Few months back, President Goodluck Jonathan appointed a new Inspector General of Police. Ironically, the new IGP, Suleiman Abba, is from Nigeria’s North-west zone just like his predecessor, Mohammed Abubakar.
Mr. Abba’s appointment was greeted with widespread opposition because of his unsavoury connection with the nation’s most repressive dictators of all times – the late General Sani Abacha.
The new IGP was during those tough days of military dictatorship handpicked by Gen. Abacha’s Chief Security Officer, CSO, Major Hamza Al Mustapha, to protect the wife of his maximum tyrant boss.
Ironically, his recent appointment came about the same time 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 the murder of the wife of the purported winner of the 1993 presidential election, Mrs Kudirat Abiola.
There were attempts by opposition politicians to draw a sinister nexus between the release of the dreaded former CSO from jail and the appointment of his “boy,” Mr. Abba as the Inspector General of Police. The opposition politicians from the All Progressives Congress, APC, had tried unsuccessfully to link the appointment with a plot by the Presidency to use the Police to rig and manipulate the 2015 general elections.
This plot failed flat because it was the Lagos State judiciary that prosecuted Mr. Al Mustapha. Lagos State is ruled by Babatunde Fasola, an influential APC governor, who would not have given away an opportunity to nail the controversial Abacha CSO.
But President Jonathan shoved aside these mounting criticisms and proceeded to confirm the appointment of Mr. Abba to head the Nigeria Police that has increasingly come under considerable focus from the global human rights community because of its notoriety for brutal repression of the rights of Nigerians. 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 Nigeria Police in its 2014 report.
Among the claims made by the opposition to the selection of Mr. Abba was the doubts expressed by many that as a product of a system with high credibility deficit, it was almost impossible to expect the new helmsman to introduce sweeping changes capable of winning the confidence, trust and love of Nigerians.
Those who spoke in favour of Mr. Abba’s confirmation as the substantive IGP were clearly in the minority. In giving their support for Mr. Abba, this set of Nigerians had argued that given his background as a lawyer and historian, the new IGP would be capable of rebuilding the near-moribund policing system in Nigeria.
We have a local adage says that the morning shows exactly how the rest of the day would be. This adage finds expression in the words of one of the greatest thinkers and philosophers of all times; Socrates. It was Socrates who said the “first step in every activity is of the highest essence”.
Recent happenings have demonstrated without a shadow doubt that the Nigeria Police under Mr. Abba would surely be business as usual. It is clear that rather than try to fix the battered image of the Nigeria Police, Mr. Abba may further drag its credibility in the mud.
In the twilight of the meeting of the National Police Council where his appointment was to be confirmed, Mr. Abba did the unthinkable by unilaterally withdrawing all police security attached to the office and person of the Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal. The speaker is statutorily the number four citizen in the national order of protocol and the reason offered for this unreasonable action was as illogical as it was laughable.
Mr. Abba said he was interpreting the constitutional provision which bars members of the legislature from defecting to another political party other than the party that sponsored their election.
It is true that the Speaker, Mr. Tambuwal, crossed over to the APC and had thus abandoned the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, on which flag he won a seat to represent his constituency in the House of Representatives. But Mr. Tambuwal is not the first or the last politician in the country to defect.
As if that arbitrary decision of withdrawing Mr. Tambuwal’s security was not enough, Mr. Abba after his confirmation as substantive IGP again launched the Nigeria Police deeper into the halls of infamy.
He played the role of the devil’s advocate by invading the National Assembly Complex to use brute force to stop Mr. Tambuwal and his supporters from accessing the parliament complex. Again, the IGP told a bewildered nation that Mr. Tambuwal was no longer a speaker because he defected to another party.
Following the invasion of the National Assembly complex and the suspicion by Mr. Tambuwal and his loyalists of a sinister plot by his colleagues from the PDP to impeach him, opposition parliamentarians had to disgracefully scale the fence so as to attend the emergency session convened by the House following a subsisting prayer by the presidency for an extension of the state of emergency in the North-east states.
That undignified scaling of the fence by the lawmakers has generated considerable level of negative comments.
But again, why did armed police officers sent to the National Assembly sought to disallow opposition members of the House from gaining access after they had allowed members of the same House from other parties, including the deputy speaker, to gain access to the complex?
I dare say that Mr. Abba’s actions and words in his deeply partisan war with Speaker Tambuwal, have greatly harmed the image of the police.
These actions have graphically demonstrated unwittingly that the Nigerian Police Force is unwilling to shed the dangerous toga it has donned over time as an institution of repression similar to what the Armed Forces of the Saddam Hussein’s era were known for in Iraq.
In the book titled: “The Saddam Hussein Reader: Selections from leading writers on Iraq,” edited by Turi Munthe, we are told how badly damaged the institution of the Armed Forces in Iraq became under the watch of late Saddam Hussein.
The book captures how Saddam Hussein destroyed the Iraqi Armed Forces and the Police and turned them into notorious institutions of repression responsible for the killing of thousands of opposition politicians, journalists, civil rights activists and clerics who raised their voices against his brutal regime.
If history has any positive lesson to teach us, I think the IGP should read this book and immediately retrace his steps to avoid leading the Nigeria Police into deeper 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.
“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 degraded the professional qualities of those institutions.
“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 book further stated.
The writers further confirmed that while harnessing the military, Baath party leaders also set about subduing the rest of the Iraqi society, using many of the same methods.
The result of this wanton and willful disbandment of the professional disciplinary profile of the Iraqi army led to 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, ISIS. Except for the intervention of the United States, ISIS 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 by picking which defector it will use brute force to chase out of office.
Over the last few months, the ruling PDP has repeatedly benefitted from this apparent illegality but the police did nothing. So, why this open partisanship now?
Mr. Abba 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 policing much more effective and people-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 embezzle or mismanage police funds, often demanding monetary ‘returns’ that their subordinates extort from the public.”
Nigerians are yearning for a change.
Emmanuel Onwubiko is Head, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria