So Who Ordered Benue House Invasion?

So Who Ordered Benue House Invasion?

By Azuka Onwuka

Nigeria’s Acting President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, with President Muhammadu Buhari, who is on leave

Nigeria’s democracy once more came under threat last week (Augus7) with the invasion of the National Assembly by operatives of the intelligence unit known by the euphemistic name: the Department of State Services. The DSS operatives blocked the National Assembly complex early Tuesday morning, masked and armed, preventing legislators, National Assembly workers and visitors from gaining access into the National Assembly complex. They gave no reason for their action except for the usual vague claim that it was an “order from above.”

That action elicited an uproar both from Nigerians and foreign bodies and countries. People wondered why the sanctity of the legislative house could be desecrated by armed men in a democracy. Matters were not helped by the fact that just a week earlier on July 30, a similar incident had taken place in Benue State. The police had invaded the Benue State House of Assembly, preventing members of the Peoples Democratic Party from gaining entry but allowing members of the All Progressives Congress access to the legislative house. The minority legislators suspended all members of the PDP and then issued an impeachment notice to Governor Samuel Ortom.

Shockingly, the only thing President Muhammadu Buhari did in reaction to that assault on our democracy was a press statement from his office announcing that he did not order that invasion. But he did not query the Inspector General of Police, Mr Ibrahim Idris, neither did he fire him. The IG of Police did not query the Benue State Commissioner of Police under whose jurisdiction that ugly incident occurred. Nobody was punished or cautioned for that action.

It needs to be remembered that as the President of Nigeria, Buhari is also the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. He appoints all the heads of the military and para-military agencies, one of which is the police. He can also fire any of them anytime without any explanation to anybody.

Therefore, telling the nation that the police can unilaterally invade a state house of assembly at will and aide the legislators to carry out an illegal act was an acknowledgment by the President that he was not in control of his aides and the nation’s security. If the President could promptly wash his hands off that invasion, it meant that he found it embarrassing. So why did he not take any action to punish those who carried out that illegality?

It was the same IG of Police that the President acknowledged publicly, while visiting Benue State in March this year, that did not obey his directive to stay in Benue after the series of killings that occurred in that state. After that public acknowledgement that the IG disobeyed his directive, it was not heard that the President queried the IG of Police or disciplined him in any way for insubordination.

On April 18, 2018 Senator Ovie Omo-Agege of the APC, who had been suspended by the Senate, was seen on national TV walking into the Senate chambers in the company of some young men, who grabbed the mace of the Senate and ran out of the Senate chambers. They were not stopped by the dozens of security agents at the National Assembly. There was no report that those young men overpowered the security agents in a gun battle, which made it possible to get out of the National Assembly complex with the mace.

The police interrogated Senator Omo-Agege briefly and let him go. He was never prosecuted for that aberrant act that brought shame to the nation. An enquiry was never set up to find out how those young men were able to walk into a secured place like the National Assembly complex and then run out with the mace of the Senate. Senator Omo-Agege is still a staunch supporter of Buhari’s re-election bid.

It was, therefore, not totally strange that the operatives of the DSS laid siege to the National Assembly last week. The action of the police in Benue State in July must have emboldened the DSS to carry out that invasion of the National Assembly. In Benue, the governor and most of the legislators had defected from the APC and the PDP, while at the National Assembly, the Senate President and some Senators had also defected from the APC to the PDP. What was strange last week was that the Acting President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, ordered the sack of the Director General of the DSS, Mr Lawal Daura, under whose watch that action took place, asking him to hand over to the most senior officer of the DSS.

Even though it was refreshing news, it was strange because it was a deviation from the norm under this administration. Some people have said that the sack of Daura happened because President Buhari was on leave, even though Osinbajo would have discussed the matter with Buhari before taking the action. The transmission of the name of Justice Walter Onnoghen to the Senate in February 8, 2017 to be confirmed as the Chief Justice of Nigeria also took place when Buhari was on leave. Similarly when the Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole, suspended Usman Yusuf, head of the National Health Insurance Scheme, over allegations of corruption, in July 2017, Buhari reinstated Yusuf in February 2018.

The sack of Daura, however, took a curious twist when the IG of Police, Idris, gave an interim investigation report into the invasion of the National assembly last week saying that Daura “may be acting the script of highly placed politicians to achieve selfish political goals.” It was seen by many observers as an attempt to absolve this administration of any blame on that ugly incident. Daura was appointed by Buhari based on trust. Daura is from the same village with Buhari. One wonders why Daura would collude with “unnamed politicians” to act their script in a way that would embarrass Buhari and perhaps help to deny him re-election, thereby truncating his tenure as the DG of the DSS. Who works against his own interest like that?

If indeed Daura connived with any politician to invade the National Assembly, it is a heaven-sent opportunity for the presidency to ensure that beyond his sack, he is tried for treasonable felony with all those who are involved in that assault on our democracy. If he is not tried, people will reach the conclusion that he carried out an instruction from his boss, but when the action was condemned locally and internationally, the presidency beat a retreat and made him the fall guy to save face.

In the same token, the invasion of the Benue State House of Assembly should not be swept under the carpet, which must by now be filled with a myriad of dirty things. The nation needs to know who sent the police men that aided that assault on our democracy. The offenders need to be punished. If no action is taken, the public will also conclude that the order to the police came from the presidency.

There is a need to draw a line between playing politics and breaching the Constitution. Smart politicians, like smart lawyers, try to exploit the lacuna in the Constitution to gain advantage in the political terrain rather than breaching the Constitution. That is why a smart lawyer can legally win a case merely on technical grounds. The presidency needs to learn to play politics within the ambit of the law and refrain from breaching the Constitution in order to have its way.

 

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