President Muhammadu Buhari’s last minute decision last week to abort a scheduled appearance before the House of Representatives to speak on insurgency and insecurity bedeviling the country was poorly thought out.
If he acted on the advice of anyone, then he was poorly advised. The president should have been sensitive enough and wise enough to shun such advice for its selfish, self-serving and sycophantic purposes. This presidential no-show only capped the Buhari Presidency’s sloppy response to the Zabarmari massacre.
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The previous week, in the wake of the massacre of 67 rice farmers at Koshobe village, Zabarmari District, Jere Local Government of Borno State, the House passed a resolution inviting Buhari to appear before it. The invitation was unusual but then, the Zabarmari massacre was an extremely serious matter for which every institution of government needed to send a strong message.
To underscore the message’s seriousness, a delegation of House leaders led by Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila went to State House to deliver the invitation letter. We did not hear from the Presidency directly but when they came out, the Speaker said Buhari had accepted the invitation, though no date was set for his coming. Reports later had it that it was to be Thursday, December 10.
Two days before that date, reports surfaced that state governors APC national executive committee members had advised the president not to honour the House invitation. Their selfish reason was that if he did so, state assemblies would also begin to invite governors to address them. There is nothing wrong with that, provided the security or other situation in any state called for it. The clincher however came last Wednesday when Attorney-General of the Federation [AGF] and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, SAN, issued a statement saying the National Assembly has no constitutional power to summon President Buhari.
In so far as the president had already accepted the invitation, according to the House Speaker, decency and morality, not to mention the need for a harmonious working relationship, required that he should have gone to address the House. We had no reason to doubt what Gbajabiamila said because the presidency never denied it.
AGF Malami hid behind the constitution. Is it only when the constitution expressly mandates something that political leaders feel the need to do it? The president regularly invites National Assembly leaders for consultation even though the constitution did not mandate it. Buhari even sent Senate President Ahmed Lawan to Maiduguri to lead a federal government delegation to condole with the government and people of Borno State over the Zabarmari massacre, even though the constitution provided for separation of powers between the Executive and Legislature.
Malami also claimed that “As Commander in Chief, the President has exclusivity on security and has confidentiality over security. These powers and rights he does not share.” We do not agree with that reasoning. Security requires the cooperation of all branches and in fact all three tiers of government. The National Assembly must vote funds for security duties. Its oversight powers over the Executive Branch also require that information must be shared with it, if not in plenary, then with its leaders or its committees. In the USA for example, Congress even curtailed the President’s powers of using the military through the War Powers Act of 1973.
Malami also said, “The confidentiality of strategies employed by the President as the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is not open for public exposure in view of security implications in probable undermining of the war against terror.” Again this is not absolutely true. Sharing secret information with National Assembly members does not amount to public exposure. Besides, a lot of sensitive security information is shared with neighbouring countries, with foreign powers who are assisting us, and even with mercenaries that we once procured to help in the fight against Boko Haram.
The president goofed on this one. He should take steps to correct it. He does not have to disclose any sensitive security information in an open House session. It could be made into a closed session. As to the possibility that opposition PDP members could boo the president, that inconvenience goes with the job. APC members, including those from Borno, could cheer him loudly if they so wish.