In recent days, the events in the Senate of the Republic had piqued the imaginations of people for less than unsavoury reasons. The latest is the face-off between the Senate (read that as the Senate President’s interests) and the leadership of the Nigeria Place Force, led by Inspector General of Police Ibrahim Idris.
Basically, the issue at stake is this: is the Senate right to compel anybody to come before it and answer a few questions?
Let’s be clear about the constitutional powers of the Senate first. Constitutionally, the Senate or National Assembly is mandated to make laws for the smooth running of the country.
They have the right to invite any person(s) to come and address them if that would help them in their primary duty of making laws.
Part of the remit of the Senate also includes investigating all acts that are inimical to the country’s welfare. In that respect, they can invite any person(s) they feel would help them make informed decisions in that respect.
Another important part of the work of the National Assembly is acting as a check on the activities of the executive branch of government.
This is important to prevent a dictatorship of the head of government in a democracy.
That is why it is sometimes good for democracy for the legislature and the executive to be at loggerheads. Nobody wants a rubber stamp legislature. Trust me.
That said, it is unconstitutional for the National Assembly or Senate to arrest somebody or force somebody to appear before it. The power to arrest resides in the police and security services and not the Senate.
The case of the Senate versus IGP Ibrahim Idris is another of those times when sitting on the fence is not an option.
The question now is: what happens if somebody fails to honor the invitation of the Senate?
A bit of background is necessary here.
The Senate first invited IGP Ibrahim Idris a couple of weeks ago to come and clarify certain things the Senate considered important. Ibrahim Idris failed to show up on the appointed date.
He delegated the job to some of his top deputies. The Senate refused. They wanted to hear from the horse’s mouth. They re-invited him. He spurned the invitation again.
At this point, the battle of wits shifted to the public domain. The Senate claimed, in a press release, that the refusal of IGP Ibrahim Idris to honor their invitation is a clear disrespect to the Senate and a danger to democracy in Nigeria.
The Senate’s message concluded by saying Ibrahim Idris, by his action, is not fit to hold public office in Nigeria. They recommended he be sacked by the President
In his reply, through a press statement authored by the police spokesperson, Ibrahim Idris insisted he had the utmost respect for the Senate evidenced by his appearance on the previous occasions he was invited.
The Police statement further added that as far as the IGP is concerned, the deputies he sent to represent him were capable of answering any questions. After all, they were top officials of the police.
Where one stands on the issue depends on what side of the political divide they are.
Most supporters of the presidency see this as another front in the battle for supremacy between Senate President Bukola Saraki and President Mohammadu Buhari.
They claim this is another attempt to undermine the President and assume control of the affairs of the country by proxy.
Those who condemn IGP Ibrahim Idris are a loose coalition of people who are opposed to this administration.
Right now, they are strongly behind the Senate President since he is the highest-profile opponent of the President at the moment.
Too many emotions are flying around to get a neutral view of the right or wrong of the actions of Ibrahim Idris on one hand and that of the Senate on the other.
As a government official, the Senate has the right to compel Idris to appear before it to explain the position of the police on certain issues in Nigeria.
But, and this is a big but, it should be understood that the invitation should not be personal. It is the Police as an institution that should be queried and not IGP Ibrahim Idris or his motives for taking some decisions.
For that reason, if the IGP thinks his deputies can represent the Police adequately, then the Senate must listen to them.
In the matter of operational issues, most of them know as much as the IGP. The Senate can get whatever answers it wants from them.
This is not the first time the Senate was snubbed. Professor Itse Sagay, the head of the Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption (PACAP), dared the Senate to arrest him when he refused to honor their invitation. Nothing happened.
The customs boss, Colonel Hameed Ali (rtd), also had a run in with the Senate. He refused their order to wear the Nigeria Customs uniform. Nothing happened.
What is striking about all these is how everything seems personal.
For instance, the Senate decided to flex its muscles against the customs’ boss because cars belonging to the Senate President were impounded over lack of the correct customs papers.
Ibrahim Idris is at the receiving end because of the treatment Senator Dino Melaye is getting from the police covered comprehensively by Nigeria News.
Though the Senate claim they want to question him about killings in parts of Nigeria, it is clear Dino Melaye is the main reason.
The killings started long before Melaye’s problems and they did not deem it fit to invite the IGP then.
Again, the Senate have the right to invite public officials for a chat. Nigerians deserve to know how these officials are performing.
But they risk needles controversies if the whole process degenerates into an attempt to settle personal scores.