The Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, and Senate President Bukunola Saraki are eventually involved in a career-threatening showdown. The encounter was predictable. Senators, led by Saraki, since the past few months, have been hell-bent on cutting the police boss to size on account of his failure to honour their summons to appear at the chamber for full explanation of the arrest and trial of one of their own, Dino Melaye, for known and unknown criminal offences.
Obviously, out of frustration, the Senate, as a body, labelled police boss Idris unfit for public office. Except for possible immunity on the floor of the Senate, the police inspector-general might have sued for libel. Ironically also, if anybody had labelled senators as unfit for public office, many of them would have complained that their privileges had been breached. After all, after the Senate, your next level or aim is your state governorship or the presidency, if you already served as a state governor.
Either by accident or design, as the matter died down, police boss Idris chose that moment to order some criminal suspects being interrogated in Kwara State to be urgently transferred to police headquarters in Abuja, where Saraki, as Senate president, resides. Instantly, Saraki raised the alarm that that his home (Kwara) state governor, Abdulfatah Ahmed, had alerted him that the ploy was to torture the suspects on cultism and murder charges to implicate the former and serving Kwara state governors in very serious ciminal charges
Whatever the facts of the case, neither Senate President Saraki nor police boss Idris deserves sympathy. First, police boss Idris is notorious (okay famous) for his questionable tactics, especially when criticised. Last time, a certain Senator Misau, who is also an ex-police officer, on the floor of the senate, accused Inspector-General Idris of accumulating unearned billions of naira. The allegation seemed implausible. Over how many years and from what posts? Fighting back, police spokesman Jimoh Moshood badly stained Senator Misau by claiming that the ex-police officer was a deserter who was dismissed. Despite Senator Misau’s denials, police spokesman Jimoh maintained what turned out to be false allegation until Police Service Commission boss Okiro, himself an ex-Police Inspector-General, issued a public statement confirming that Senator Misau complied with all requirements to earn full retirement from police service. Why then should a serving Inspector-General of Police have made such a fake and reputation-damaging allegation against an innocent retired police officer/senator? Still undaunted, IG Idris institutrd a criminal charge against Senator Misau, a trial which is yet to be concluded. Only the man’s self-recognition as a serving senator earned him bail or he would have been out of circulation till judgement was delivered in the case.
On his part, with Saraki as Senate President, the place has been turned into a kind of fiefdom where any member dissents or criticises the leadership at the risk of being clobbered. Indeed, it required two major court rulings to free two defiant senators from illegal suspension by the Senate for daring to express critical views. One of the stubborn senators was Ali Ndume and the other was Ovie Omo-Agege, who, in fact, fought back like Omo oju Ina in Lagos proper. With those identical backgrounds, police boss Idris and Senate President Saraki should be allowed to fight it out in law courts. For once, we must allow the law to operate. The two men cannot be right just as the two men cannot be wrong. One must be right while the other must be wrong. That is why we have the judiciary as the final arbiter or we would drift into anarchy
President Muhammadu Buhari must not allow himself to be dragged into this controversy as a so-called Senate delegation was proposed to meet him to help solve the matter. Under separation of powers provided in our constitution, Aso Rock must not interfere in alleged criminal matters. The imputation of any interference is that Buhari instigated the criminal trial. Nobody should conclude that an accused is guilty. Murder or even incitement to murder is a criminal offence, which under the law must be proved by the prosecution beyond reasonable doubt. We must also not cover up or forget the fact that people were killed all over the place for which the police is always criticised of ever failing to find the murderers. What evidence do the police have?
President Buhari must not fall into the trap of being accused in the future of obstructing the course of justice, which in itself is a criminal offence that can easily be manipulated by aggrieved members in the National Assembly into an impeachable offence. If Buhari intervenes this time, he has to continue intervening in the future. Where and when will he draw the line without being accused of favouritism? If the police IG is the guilty party, why must he be saved from being exposed for using his position to discredit, intimidate and criminalise innocent Nigerians? Until he is even charged, Senate President Saraki remains innocent. Even if he is eventually charged, so what? Must he be saved from clearing himself of very serious ccriminal charges? Nobody should conclude he is guilty. Being charged or tried for any offence is mere process of law.
The reputation and career of the two men are at stake. If the charges against Saraki come up and he eventually clears himself, not even President Buhari will this time find it easy to foil the necessary fall-out for police IG Idris. Definitely, not after leaving Benue last time without informing his Commander-in-Chief who ordered him to relocate to Makurdi.
Incidentally, Saraki is advised in his own interest to tread softly, softly. This young but unconsciously ageing man should, by now, realise that politics is littered with bumps, such that only the cool-headed, tolerant, humble, mature and scrupulously discerning can successfuly march through. He had better find out.
Who is afraid of fuel subsidy?
For now, there are no public criticisms against fuel scarcity even though prices still range all over the place, depending on what part of the country. And as usual, we have all forgotten the anger of the recent past, since the very idea of fuel scarcity is image risk for public office holders, with the disguised anxiety of being discredited. That was the lot of the PDP administration in its dying days, and not too long ago the share of the APC administration.
Little wonder that fuel subsidy has been weaponised for political combatants in the struggle for power at the federal level. One side seriously seeks revenge for its unprecedented defeat in 2015 while the other seems so scared to the marrow at the mere mention of “fuel subsidy.” In the process, poor Nigerians bear the burden either in scarcity with all the attendant inconveniences or completely unreasonable inflated prices. Why should anybody be afraid to be identified with or desperate to exploit fuel subsidy in its essential sense, all for political power? Notwithstanding the past, whether we like it or not, as long as we largely depend on imported fuel, subsidy is inevitable. The only essential aspect is what is made of the excercise. The battle last time was not necessarily against the principle of fuel subsidy. Instead, public resentment was against how what would have been a relief for larger society was turned into a looting spree of public fund by criminals parading as politicians and fuel importers. Hence, when President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office to cope with fuel scarcity, Nigerians on their own voluntarily opted for regular fuel supply at whatever cost as long as the money was not stolen.
That implied total scrap of the subsidy, taking pump price from N97 to the present N145. In the past, such rise would have caused nationwide violent public protests. It is a question of public trust.
At that time, oil in the world market cost less than $40 per barrel, compared to today’s $80 dollars. In effect, it costs more to import finished products but with increased oil revenue and recovered looted funds, government is able to maintain or even sustain fuel price without inconvenience to the public, with or without subsidy. In every country, there is one form of subsidy or another. It is not without reason that United States heavily subsidises agriculture to ensure a contented and well-fed citizenry. There are never controversies over such subsidies because the funds are never looted. The concern is always for the poor where, on the average, the citizen is kept healthy, fit, employed or at least employable and happy. And of course, those who choose still take to crime. The contrary was the case in Nigeria, where fuel subsidy meant to ease transport needs of Nigerians was turned into criminal favour for a few (less than one hundred) as long as they carried a particular membership card of a political party.
Furthermore, since the financial crime was free and open to their gang, overnight, as many as possible became emergency oil importers, collecting the subsidy without any obligation to deliver the fuel. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) became a sovereign entity within an independent country, spending over N2 trillion purportedly paid as subsidy to oil importers. Who authorised the payment? Certainly not President Goodluck Jonathan, as he claimed to be unaware of the payment. Central Bank? In fact, that financial institution exposed the scandal. Federal Ministry of Finance? The minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, also claimed she knew nothing about the subsidy scandal. Did the National Assembly approve the fund for the payment? That essential arm of the government was completely and contemptuously by-passed. The fuel subsidy criminals comprised exclusively members of a political group, their sons or their surrogates.
That was the background of the fuel subsidy scandal. Yet, any Nigerian government cannot shy away from the task of ensuring smooth and uninterrupted fuel supply in the country, perhaps with subsidy, if essential. One handicap this administration may encounter should the need arise is the fact that most of those involved in the fuel subsidy scandal remain unpunished, some because of the lethargy of criminal trials in Nigeria and others who have escaped from Nigeria while on bail. Only a few of the criminals have been convicted. That should not necessarily make fuel subsidy unwarranted or too scary for government. By the way, until Nigeria tackles the cause of fuel importation, pump price will remain unstable and high. With non-functioning refineries, meeting local demand will continue to depend on imports, which must be subsidised. The higher the price of oil at the world market as fixed by OPEC, or compelled by series of crises at oil-producing countries, the higher the cost of oil imports for our domestic use.
That in itself is ever-present political threat, if not poison, for the government in terms of public hostility. Hence, the need for subsidy to make petrol and attendant uses affordable for Nigerians. The consolation is the corresponding oil revenue. All the government needs to do to avoid a repeat of the oil subsidy scandal is to strictly monitor the payments. Fortunately, unlike last time, when virtually everybody claimed ignorance and disowned responsibility for the trillions of naira fraudulently paid by NNPC as subsidy, President Buhari is currently the substantive minister of petroleum, who must ensure he does not delegate authority completely to NNPC. Buhari must give the final okay for any subsidy payment or he will carry statutory blame for any future scandal.