THURSDAY Column by Ali M. Ali
Excuse an over worn cliché’. The Nigerian Police is in the eye of the storm. The police, the Nigerian variety, that is, have always been so – in the eye of storm. This latest storm is in the form of, one, interpreting the Constitution of the Federal Republic, and two, in the enforcement of the law as provided by the Constitution of the Federal Republic. The fire this time will rage for some time. It is set to linger.
The recent police action or should I say, inaction, in providing cover for the Speaker of the House, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal and denying him access to the green chamber, was a complete PR disaster. The police have an unenviable reputation; these two recent ill-advised stunts of shutting the gates of the National Assembly against Tambuwal and teargasing federal lawmakers have confirmed its status as a willing sidekick of the executive. They have earned it a conspicuous place in the hall of infamy. God save the rest of us!
When the police acts like this on the side of partisanship, the words of General Muhammadu Buhari to the effect that INEC and the police have merged with the ruling PDP ring loudly in the ear. I am of the considered opinion that the police have no shame. Otherwise they wouldn’t have lamely tried to defend the indefensible. Spinning the tale to damage control that “intelligence” report indicated the imminent arrival of thugs to invade the National Assembly Complex on the day the House resumed for a special sitting was a poorly cobbled afterthought.
How could Suleiman Abba, the Inspector General of Police, have allowed himself to be messed up like this? I was really fond of the youthful police topshot. When he took charge, we thought he would bring to bear his legal mind on the ‘kill and go’ mentality of the police. We thought wrongly. On August 7th, here on this page, I freely counseled him to be wary of the politics of PDP. He impressed me by his brilliance as a lawyer and his down to earth disposition as a law enforcement agent in a chance meeting in January at the Trust Annual Dialogue.
In that piece titled “Weeping For Abba Suleman”, I said thus: “Fourth and perhaps the most important reason I, as an admirer of the new police boss, am weeping for him is the politics of the ruling party. The PDP is known for its ‘do-or-die’ politics. It takes no prisoners; Its mentality is ‘winner takes all’. For controlling power at the centre, it has misused the police so frequently during elections that those at the receiving end see the force as an extension of the party. There are instances policemen in uniform have been caught on camera stuffing ballot boxes in favour of the PDP.”It appears this was not heeded.
The police navigated into this storm when it withdrew the cops giving the House Speaker security cover. Tambuwal did the unpardonable. He defected from the ruling PDP. And so what? Every now and again, Nigerian politicians, and I hasten to add, all of them unprincipled and lacking in honour, defect to another party where they think their bread will be better buttered. The Speaker merely followed in his own example of politics of amala and ewedu soup. In the past, he had defected to the PDP from ANPP. He was embraced and hugged in his new party. He was flaunted by the grateful PDP like a coveted trophy.
Tambuwal is not alone in the cross carpeting business. Senators and governors in this current democratic dispensation have, intermittently, become ‘crosstitudes’, a disparaging tag hung on all politicians who ‘prostitute’ in parliament or congress cross carpeting. Crosstitudes to the PDP are hailed for ‘seeing the light’. Such crosstitudes swelled the rank of the PDP to the chagrin of the losing parties. In some countries, crosstitude is seen as “constitutional theft” because it takes away a party’s seat and gives it to another.
In withdrawing security for the Speaker, ranked as no4 in the national order of precedence, the police, trained by the colonial master to side with the executive arm of government, relied on a certain constitutional provision that empowers it to permit the no 4 citizen to walk without police escort. Suddenly the police saddled with the task of law enforcement are now interpreters of the Constitution. In withdrawing their men from behind the Speaker, it said “In view of the recent defection by the Right Honorable Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, CFR, the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressive Congress (APC), and having regard to the clear provision of Section 68 (1) (g) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended, the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) has redeployed its personnel attached to his office.”
Legal luminaries vast in the delicate art of legalese were unanimous in whipping the behind of the police. All of them were agreed that cops lack the locus standi, a gobbledygook designed by lawyers to make simple things sound difficult in the ear of the simpleton. Femi Falana kicked in the face of the Police for standing the Constitution on its head. He accused the Police Chief of partisanship. Human Rights Lawyer Clement Nwankwo also kicked. He went a step further. He spoke in the language of an incensed legal luminary. He said it is “bizarre, outrageous and unacceptable for a police officer functioning as part of the executive arm of government to assume the garb of a judicial officer and embark on an unsolicited and ridiculous voyage of pronouncing interpretations to provisions of the Constitution as to declare the seat of an elected member and Speaker of the House of Representatives vacant”. The president of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Augustine Alegeh, also lampooned the cops for eagerly being the sidekick of the executive arm of government.
In interpreting section 68(1) (g,), the police made a complete mess of eating a boiled egg.The law is truly a bum. Our Constitution is a perfect example. According to the NBA boss, this compendium of laws is the sole cause of confusion. It didn’t envisage the Tambuwal scenario. Alegeh is of the informed opinion that the police erred by withdrawing the security detail attached to the Speaker because the power to determine whether or not there has been a breach of the Constitution in the defection of Tambuwal is beyond the jurisdiction of the police.“Section 68 of the Constitution enumerates the procedure to be adopted by the National Assembly when a member defects from one party to another. Unless and until that procedure is followed and adopted, Aminu Tambuwal remains Speaker of the House of Representatives. We have stated clearly that the police lacks jurisdictional competence to determine whether or not there has been a breach of the constitution; that duty is a function of the court.
“There is no provision in our Constitution that says if you are in PDP or APC and you decamp to another party you automatically lose your position of leadership of the House’’, said Alegeh. Surely, Suleman, being a lawyer himself, knows this. Right now the police smell like cow dung. Too bad.