Nigeria News
Extension of emergency rule, Tambuwal and President Jonathan

If history is any guide, it almost always starts this way. Like a sick joke or high drama without an apparent plot, full of tension that nevertheless ends in tragedy. I am here talking of the violent attempt by the police to prevent Aminu Tambuwal, Speaker of the House of Representatives, from entering the House last Thursday. The House had reconvened for an emergency session to consider the request by President Goodluck Jonathan for further six months extension of emergency rule in three North Eastern states at the epicentre of insurgent unrest. The Senate which had been in session for two days to consider the same request by President Jonathan, prior to the incident at the House of Representatives, had failed to reach any agreement. Although no less tension-filled, matters had been better managed at the Senate. It was in the House that things fell apart.

This followed the attempt by the police to enforce an order of no legal origin, one that no court had issued but which it considers itself competent to execute. The order in question was the one which, according to the Inspector General of Police, Suleiman Abba, made the seat of Tambuwal who had defected from the PDP to the APC vacant in the wake of his defection. The Police had withdrawn the Speaker’s security citing sections of the law that it claims mandates its action. This was in spite of the fact that there was an ongoing suit before a competent court that is yet to give its final word on the matter.

But like the busybody that it has turned itself into, the police, through the IG, is meddling in matters that should not be any of its concern. Supporters of Tambuwal would have none of the police interference and forcibly made their way into the House and the police responded by shooting tear gas to clear them off. The images of legislators in bellowing robes, scaling the high gates of the House even as they protected themselves from the tear gas fumes, could have come from the 1960s House of Parliament in Western Nigeria. We all know how that ended.

If Tambuwal must lose his seat for defecting to the opposition, it is a wonder why in spite of whatever provocation the law cannot be allowed to have the last say. Someone is surely bent on misusing the power of the president to control the police, goading it into matters about which it ought to be neutral until the law has spoken. It is only then can the police be said to be acting at the behest of the law. Until that time, the Presidency and President Jonathan stand under a heavy cloud of suspicion as being behind the activities of the police.
In wanting to retain his seat after defecting from the PDP, Tambuwal has done no more than members of other parties that have defected with support of the President. One cannot see why what was sauce to the PDP gander cannot now be sauce to the APC goose. Except that somebody wants to show that he has the power to obey and interpret the law as its suits him. But since the court which is the last arbiter in the matter is yet to swing one way or the other by way of judgement, it is strange why we can’t all wait.

Nobody believes that the police, the self-imposed enforcer, is acting its own script and is impartial here. All to the contrary, everyone knows that when the police behave as it is presently doing, then it has the support of the oga at the very top behind it. The voice may be that of Jacob but the hand is surely that of Esau. Nigerians, irrespective of where they stand on the Tambuwal case or their party affiliation, are not deceived that the police is doing its own bidding. They know who is beating the drum to which music the police is dancing. There is nothing original in what the police is doing now. It has always made itself amenable to the control of the ruling power, be it military or civilian. It was so used in the confusion that led to the breakdown of order in Western Nigeria in the 1960s. It was again on call in the Second Republic when it was equipped with military-like hardware to enable it crush any opposition. This was the era of the kill-and-go, when the police mobile force, transformed into an elite security unit of the ruling party, was more or less handed the licence to kill. And kill they did.

The military that took over from the civilians would see the police as rivals and would use the excuse of their being so equipped to crush any opposition, including the military in time of a coup, to ground the police and pauperise it for long. The military, some have argued, would use the same tactics against itself, ensuring that units under it lack necessary military hardware that could be employed in coup-making.

In taking on Tambuwal when it should be focused on the more substantive matter of how to make emergency rule deliver on its promise of quelling insurgency, Jonathan is derailing. Opponents of emergency rule are arguing that its imposition has not ensured the security of life and property in the North East. If anything, more people have been killed and kidnapped by the insurgents while more towns have been lost to them since emergency rule started nearly two years ago. How does Jonathan convince Nigerians opposed to the continued imposition of emergency rule that this strategy is working? How does he respond to their argument that he wants emergency imposed for selfish political reasons, namely, to have unfair advantage in the next presidential election? Emergency rule, its opponents argue, would disenfranchise supporters of the opposition that control the affected states where it has been imposed. What has Jonathan to say to these criticisms of emergency rule?

These are the questions that he should be finding answers to rather than turning the police into a private squad for the settling of personal scores. He should rise above the partisanship that he seems to be getting himself bogged in. By this proxy war, he lends credence to the argument that he is afraid of a Tambuwal challenge at the polls.  This, even though, the latter has now limited his ambition to the governorship of his state which many suspected was his target even when his so-called supporters went on the wild goose chase of purchasing a presidential nomination form for him. Also, in choosing to fight Tambuwal through the police, President Jonathan is telling Nigerians that the man possesses more clout than they previously thought.

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