By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Let’s stop the pretense. We have no Inspector General of Police in Nigeria. What we have is an Inspector General for the President. It’s still IGP, but we know what the “P” in the initialism actually stands for.
IGP Suleiman Abba will certainly gown down in the annals as the most openly politically partisan police chief Nigeria has ever had. In the ongoing political tension between President Goodluck Jonathan and Speaker of the House of Representatives Aminu Tambuwal, Abba has carried on as if he is no more than an appendage of the president’s office. But it isn’t his overzealously undisguised partisanship in and of itself that is unusual; it’s the bewilderingly tasteless showiness with which he is doing it.
From instructing his men and women to forcibly deny members of the House of Representatives entry into their chambers, to initially spurning the invitation of the House before grudgingly accepting it, to refusing to recognize the legitimacy of the Speaker when he appeared before the House, Abba has stepped outside the bounds of decency and conventional policing. He has redefined his role as not the chief law enforcement officer of the nation but as a protector of the president and a tormentor of his opponents.
These days it’s hard to tell the IGP apart from the People’s Democratic Party’s hacks and spin doctors. In fact, he seems to be doing a better job at defending the PDP and the President than the people who are paid to do so. Any Inspector General of Police who outdoes hacks and spin doctors in political propaganda is beneath contempt.
IGP Abba’s reason for refusing to recognize the Speaker is particularly disingenuous. He said since the legality of the Speaker’s position is the subject of legal disputation consequent upon his defection to the All Progressives’ Congress, it would be “sub judice” to address him as the Speaker. How convenient! Well, actually, Mr. Abba, the opposite holds true: by refusing to recognize the legality of the Speaker’s position, you’re prejudging the outcome of the court thereby interfering with due process.
A careful, non-partisan Inspector General of Police who is concerned with not being seen as doing or saying anything that would be misunderstood as biasing ongoing court processes would steer clear of the partisan bickering between the Speaker and the President by recognizing the Speaker until the courts declare that he is no longer Speaker by virtue of his defection to another political party—that is, if the courts have the power to do that.
Having said this, let me be clear that I do not want to be understood as defending Speaker Aminu Tambuwal. The Nigerian constitution is clear that when members of the National Assembly defect to a political party other than that on whose platform they were elected they should “vacate their seat.”
Section 68 of the Nigerian Constitution says, “A member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives shall vacate his seat in the House of which he is a member if,” among other things, “being a person whose election to the House was sponsored by a political party, he becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which that House was elected: Provided that his membership of the latter political party is not as a result of a division in the political party of which he was previously a member or of a merger of two or more political parties or factions by one of which he was previously sponsored.”
It seems to me that based on the provisions of the constitution, and given a previous court ruling that said there are no factions in the PDP, Tambuwal should lose his right to be a member of the House of Representatives and thus his position as Speaker of the House. If I were him, I would vacate my seat and resign my position as Speaker as soon as I defect to a different political party. That, I think, is the honorable thing to do.
But it is also clear from the constitution that there are procedural protocols that must precede loss of membership of the House for members who defect to a different political party. Members don’t vacate their seats by default when they change their political party affiliations. Either the Speaker or any member of the National Assembly has to first raise a motion and present evidence that a member has defected to another political party and should therefore lose his or her seat on this account.
This is what the constitution says: “The Speaker of the House of Assembly shall give effect to subsection (1) of this section, so however that the Speaker or a member shall first present evidence satisfactory to the House that any of the provisions of that subsection has become applicable in respect of the member.”
So for Speaker Tambuwal to validly vacate his seat and cease to be the Speaker, a member of the House has to first present evidence that the Speaker has changed his political party and then request that he give up his seat and his position. Given how chummy Tambuwal seems to be with members of the House irrespective of their party affiliations, I don’t imagine that any member would go out of his way to gather “satisfactory evidence” of the Speaker’s membership of the APC and ask that he vacate his seat.
In other words, however much we might question the moral propriety of Tambuwal’s choice to retain his seat and position in spite of his defection to another political, we can’t, at least for now, question the legality of his position as Speaker.
It doesn’t take a lawyer to know that IGP Abba is unmistakably on the wrong side of the law for refusing to recognize Aminu Tambuwal as the Speaker of the House of Representatives. But even a self-appointed Inspector General for the President has an obligation to obey the law.