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P'HARCOURT TRAGEDY: RUMBLE OVER PROBE PANEL

By NBF News
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Uneasy calm pervades the nation's security circle as subtle protests trail the composition of the presidential panel probing the recent Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) rally tragedy in Port Harcourt, where allegations of procedural blunders have emerged.

Security chiefs within and outside the police have expressed reservation over the headship of the panel by Assistant Inspector General of police (AIG), Mohammed Abubakar, contending that a 'suspect cannot become a prosecutor and judge in his own case.'

Senior security chiefs in Abuja, who spoke with Daily Sun on condition of anonymity, posited that since AIG Abubakar was the incumbent officer supervising the Zone 6 Police Command comprising Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Cross River states, he was first among those to share in any blame or commendation arising from security measures put in place at the ill-fated rally.

'How can the AIG of a zone where an incident involving security lapses that led to loss of lives preside over a panel that is expected to come up with unbiased and professional report. From what is going on at the panel sitting, you can clearly see the handwriting on the wall. The police under his zone have been portrayed as blameless; the fault, as it seems, came from overzealous intruders. The bitter truth is that as AIG Zone 6 where the incident occurred, Abubakar should have been one of the witnesses to testify at the panel on his role in providing proper security for the presidential rally,' a highly placed security source confided.

Another top officer hinted that the tragedy might have been averted if the police on ground had effectively put into practice the cordon measure in crowd control. This, he said, entailed the maintenance of four cordon layers outside and inside the venue, with the formation of inner and inner-most cordon, as well as an outer and outer-most cordon using regular and mobile policemen as shield.

Said he: 'The police are trained for crowd control and in a situation like the Port Harcourt political rally where the president who hails from the zone would be in attendance as well as other governors and their supporters, you should expect a large crowd and, therefore, take adequate measures days ahead of the event. The CP of the state and the AIG in charge of the zone are expected to have visited the venue at least, as from one week ahead, for assessment; to study the place, the walls, whether they are weak, because pressure could lead to collapse of fence walls. I don't think these measures were taken.'

Noting that the tragedy occurred as a result of lack of contingency plans, the source who is a high ranking police officer, said it was operationally wrong to use tear gas or firearms in a peaceful rally, as that would only create confusion and stampede as it occurred in Port Harcourt. Besides, he said such action placed the life of the president at risk. 'The stampede in Port Harcourt was even risky for the president because in such a situation, anything untoward could happen,' he warned.

However, Police Force Public Relations Officer, Mr. Olusola Amore (DCP), dismissed complaints over AIG Abubakar's headship of the probe panel as a non-issue, saying it was merely a fact-finding panel aimed at guarding against a re-occurrence of such incident. He said since it was a public sitting, it was impossible for testimonies of witnesses, no matter how implicating to any person, to be concealed or manipulated.

His words: 'This is a fact-finding panel constituted to look into what went wrong and what is to be done in future. It is not for fault-finding. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, we have this mentality of finding faults whenever something happens and then we look forward to persons being indicted and punished. Even after one or two persons are sacked over an incident, we have no solution to it and so such incidents re-occur. So, let us change our attitude to issues. We should be changing from fault-finding to problem-solving approach.