I think the gloves are now off and the knuckles are out. No one should be left in doubt as to what we face today. The show of shame has taken another dimension. I could not imagine that what happened at the National Assembly yesterday, where the police without hesitation raped our democracy and desecrated the hallowed chambers of the National Assembly by teargasing and locking out members of the National Assembly from the National Assembly complex would or could happen in my lifetime. But it happened. They had only one thing in mind; to show the speaker of the National Assembly “Who is the boss”. As if the idea to lockout the head of an arm of the legislature was not heinous enough, they teargased him and all the members of the National Assembly who sought peaceable entry into the National Assembly to perform their constitutional duty to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Federation.
The crime of the speaker against PDP has been legion but the deepest cut it would appear is his audacity to defect from PDP to APC recently. The police have since his defection acquired remarkable agility in dispatching law enforcement; first they striped him of his security (as they are wont to do these days), in order to terrorize his mind and expose him to harm no matter how irreparable. Secondly, they teargassed him in the hope that he has a health precondition so that like Oyi, the Former Senate President Chuba Okigbo he could die from the teargas.
This makes one wonder, has this become a new state policy, a grand scheme of intimidation, using the police and the SSS paid by the Nigerian people to brutalize, demonize, humble and eventually destroy anyone who dares to disagree with the President? Could this be the new but systematic way of dethroning democracy and the entrenchment of the police state? Because, this is not a happenstance, this looked very choreographed. The punch had on the 31st of October reported that the PDP had in a meeting after the defection of the Speaker of the House declared that he would not be allowed into the National Assembly again. Many including myself discountenanced the report as being at best mischievous. How naïve I was, this new show of shame by police at the National Assembly has fully and surely established the report as accurate and factual.
But beyond the police action we must begin to search deeper where we are taking Nigeria? Can we see the cliff, the precipice we are tilting the country towards? We are gradually destroying the country in the name of politics and heating up the place in a manner that undermine the country? Every state you go to, the police a critical institution of state have fully sustained this idea that it is in reality the armed wing of the PDP. This trend is unconscionable and is emerging the biggest threat to our democracy. The action of the police completely undermines the democratic state; it undermines the judiciary and the legislature and threatens the rights of our people to live in liberty and freedom.
For those who are in doubt on the legal remit of power under the constitution, the 1999 Constitution clearly spells out the Cardinal Principles governing how power and authority is exercised amongst the three tiers of Government. In Ezeoke v. Markafi (1982) 3 NCLR 663 at 669 the Court of Appeal referring to the 1979 Constitution observed. “I do not think that there is any dispute as to the fact under our present constitution; we operate a system of government, which consists of three constitutional departments, namely, the legislature, the executive and the Judiciary. Each of these departments derive their powers and authority from the Constitution; these powers subject to other provisions of the Constitution are spelt out in section 4 in respect of the legislature, section 5 in respect of the Executive and section 6 in the case of the Judicial powers. It is one of the cardinal principles of the constitution we operate in this country that each department is sovereign within its sphere of authority and can exercise its powers without let or hindrance from any other department or any other authority or person as long as it operates within the constitution and the law.
The court further enunciated that our Constitution which is based not only on the American system of Government but also on the old system we operated under the Constitution of the Federation of 1963 and the earlier Constitutions it replaced that it is the National Assembly by itself that can regulate its own procedures and privileges. The court pointed out that these Constitutions had their origin in the Westminster type of democracy. The Constitution of the Federation of Nigeria of 1960 (the Independence Constitution) enacted by the Nigeria (Constitution) Order in Council 1960 (1960 No. 1652) in its section 60 had given each House of Parliament, the Senate and House of Representatives, power to regulate its own procedure as follows:
“60(1) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, each House of Parliament may regulate its own procedure.” In exercise of its power to make laws under section 65 Parliament was given power to legislate under Item 33 of the Exclusive Legislative List in respect of:
“33 Powers, privileges and immunities of each House of Parliament and its members.” In 1963 the Constitution of the Federation (the Republican Constitution) came into force. Section 65 of this Constitution replaced section 60 of the previous Constitution as reproduced above. Item 33 of the Exclusive Legislative List of this Constitution was also identical to the same item in the 1960 Constitution. In the Constitution of 1979 section 56 provides in respect of procedure as follows: “56 Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the Senate or the House of Representatives shall have power to regulate its own procedure, including the procedure for summoning and recess of the House.”
In respect of powers and privileges, the Constitution of 1979 provides under Item 46 of the Exclusive Legislative List as follows: “46 Powers of the National Assembly and the privileges and immunities of its members.”
In the light of the above it is safe to say that all our Constitutions from 1960 to date have vested in the National Assembly or Parliament power to Legislate in respect of the powers or privileges of the Houses and of members thereof. In our parliamentary practice prior to 1979 the powers and privileges of parliament and of members of Parliament in this country are similar to the powers and privileges of parliament in the United Kingdom.
Section 50(2) of the 1999 Constitution clearly lays out the procedure for the removal or vacation of the office of the Speaker of the House of Representative. Section 50 (2) says that “The President or Deputy President of the Senate or the Speaker or Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives shall vacate his office –
(a) if he ceases to be a member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives, as the case may be, otherwise than by reason of a dissolution of the Senate or the House of Representatives; or
(b) when the House of which he was a member first sits after any dissolution of that House; or
(c) if he is removed from office by a resolution of the Senate or of the House of Representatives, as the case may be, by the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of the members of that House.
The police have not come up with any position showing that any of these conditions have been met or anyone has alleged that any of these conditions have occurred before this latest attempt it has made which is tantamount to an overthrow of government in violation of section 1(3) of the Constitution. I have not seen neither have I heard of any law enforce in Nigeria giving the police powers to determine who is speaker or member of the National Assembly. What is even worrying is the growth of this new police power as it spreads across the country from Rivers state to Edo State, from Ekiti State to Adamawa State, from Nasarawa state to Abuja. Police now determines who seats at the legislature and which faction is worthy of its protection. It is hard to imagine and should not be imagined that the President is not aware of this situation. It is also hard to imagine and cannot meet logical deduction of fact that the IG has in all of this including this most recent attempt that smacks more of a coup acted alone without the ordering or authority of his Commander in Chief. If this is deduced then one must ask if this is the return of Abacha? Then I pity Nigeria.
Senior Legislative Assistant
Office of Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki
Senator Bukola Saraki is Chairman Senate Committee on Environment and member Senate Committee on Finance
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