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Nigeria Police As An Institution Of Repression

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By Emmanuel Onwubiko
Few days back President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan made a high profile appointment of a new Inspector General of police for Nigeria and ironically, the one who emerged is from almost the same local terrain in the North West of Nigeria just like his immediate past predecessor-Mohammed Dikko Abubakar.

Mr. Suleiman Abba's nomination some weeks back as acting police Chief was greeted with wide ranging opposition because of his unsavoury connection to the nation's most repressive dictators of all times in Nigeria – the late General Sani Abacha. He was the police chief security detail that was handpicked by the then  fearsome Chief security officer to the dictator major Hamza Almustapha to protect the wife of the then maximum tyrant.

Ironically his appointment came about the same time that Major Al Mustapha was surreptitiously freed from detention by the Court of Appeal, Lagos division following his acquittal from his hitherto conviction by the Lagos state High court for murder of the wife of the winner of the 1993 Presidential election Mrs Kudirat Abiola.

There were sinister nexus attempted to be drawn by opposition politicians between the release from jail of the dreaded erstwhile chief security officer with the appointment of his 'boy' Mr Abba as the Inspector General of Police. The opposition politicians of the All Progressives Congress [APC] tried unsuccessfully to link this appointment with a plot by the President to use the Police to rig and manipulate the 2015 general elections. This plot failed on the face of it because the prosecutors are from the Lagos state High judiciary and this is a state controlled by this same opposition party and for the fact that Lagos state failed to appeal the release at the Supreme Court shows that the release of Major Mustapha has nothing to do with President Jonathan and his political party.

But President Jonathan shoved aside these mounting criticisms and proceeded to confirm the appointment of Mr. Suleiman Abba to head the policing institution that has come under considerable focus from the global human rights community because of the notoriety of the operatives for brutal repression of civil freedoms of members of the Nigerian public. Before winding up this piece I will cite a part of the damaging report issued by the United States based Human Rights Watch on the human rights profile of the police of Nigeria in the year 2014.

Among the highlights of the groundswell of opposition to the selection of Mr. Abba was the doubts expressed among observers that as a product of the status quo of the deeply credibility deficit and challenged policing institution, it was almost impossible to expect the new helmsman to introduce sweeping changes that are capable of winning the confidence, trust and love of the members of the general public for this weakened national institution.

Those who were clearly in the vocal minority that spoke in favour of confirmation of Mr. Abba as substantive Inspector General of police had argued that given his academic background as a lawyer and historian that this newly picked Inspector General of police will rebuild the near-moribund policing institution.

But as native Africans used to say that the morning shows exactly how the rest of the day would be and also as philosophically concluded by the greatest thinker and philosopher of all times Socrates had affirmed that the “first step in every activity is of the highest essence”, the newly confirmed police Chief has demonstrated without a shadow of doubt that it would surely be business-as-usual and that rather than try to fix the battered image of the police, the credibility may further be driven irreparably to the dustbins of history.

In the twilight of the meeting of the National police Council during which time the confirmation and/or appointment of a fresh Inspector General of police was to be decided, Mr. Abba as the acting police Chief did the unthinkable by unilaterally withdrawing all police security operatives attached to the office and person of the Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives – statutorily the number four citizen in the national pecking protocol order.

The reason offered for this unreasonable action was as illogical as it was laughable.

The then acting Inspector General Mr Abba said he was interpreting the constitutional provision which bars members of the legislature from cross carpeting to another political party other than the party that sponsored their election for that specific tenure.

Aminu Waziri Tambuwal the holder of the office of Speaker of Nigerian parliament had crossed over to the All Progressives Congress and had thus abandoned the party which sponsored him to win a seat to represent his Tambuwal Sokoto State constituency in the House of Representatives which ironically is the ruling national party- Peoples Democratic Party [PDP].

As  if that arbitrary decision of the police was insufficient, upon his confirmation as substantive Inspector General just days after he withdrew his men from protecting the Speaker of the national legislature, this same policing institution was again converted into the deeper mess of playing the devil's advocacy role of invading the National Assembly Complex to use brute force to stop Speaker Tambuwal from accessing the parliament. Again, Inspector General of police told the bewildered nation that Mr. Tambuwal was no longer a speaker because he crossed over to another party.

Following the invasion of the National Assembly complex and the suspicion by the speaker and his core loyalists that there is a sinister plot by his members from the dominant party-Peoples Democratic Party to impeach him, those opposition parliamentarians had to disgracefully scale the fence so as to attend the emergency session convoked by the House following a subsisting prayer of the presidency for an extension of the state of emergency in the North East States. There have been a considerable amount of negative comments that this less than dignifying attitude of scaling the fence has generated.

But again, why did the armed police sent to invade the National Assembly sought to disallow some opposition members of the House from gaining access whereas it had allowed members of the Federal House from other parties including the Deputy speaker to gain access?

The actions and words of this Inspector General of police in his deeply partisan war with the Speaker have greatly harmed the scarce image still left of the police prior to his appointment. These actions have graphically demonstrated unwittingly that the Nigerian Police Force is unwilling to shed off the dangerous toga as the institution of repression similar to what the armed forces of the Saddam Hussein's era were known in the then Iraq prior to the United States invasion and hanging of Saddam Hussein during the second Gulf war.

In the book titled: “The Saddam Hussein Reader: Selections from leading writers on Iraq” as edited by Turi Munthe, we are told how badly damaged the institution of the armed Forces in Iraq became under the watch of the late Saddam Hussein.

As captured in the chapter of this book being cited the then dictator Saddam Hussein destroyed the Armed forces and police of Iraq and made them the notorious institutions of repression responsible for the killings of thousands of opposition politicians, journalists, civil society activists and clerics who raised their voices against the repressive regime of the then dictatorship.

If history is anything to teach us some positive lessons, I think the Inspector General of police in Nigeria should read this book and immediately retrace his missteps to avoid leading the policing institution into messier credibility pitfalls.

In the aforementioned book, we were told that; “The army was the mainstay of the repressive regimes that ruled Iraq from 1958, when the Hashemite monarchy was overthrown, until 1968, when the Baath party seized power for the second time. It played a major role in internal security and in stamping out dissent. It engineered three successful coups. And it intervened repeatedly in affairs of state.”

The author stated thus; “Though a military coup returned the Baath to power in 1968, and though a Baath military officer, General Hassan al-Bakr, headed the regime for over a decade, the Baath party, under al-Bakr and Saddam Hussein, moved carefully and methodically to subordinate the army to its own authority”.

On the extensive damage caused the Iraqi armed forces the writers stated that the membership of the army, police and other Para -military institutions were infiltrated by  card carrying politicians and by so doing the professional qualities were degraded.

In their words the writers stated thus; ” It did this through a series of purges and by saturating the army with the equivalent of political commissars-officers whose job it was to give indoctrination lectures and to check loyalty. Senior command positions were filled by party members, and party cadres were assigned to units down to the battalion level. In a bizarre twist, the Iraqi army found itself transformed from instrument to object of repression.”

The writers further confirmed that while harnessing the military, Baath party leaders also set about subduing the rest of Iraqi society, using many of the same methods.

The result of this wanton and wilful  disbandment of the professional disciplinary profile of the Iraqi army is the current inability of the Iraq military to crush the threats posed to the sovereignty of that country by the global jihadist terrorists- the Islamic state of Iraq and Syria that has almost succeeded in breaking up that once united country. The United States is currently bombing these terrorists to save Iraq from complete destruction.

The emerging trend whereby politicians cross over to other parties in search of greener pastures is reprehensible. But the Nigerian police must not take the law into its hand and pick and chose which defector it will use brute force to chase out of office.

Over the last few months, the ruling national party-PDP has also benefitted from this apparent illegality but the police did nothing. So why this open partisanship?

The Inspector General of police must be stopped from further destroying the Nigerian Police Force just as the political class must support the clamour for a constitutional change to create state police to make the policing institution much more effective and peoples friendly.

Human Rights Watch in its World 2014 Report said these of the Nigerian Police and they are right in their assessment; ”The Nigerian police have also been involved in frequent human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, and extortion-related abuse. Despite the dismantling of many “road blocks” by the Inspector General of Police [immediate past IGP], corruption in the police force remains a serious problem. The police routinely solicit bribes from victims to investigate crimes and from suspects to drop investigations. Senior police officials embezzles or mismanage police funds, often demanding monetary “returns” that their subordinates extort from the public”.

Nigerians are yearning for a change.
In all organizations, we have the good, the bad and the ugly. In the 1980s we had a certain Alozie Ogugbaja, who proved to be one of the finest police officers of his time. Unfortunately, the police and military brass hats hounded him out of service.

An indication that there are remnants of fine officers in the police emerge as recently as two years ago.

During council elections in the oil city of Eket, what would have been a bloody encounter between desperate politicians and some eagle-eyed journalists was averted by the sound judgment of the Divisional Police Officer at the time, one Idowu Owohunwa.

While it is not certain if Owohunwa is still in service, the professionalism displayed during the journalists-politicians' stand-off is rare, and should be emulated by other officers, if the Nigeria Police Force is interested in changing its badly dented image.

*    Emmanuel Onwubiko is Head of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria; blogs @www.huriwa.blogspot.com; www.huriwa.org./www.rightsassociationngr.com.

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