There were indications on Wednesday that the National Assembly had decided to suspend the 2018 budget of the Nigeria Police Force to penalise the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, over his refusal to honour invitations by the Senate.
Findings showed that the fresh summons issued to Idris earlier on Tuesday by the Senate was the last chance he had to appear before the legislature or he would risk the suspension of the police budget.
The PUNCH learnt that the suspension was one of the steps the National Assembly had considered to sustain its authority and get all heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies to respect the “core institution of democracy.”
However, the suspension will cover only capital and overhead votes of the police, leaving out the recurrent expenditure budget.
“The plan is that the office of the IGP in particular, will be completely suspended. His overhead and capital votes will be put on hold until he learns to respect the National Assembly.
“The recurrent cost will be left untouched because, as you are aware, that is where the salaries of the personnel will be drawn from to cater for their welfare,” a top member of the House Committee on Appropriations, who spoke on condition of anonymity, informed The PUNCH in Abuja on Wednesday.
The IG and the Senate in particular, have had a running battle lately over the arrest of Senator Dino Melaye and the invasion of its chambers by thugs last month.
Idris has failed to honour two previous summonses to address the security issues.
On Monday, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, met with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Aso Rock Villa.
The two National Assembly officials personally reported the IG to Buhari.
After the meeting, an infuriated Dogara described the IG and the police as behaving like “upgraded barbarian tribesmen.”
Amid the delay in the passage of the national budget itself, the National Assembly on Wednesday suspended sitting for the rest of the week.
At the House of Representatives, it explained that this was to allow the majority All Progressives Congress members to participate in the ongoing local government congresses of the party.
The lawmakers will reconvene on May 15 to receive the report of the N8.612tn budget for passage (next week).
When contacted on Wednesday, the Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas, said the next week deadline given by Saraki and Dogara on the budget would be kept.
“We plead for the patience of Nigerians. We have to tidy up all loose ends in the budget, considering that time has been lost already,” Namdas told The PUNCH on Wednesday.
President Buhari had presented the estimates of the budget to the National Assembly on November 7.
However, several factors, including executive-legislature friction, and the refusal of ministers, heads of agencies to appear for defence early, have delayed its passage for over six months.
The N8.612tn budget is up from the N7.44tn appropriated in 2017 by N1.17tn or a “16 per cent” difference.
But, it is unclear what the final figure to leave the National Assembly will be when it is passed.
Some of the proposals from the President are recurrent cost, N3.494tn; capital expenditure N2.652tn or “30.8 per cent”; debt servicing, N2.014tn; and statutory transfers, N456bn.
Senate declares IG unfit for public office
For the third time in one month, Idris failed to appear before the Senate on Wednesday.
The development made the upper chamber of the National Assembly to declare the IG an enemy of democracy and unfit to hold any public office within and outside Nigeria.
Idris had been summoned to address the Senate on the alleged inhuman treatment of Melaye during his arrest and detention by the police over alleged gunrunning; and the spate of killings by armed herdsmen and militias across the country.
While Idris had sent the Deputy Inspector-General of Police (Operations), Mr. Joshak Habila, to represent him in the previous times, he sent no representation for his appearance on Wednesday.
The Majority Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan, however, said efforts by him to reach out to the IG in two days failed.
“For the last two days, we have tried to reach out to the IG, to inform him that he should appear today in keeping with our resolution. We have done that with the Chairman of the Committee on Police Affairs. Personally, I made attempts to phone the IG’s line and I sent a text message that he should call me as soon as he saw my messages.
“Clearly the IG is not here. I think this is very unusual and very unfortunate. I personally feel that public officers should do what is in the interest of the public and where any public officer feels he cannot do what is in the interest of the public, then there is no need for such an officer to continue to occupy that kind of office,” Lawan said.
The Majority Leader further said the Senate was now at a crossroads on the matter, adding that a decision had to be taken on the way forward.
He added, “Even though we always like to have our security agencies to come and brief us because of the current security situation in the country, in a situation where there is consistent non-appearance by the IG, I don’t think it will make any sense to continue to extend invitations until the Senate takes a definite decision to make the situation better.”
Also, the Deputy Minority Leader, Senator Emmanuel Bwacha, called for a closed session for the lawmakers to determine the action to be taken by the Senate against the IG.
“This is quite a sad moment for Nigeria, not only for the parliament but for democracy. It is sad, inexcusable, unacceptable, and condemnable and it calls for immediate action. I think this Senate will need to take a very serious action on the way forward. We cannot stand this embarrassment any longer. Let us have a closed session to take a very serious consideration of this matter, because this is a national disgrace,” he said.
Similarly, Senator Isa Misau, pointed out that a senator is superior to the IG by the provisions of the constitution and could be invited by any of the lawmakers. He also noted that Sections 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution empowered the legislature to summon the police boss.
Misau said, “What the IG is doing is not against the Senate, I think he is doing it against the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria because he is the leader of this country. It shows so many things. I think it is now left for the government to decide on whether they will have an appointee that will rubbish the image of the country or not.
“If the leader of the police cannot honour our invitation, then he is not competent to hold that office. What is he afraid of? If he knows that what he is doing is right, let him come and say it and explain to Nigerians what is happening.”
Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe however said Nigeria’s democracy was dying gradually and that the IG’s non-appearance was an abuse of power.
Abaribe said, “Democracies die. If anyone of us continues to feel that we have a democracy, I want to tell every one of us – Nigerians – that democracies die. Democracy dies in two ways: it either dies abruptly or it does in bits.
“What is going on today in Nigeria is that democracy is dying in little bits. It dies when people abuse governmental power. All that we have seen today with the conduct of the chief law officer of the federation of Nigeria is nothing but an abuse of power. He has no respect for this institution. That is now a fact.”
The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, ruled that the lawmakers go behind closed doors to decide on the IG’s non-appearance.
Rising from the closed session which lasted about 50 minutes, Saraki said the lawmakers resolved to declare the police boss an enemy of democracy, stressing that he was not fit to hold any public office in Nigeria or any other country.
Saraki said, “The Senate, in our closed session, deliberated on the non-appearance of the IGP before the Senate in plenary after a series of invitations. The Senate noted that this is a great disrespect to the institution and constituted authority.
“The Senate also notes that his earlier refusal to appear before an investigative committee was overruled by a court of competent jurisdiction just in April of this year.
“The Senate, therefore, views this persistent refusal as a great danger to our democracy. Therefore, the Senate resolves to declare the IG as an enemy of democracy and unfit to hold any public office within and outside Nigeria.
“The leadership of the Senate will also be mandated to look into the matter for further necessary action.”
PDP knocks IG for refusing to honour Senate summonses
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party has condemned what it described as the repeated snubbing of the Senate by the IGP.
The main opposition party in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, in Abuja on Wednesday, described Idris’ action as an assault on democracy.
Ologbondiyan wondered why President Muhammadu Buhari had refused to sanction the police boss.
He said, “The PDP notes that this deliberate assault on our democratic process, wilful denigration of the National Assembly and recourse to totalitarianism has not been reprimanded by President Muhammadu Buhari, as the chief security officer of the nation.
“It is instructive to state that never in our democratic history as a people and a nation, has a service chief or an inspector-general of police treated the National Assembly with as much dishonour and disdain like the current IG.
“All over the world, the legislature is a bastion of democracy and our constitution, in recognition of this, provides a special place for our National Assembly, as the representatives of the people, to serve as a check on the executive arm.
“We, therefore, condemn this offensive on our democracy by IG Idris as well as the deliberate insult being heaped on each of our legislators by the appointees of President Buhari.”
Ologbondiyan asked Nigerians to note that totalitarianism did not begin in a day, “but that it starts from a deliberate disrespect to statutes, laws and institutions that engender democracy and rule of law.”
Consequently, he said that the PDP would urge Saraki and the senators to protect the institution of the legislature and democracy by not limiting their action only to finding Idris as “unfit” to hold public office.
He, therefore, charged the Senate to take the next step within their legislative instrument and powers to restore the respect and dignity which the generality of Nigerians and the 1999 Constitution (as amended) bestow on them.
Senators are enemies of democracy, not IG – Sagay
In his reaction, the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), lambasted the Senate for describing the IG as an enemy of democracy.
Sagay said rather, it was the Senate that was anti-democratic as it had suspended sitting on several occasions for flimsy reasons like going to a court in solidarity with a colleague who is standing trial or suspending plenary to visit another colleague at a hospital.
The PACAC chairman said the IG had done well by sending a DIG to represent him and therefore wondered why the Senate did not even give the DIG the opportunity to speak.
He said, “Who is the real enemy of democracy when a whole Senate suspends sittings for a day, pack themselves to either the court in solidarity with a colleague who is being tried for corruption or to a hospital in solidarity with a colleague who is on admission regardless of the fact that they were elected to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of Nigerians.
“You abandon your constitutional job in order to crowd a court to intimidate a judge, leaving yours undone. So, who is anti-democratic? If the IG was invited and he couldn’t come and he sent a DIG, then that is a high-level representative.
“Why can’t they deal with that? If they feel he is not competent to answer their questions after they had given him the opportunity, the case would have been different. However, they didn’t give him a chance.
“All they are concerned with is the vanity of their position rather than the substance of the work they ought to do. I think they are totally derailed. This Senate is the worst in the history of Nigeria and I think they are the ones that are anti-democratic, not the IG.”