Suleiman Abba’s Opportunity, By Okey Ndibe
At the beginning of August, President Goodluck Jonathan appointed Suleiman Abba as Nigeria’s new Inspector General of Police. On the day of his formal investiture as police henchman, Mr. Abba promised to bring a new intensity to the fight against crime.
Mr. Abba has a great opportunity to make an immediate payment on that promissory note. Of course, one hopes that he’s a man of his words—at any rate, that, on some level, he meant what he said. If so, I propose that he has a fairly easy call to make to demonstrate his resolve to Nigerians and the world. He should waste no time reversing a shocking decision made by his predecessor, Mohammed Abubakar, in the final weeks of his tenure.
The former inspector general of police had made a weird decision to reinstate one Sam Chukwu to the police—and to post the man to the headquarters of the southeast command of the police in Umuahia.
The decision was astonishing precisely because, for more than two years, Mr. Chukwu (a former Divisional Police Officer in Awkunanaw, near Enugu) had failed to show up in an Enugu High Court where he was to be arraigned in connection with the 2009 kidnap of Lotachukwu Ezeudu, then a 19-year old accountancy student at the University of Nigeria. Lotachukwu—or Lota, as many friends and family called him—has been missing since his abduction and is presumed dead.
Mr. Chukwu’s son, Nnaemeka, is one of several suspects in custody and undergoing trial in the Lota case. Two other suspects, Ernest Okeke and Desmond Chinwuba, were reportedly living in Mr. Chukwu’s family home at the time of Lota’s abduction. Both men were fired from the police after they were charged with kidnap and armed robbery in an earlier case. Somehow, they were granted bail and began to reside in Mr. Chukwu’s home. In court, prosecutors are outlining a case that seeks to link them to Lota’s abduction.
Ernest Okeke is in custody, but Desmond Chinwuba fled as investigators closed in on him—and continues to elude prosecutors almost five years since he allegedly took part in a heinous crime.
When Justice Afam Nwobodo summoned the DPO to court to face arraignment, Mr. Chukwu decided, instead, to go underground. It was a most unbecoming thing for a law enforcement officer to do. At the very least, it suggested a profound contempt for the judiciary and the broader idea of law and order.
Police officers who were supposed to produce the DPO in court told Justice Nwobodo that they didn’t know where he was. In February 2012, the judge issued a warrant for the arrest of the officer. Wanted posters of the fugitive officer are pasted in different parts of Enugu, the capital of Enugu State, and Mr. Chukwu’s hometown of Aninri in Awgu local government area.
As far as I know, Mr. Chukwu has never submitted himself before Justice Nwobodo’s court, even though he must know that he’s wanted. Prosecutors have never given him an all-clear, a bill of exoneration. The police never told the judge that they had located the man. In fact, until his unbelievable reinstatement, the going narrative was that the police were still unaware of his whereabouts.
Given the above, former Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, made a decidedly awful call when he reinstated the run-away officer. That decision ought to invite serious investigation by the incumbent IGP as well as other government agencies.
Mr. Abubakar’s reinstatement of Sam Chukwu represented a slap on the face not just of the judiciary but also of all decent Nigerians. It smacked of arrogance, an indifference to the sensibility of Nigerians. It either misread or disregarded the mood of Nigerians. The appointment raises several questions.
If the police could not find the former DPO when Justice Nwobodo ordered his arrest, where did they find him to give him his letter of redeployment? Did the former IG talk to the prosecutors handling the Lota Ezeudu kidnap case? Did he seek out Lota’s parents to explain the reason he had to recall the former DPO? Why did Mr. Abubakar see fit to appoint a fugitive to a rather exalted position in the police without first demanding that the man surrender himself to the court? Lota Ezeudu’s case has become one of the most widely reported and followed episodes since the crime of kidnapping became a significant menace in Nigeria. Why did the former police boss not realize the imperative of a public explanation of his action? At any rate, what was so urgent or extraordinary about Mr. Chukwu’s case that the former police boss felt he had to act on it less than two weeks before his retirement from the police? These questions demand answers.
The Nigerian police boast conscientious men and women who take seriously the task of combatting crime and maintaining a semblance of law and order in a society that all-too often disdains the very idea. Sadly, the police also have a reputation for making life easier for criminals and for placing encumbrances in the way of decent, law abiding citizens. Mr. Abubakar’s decision to reinstate Mr. Chukwu was one public relations nightmare the former IGP should have spared the institution he was privileged to lead. Why would any judge or prosecutor or the public ever believe it when the police state that they don’t know where a fugitive suspect is hiding?
Mr. Abubakar’s horrendous mistake is Mr. Abba’s splendid opportunity. He should invalidate the reinstatement of Mr. Chukwu. And he should instruct the former DPO to surrender himself to the court. If Mr. Chukwu won’t heed that advise, then Mr. Abba ought to compel him by arresting and presenting him to Justice Nwobodo. Many people, in Nigeria and beyond, are watching to see how the new police henchman handles this whole bizarre Chukwu affair. Mr. Abba, you have a duty to reassure Nigerians that impunity won’t be rewarded under your watch. Start by reversing your predecessor’s indefensible coddling of a high-profile fugitive.
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