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NASS’ summons and when not to devalue a people’s parliament

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Femi Gbajabiamila

It was a ghastly sight: Governor Babagana Zulum, teary eyed, as he joined distraught natives to mourn the grisly beheading of 43 hapless farmers by the downgraded Boko Haram terrorists. The somber moment recapitulated a similar, but contrasting harrowing display of 73 corpses of Benue farmers slaughtered by killer herders back in January 2018 in Makurdi.

Although the then Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Idris, described the massacre of the unarmed Benue farmers as the culmination of communal strife over land, the decapitation of 43 Bornu farmers by the insurgents did not leave room for buck-passing by either the security agencies or agents of the Federal Government. The truth was coming home. The spiraling insecurity seems to have been pampered for so long, particularly as security agencies hid under the chase for political correctness to extol propaganda that fits the body language of the extant administration.

Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, once led the military on with the declaration after a guided tour of some protected zones, that the Boko Haram had been technically defeated and later, downgraded.

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The immediate past IGP, Idris, perhaps taking a cue for the Information Minister, decided to take the misinformation further by playing down the menace of herders, some of who, President Buhari had identified as foreign grazers from neighbouring countries. Also, the Benue massacre, coming at the build up to a general election, did not leave room for truth telling about the real state of security management in the country.

And Borno massacre happened! But, coming barely one year into the second term of President Buhari, all pretensions were gone. At least, nobody was trying to make the administration look bad in a bid to deny it a second term. Moreover, in Borno State, a new sheriff, who is not given to prank playing with the lives of rural farmers, was in town.

So, the closest partisan apologists could come to diminishing the shameless loss of lives in the country on a daily basis, was to debate whether the number of those decapitated was 43 or 110 as initially supplied by the United Nations.

Buhari. Photo; TWITTER/NIGERIAGOV

But an embittered member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Satome Ahmed, who hails from the state, contended that it was not possible to ascertain actual number of farmers murdered in the gruesome manner since according to him many people are still missing.

Verdict of pain, realism
IRKED by the play on words by government officials over the harrowing incident in Borno State, which climaxed the regime of blood letting in the country, members of Northern Elders Forum (FORUM) asked the President to resign from office based on abounding evidence of inability to police the country and protect life and property as demanded by the Nigerian Constitution. NEF comprise elderly persons from northern Nigeria, who distinguished themselves in their careers.

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Appalled that the Zabarmari killing happened, NEF did not want to remember similar outcomes in Katsina, Zamfara, Plateau or the mass abduction in Daptchi and constant sullies by killer herdsmen in the middle Belt. The group declared that the President lacks the political will to fight Boko Haram insurgency and other security threats, including banditry, cattle rustling and kidnapping for ransom.

While blaming the Zabarmari incident on failure of leadership, NEF in the statement by its Director of Publicity, Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, noted that under the present administration, “life has no value under.” The group lamented that the President has consistently refused “to listen to concerns from many Nigerians about the level of insecurity in the nation.”

NEF noted: “Killings had been greeted by most insensitive response by spokespersons of the President. The excuse that murdered farmers did not seek permission from the military to harvest their produce is lame.

“These killings and the reality they expose will make relocation of citizens and resumption of economic activities a lot more difficult to achieve even for leadership that attaches priority to them, and this administration does not.”

Justifying its call on the President to resign, the group maintained that “in civilised nations, leaders who fail so spectacularly to provide security will do the honourable thing and resign,” adding that more and more citizens are coming under the influence of criminals.

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Although some commentators have tried to downplay NEF’s call on the President to reign, the elders’ body insisted that there is no indication that Buhari is planning to improve on his delivery on the security score, where he failed to protect citizens.

According to NEF, “Buhari has no excuse, we have given him a chance, but five years now since he became president and assumed responsibility, things have got worse. Two years before he became president he told Jonathan to step aside and now there’s no security under his administration. Life has lost value in Nigeria.”

Fire on the mountain
NEF’s position triggered a lot of reactions, with most Nigerians endorsing their verdict of pain and realism. The call on the President to resign stoked a clash between partisan support and realistic estimation of mandate delivery on the part of the leader of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC).

Although members of the Senate, majority of whom are from APC, had urged the President to dispense with the service chiefs, the NEF put the blame for security failure on the President, who is the appointing authority.

Pressured by the NEF’s stance, the House of Representatives went into a rowdy session as some members decided to avoid the pussyfooting by their colleagues in the upper chamber to invite the President to explain his perception, plans and strategies to improve security of life and property in the country.

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Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila and Majority Leader, Ado Doguwa tried to shield President Buhari from responding to critical questions from the lawmakers. They claimed that inviting the President to the floor might not be the best way to go. Doguwa noted that although every member was in support of the motion summoning the President to address the House, security issues should not be discussed in the open.

Pampered Presidency
THE Presidency has been getting away with its penchant of treating issues of declining national security with levity. However, when the heat from the NEF’s call became unbearable and gained national acclamation, the Presidency devised a clever way to water down the seriousness that should surround the interface between the President and the federal lawmakers, both of who owe Nigerians accountability for the mandate they hold.

Contrary to public expectation that President Buhari would have the opportunity of addressing the concerns from 306 members of the House of Representatives, the President’s handlers decided that Buhari should address a joint session of the bi-cameral National Assembly.

Not being a State of the Union, but an accountability hearing, which is part of the oversight function of the legislature, the ploy by the Presidency is to shelter the President’s shortcoming from public endorsement.

What would likely happen is that few feeble and patronisng questions will come from pre-selected Reps and Senators, which the President is said to be rehearsing shortly after Speaker Gbajabiamila secured the agreement to honour invitation.

Some watchers of National Assembly politics disclosed that the competition for relevance by leadership of both chambers has been feeding the undercurrents of Presidential disdain for the many resolutions of the bi-cameral legislature.

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However, following the public outrage after the Zabarmari massacre, it is obvious that the lies shrouded in political messaging have come back to haunt the administration, especially with Borno State governor, Zulum, saying things as they are in his state unlike his predecessor, who was said to be mindful of the impact of the failure of the administration’s handling of security in the state on the image of APC.

It is possible that the north has decided to weigh the balance of continued politicking over the insecurity against the socio-economic development of the region. That could explain why many northern voices of dissent have risen to condemn the President’s handling of the security challenges in the country, particularly in the region.

For instance, the Executive Director of CISLAC, Mr. Auwal Rafsanjani, regretted that President Buhari’s aides are not effectively communicating with Nigerians. While observing that the aides were causing more harm than good, Rafsanjani maintained that the “President should be talking with citizens instead of through his aides.”

Patronising lawmakers
THE ecstatic tone with which Speaker Gbajabiamila told State House Correspondents that President Buhari has agreed to address the lawmakers was as if it was Eureka. Many Nigerians who heard the exultant report by the Speaker wondered whether the fourth term lawmaker needed to visit the President.

Gbajabiamila’s remark threw up a lot of unanswered questions: Was the President’s acquiescence to honour the Legislature’s summoning the solution? Do the House of Representatives not know what is going on? Don’t they approve the budgets; don’t they have constituencies; can’t they do their own oversight?

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It is therefore possible that after today’s interaction, if it holds, Nigerians may be wondering what was in the visit after all. What would the ordinary citizens’ harassed by unending blood letting in the land get after their huff and puff, Presidential address and clap of hands?

Some commentators had described the Ninth National Assembly as a rubberstamp legislature, especially given the manner its leaders sought presidential support to emerge as floor functionaries and present themselves as lackeys to the President.

Gbajabiamila seemed to recapitulate that perception when he spoke with State House Correspondents. He said the President was very worried about the rising spate of insecurity in the country, adding: “I think he is more concerned than me or you…He was ever so ready to listen as is typical of Mr. President, the usual democrat that he is.”

During the life of the Eighth National Assembly, the efforts to organise a security summit aimed at proffering a collective solution to the spiraling insecurity in the country was met with claims of betrayal of partisan cohesion by APC stalwarts. The 8th Senate, which was headed by Dr. Bukola Saraki, was deemed antagonistic to President Buhari’s second term ambition. The Service Chiefs and other leaders of the country’s security architecture hid under that partisan dissention to avoid critical scrutiny.

Senate’s demand: Sack your service chiefs
RISING from a marathon debate on the beheading of over 67 rice farmers in Borno State, the Senate held that government had breached section 14 (1) which made security and welfare the sole purpose of its existence. Consequently, the lawmakers expressed disgust at the President’s failure to remove all Services Chiefs as was demanded in the past.

Babagana Zulum

“If the President insists that the security chiefs are doing their work well, the implication is that the President himself as the Commander -in-Chief of the country has failed in his most rudimentary assignment of securing the nation “ the Senate stated this while adopting the motion sponsored by Senator Kashim Shettima , a former Borno State governor.

Senator Shettima disclosed that since January this year, about 2,800 attacks have been carried out in Borno State, adding that Boko Haram insurgents, who kill and abduct people at will, are ruling in major rural areas and collecting levies.

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The former governor who was in office when 119 female students were abducted from Chibok Secondary School, stated: “Last weekend’s beheading happened about 20 kilometers away from Maiduguri. From the 1st of January to this day, we have had 2,800 attacks in Borno State. Boko Haram, are virtually ruling all our rural areas. They kill and abduct people at will. They’re targeting farmers and this will create hunger in the North.

“Government officials keep saying that Boko Haram has been technically defeated. This claim is not true. The primary responsibility of Government is to protect the lives and property of the people. Any Government that has failed in doing this, has lost the legitimacy of the people. If we allow the terrorists to take over the Northeast, that is capable of metamorphosing into something larger.”

The upper chamber therefore declared that any government that cannot discharge the basic obligation of securing the lives of its citizens is not worthy of any iota of legitimacy. It stated: “Protecting the lives and property of citizens is the primary obligation of government and any government that cannot discharge this basic obligation loses any iota of legitimacy.”

Rejecting the figure of 43 earlier released as the number of slaughtered farmers, the Upper chamber said it had got a more authentic figure of 67 from residents of Kwashabe village in Zabarmari, where the killing took place.

Having come to that conclusion, the Senate urged the President to immediately initiate probe into widespread allegations of corruption and leakages within the security structure and put mechanisms in place to foster transparency and ensure all resources meant and deployed for security are actually spent on the needs on ground.

The lawmakers also urged Buhari “to take immediate steps to restructure, remodel and revamp the country’s entire security architecture and provide enough state-of-the-art weapons and equipment to effectively combat the belligerent power of the insurgents.”

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They urged the Federal Government “to aggressively explore multilateral and bilateral options of partnership with the neighbouring countries of Chad, Niger and Cameroons towards, reviving and strengthening the Multi-National Joint Task Force and finding a lasting solution to the scourge of insurgency in the Lake Chad region.”

In his contribution, the Senator representing President Buhari’s constituency in Katsina, Ahmed Baba Kaita, said the actions of the President have not produced any result so far, stressing that though he may have tried, more needs to be done.

Keita stated that if something is not done, insurgents may overrun the country, insisting that the Military must be probed and funds given to them must be accounted for. His words: “The time of truth has come. This situation is no longer acceptable to any Nigerian. We can’t be mourning our citizens in and out everyday. We can’t accept the explanation from those who should do the right thing whenever there is an attack. If the statement from Garba Shehu is true, that’s very irresponsible.”

In his contribution, immediate past Senate Leader, Mohammed Ali Ndume, revealed that soldiers fighting the war, share ammunition, noting that they don’t have modern arms and are hardly provided with air support.

While asserting that Borno people are paying ransoms to Boko Haram members before being allowed to go to their farms or move around in their villages, Ndume stated: “The issue of insecurity has been there. We have lamented. Committees have been set up. We have sent recommendations to the President. Two reports were not implemented. There are other recommendations we have made and nothing was done. We need to take a step further. Section 14 of the Constitution is clear.

“We are just talking about the security. You pay and people don’t have the arms. I can tell you that people fighting war are sharing ammunitions. They have no arms or proper kits. I have gone round. I have not seen a Nigerian soldier holding a new AK47. Last week, some people came to me in Abuja and they asked for money to help them pay their dues to Boko Haram terrorists before they can harvest their crops.

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“If Government is serious, this terrorism can be stopped in six months. America engages mercenaries. Why can’t we get that? We will be failing in our responsibility if we fail to do the right thing.”

Former Kebbi State Governor, Mohammed Adamu Aliero, wondered why Buhari refused to visit Borno after the attacks, instead, opted to send a delegation, remarking: “President Buhari should have gone to Borno State and not to send a delegation. We have lost lives in every part of the country. The story is the same. We have done what we should do. The Army is overstretched. We budget billions every year. We have failed in securing Nigeria. We need to probe and know what’s happening. Service Chiefs have outlived their usefulness.”

President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, said excuses will no longer be tolerated, since according to him, the resolutions of the Senate must be implemented by the Executive. “This is not the first or the second case of insecurity in the country. We will take additional steps and insist that our resolutions are implemented.
These are recommendations the Executive must implement.

“This is one thing that will gladden the hearts of Nigerians when implemented. Enough excuses, people who have nothing to add should be shown the way out. We need people who can do the job. Nothing is more important to Nigerians than security,” he declared.
House of Representatives’ stand

THE resolve to bring President Buhari to answer for himself did not come easy. Piqued by the worsening insecurity, the lawmakers summoned the President Buhari over the Zabarmari masacre.

Adopting a motion under urgent matters of national importance sponsored by Satomi Ahmed at the plenary presided by Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, the lawmakers insisted that President Buhari be made to brief them on the true state of the security of the Nation.

Ahmed (APC: Borno), who moved the motion on behalf of 10 others from the troubled state, said he was pained that the Islamist terrorist group tied up and slit the throats of the farmers in an insane and barbaric manner.

The lawmaker said the inability of the Military and Security Forces in averting the continued killings by Book Haram insurgents, bandits, and terrorists in the North East and across the country remains a source of concern.

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Before passing the motion, the lawmakers were however divided on the issue of summoning Buhari, which compelled Speaker Gbajabiamila to hold an executive session in an apparent bid to douse tension.

Ahmed had incurred the wrath of his colleagues when he deliberately skipped the prayer on the need to summon President Buhari by opting to call on the president to amongst other things, declare a State of emergency on security matters.

Bargaining with bad coins
IT is obvious that a lot of rot was left under the table for the sake of electoral and political considerations. The former administration of President Goodluck Jonathan was blackmailed for failure to contain the Boko Haram insurgency. At a point the Jonathan administration said Boko Haram had infiltrated his administration, alleging that some persons were blocking efforts to take decisive military measure to stem the terrorist acts of the insurgents.

Whether the argument of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, dissuading President Buhari from appearing before the legislators holds sway, one thing is clear, that the National Assembly helps so much to devalue itself, blowing hot and cold on sensitive issues and losing the respect of the executive and Nigerians.

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