Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara Tuesday said that a review of the legal framework guiding security in African parliaments has become imperative.
Dogara warned that the existing arrangement where security was left in the hands of the sergeant- at-arms and a multiplicity of other security agencies cannot guarantee security in the parliaments.
The Speaker spoke at a pan- African conference on parliamentary security held on Abuja.
He lamented that though the sergeant- at- arms operatives were the recognised security personnel in parliaments across the world, the system has not created enough legal powers that would enhance the performance of their duties.
The conference brought together Clerks and Sergeant at Arms from the National and State Houses of Assembly in Nigeria, as well as their counterparts from across 17 other African countries including Liberia, Uganda and Kenya
Dogara warned that given the increasing spate of terrorism and frequent attacks on parliaments across the world, there was an urgent need to strengthen the laws to give the traditional police of the parliament enough powers to take care of security within the precincts of the parliament.
He said, “In Libya’s post-Gaddafi, internal tensions escalated catastrophically in mid-2014, as Gunmen launched an attack on the parliament in the capital Tripoli and demanded its suspension.
“Hours before the parliamentary suspension, members of an armed group backed by truck-mounted anti-aircraft guns, mortars and rocket fire attacked parliament, sending politicians fleeing for their lives as gunmen ransacked the legislature.
“The Boko Haram insurgency in northeast Nigeria and attacks carried out by the group on the United Nations compound, Police Headquarters and other targets in Abuja have fueled fears of attacks on soft targets like parliament.”
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, only talks about Sergeant at Arms by inference. “Section 89 (1) and (2) of the Constitution empowers the National Assembly for the purposes of any investigation under Section 88 of the Constitution to among other powers, summon any person in Nigeria to give evidence at any place or produce any document; and to also issue a warrant to compel the attendance of any person who, after having been summoned to attend, fails, refuses or neglects to do so.
It further provides that “a summons or warrant issued under this section may be served or executed by any member of the Nigeria Police Force or by any person authorised in that behalf by the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Representatives, as the case may require”.
This implies that both Presiding Officers can authorize the Sergeant at Arms to execute Warrants or Summons issued by the National Assembly. In the botched Constitution Review exercise, the 7th National Assembly, together with over 2/3 of the State Houses of Assembly in Nigeria amended Section 89 (2) of the Constitution to empower the Sergeant-at-Arms in addition to the Nigeria Police, to execute orders of the National Assembly.
But Dogara urged the conference to make appropriate recommendations on resolving the legal relationship between all the security Agencies.
The Speaker expressed concern that under emergency situations at the parliament, the sergeant – at- arms was often handicapped, particularly when the other security agencies might not be favourably disposed to taking orders from him.
He said,” If push comes to shove, who has ultimate authority for security at the National Assembly. Can the Police override directives of the Sergeant-at-Arms especially with respect to public order and public security?
“Can the Sergeant at arms department set up departments in conflict with the traditional duties of the Police Force and State Security Service? For instance, VIP Protection is the traditional responsibility of the Secret Service, so can the Sergeant-at-Arms set up VIP Protection Department to take over protection of Senior officials of the National Assembly?
“Following police invasion of the National Assembly on November 20, 2014, and the withdrawal of both Police and Security details of the Speaker, is there a genuine case for VIP Protection of National Assembly Officials to be handled by the Sergeant at Arms? Are they trained for such a role? Maybe we should examine the position in other jurisdictions for guidance. ”
He noted that restructuring and empowering the Sergeant-at-Arms would enable him to improve on its ability to prevent security breaches and possible attacks on the National Assembly, parliamentary buildings and on legislators.
The leadership of the National Assembly, he said, was committed to ensuring the safety of parliamentarians, employees, visitors and the property of the parliament.