By refusing to recognise the Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives on the ground that his occupation of the office is being challenged in court, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mr. Suleiman Abba acted in contempt of the House, and in negation of his office as chief law enforcer of the country. His conduct is disappointing because he ought to know the position of the law on the tenure of various executive or legislative offices; and particularly that in the absence of a court order, either in the interim or otherwise, he cannot assume or anticipate the court’s pending decision. Mr. Abba should apologise to all Nigerians whom the Speaker and other House members represent.
It bears recalling that on November 20, the sanctity of the National Assembly was violated by the Nigeria Police, ostensibly to prevent so-called hoodlums and thugs from invading the precincts of the assembly. In doing so, the honourable members of the House of Representatives were harassed, hounded and tear-gassed. The act amounted to a usurpation of the constitutional mandate of an elected assembly. Matters got messier following a resolution of the House summoning the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to explain the offensive act of his men. Rather than apologise for the police action, he added insult to injury by proffering unacceptable excuses to justify the siege; and once again refused to recognise Tambuwal as House Speaker. Mr. Abba’s entire conduct before the legislative arm of government suggested strongly that the assault on the hallowed chambers of the assembly was after all premeditated.
The IGP spurned stories well enough for the ears of the marines. He acted on intelligence report of an impending invasion and desired to prevent a repeat of the so-called Burkina Faso incident in the country. Nonetheless, he refused to acknowledge the authority of Honourable Speaker Aminu Tambuwal – in his conversation with committee members – on the ground that the substantiveness of the Speaker of the House was before a law court and therefore subjudice. This led to a hostile reaction from committee members and the session was terminated abruptly. The IGP’s outright display of insubordination to civil authority was preceded by an earlier snub of the invitation from both the House and the Senate to appear before them. Rather than honour the invitation, he sent a subordinate officer to appear on his behalf.
Upon assumption of office a few months ago, the IGP had told the nation that his vision was to make the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) ‘a leading national, professional and efficient law enforcement organisation.’ This newspaper in applauding this, had equally observed that he had a lot to do to convince the citizenry that the primary responsibility of a police officer is, to use the Force’s own words, act as ‘an official representative of government who is required and trusted to work within the law.’ Given the history of impunity of the police, the imperative of building ‘a people-friendly Police Force that will respect and uphold the fundamental rights of all citizens’ was emphasized. It was stressed that the IGP’s legacy should be to ‘run a thoroughbred professional police service and leave a worthy legacy by maintaining a high level of personal discipline and leading strictly by example.’ Also, this newspaper warned that “the gap between promise and execution can, in reality and for myriad reasons, be very huge.”
It would appear that just so soon, the chicken is coming home to roost. The IGP, regrettably, has begun wrong-footedly. His action in disrespecting a constituted Assembly, the second arm of government, is unacceptable. He jumped the gun, as he cannot play the role of the court. The contemporary dynamics of civil-military relations demands security forces’ subordination to civil authority. The honourable speaker can lose his position through impeachment by the house members, a ruling of a competent court of jurisdiction, particularly regarding the propriety of procedure adopted by the House members in dealing with him; recall by his constituents and, of course, expiration of his tenure. The IGP’s opinion on the propriety or otherwise of Tambuwal’s occupation of the office is certainly not one of the ways. By immersing himself in the murky waters of politics, the IGP is threading a slippery path. His action undermined the legislative organ of the state. Indeed, Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka was right to assert in his reaction to the police action, that the country was inclining towards the infamy of the Abacha years, an era underlined by brute force, killings and brazen impunity. The IGP’s impudence amounts to a huge assault on the sensibility of Nigerians. How can Nigerians place their confidence in the leadership of a force that is supposed to protect the citizens and whose mission is to entrench professionalism but is clearly on a mission creep?
The infraction committed by the IGP is huge enough to demand his resignation in a civilised society. As Nigerians await history to be made, the IGP should closely watch his conduct, lest this be taken as his playing out a script.