting directly, it can constitute itself into a albatross in the smooth operations of the Executive. We have seen it already in this administration with the refusal to confirm Ibrahim Magu as substantive Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), as well as the five-month delay in confirming President Muhammadu Buhari’s CBN Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) nominees in protest against the President’s refusal to withdraw Magu.
If anyone needed reminder of the Senate’s menacing ‘backdoor powers’, well, it’s the fifth month of 2018 and the 2018 Appropriation Bill still hasn’t been passed by either chamber of the National Assembly. The Senate may not be able to punish Idris but it can ruin a few potential achievements of Idris’ second-term-seeking boss.