Wednesday, 4th October 2023

Abba Out, Arase In: Policing In A Charged Polity

By Ikenna Onyekwelu
26 April 2015   |   3:33 am
THE swift sack of Mr. Suleiman Abba from the post of Nigeria’s Inspector-General of Police underscored the failings of the country’s recent general election.
Arase and Abba

Arase and Abba

THE swift sack of Mr. Suleiman Abba from the post of Nigeria’s Inspector-General of Police underscored the failings of the country’s recent general election. Journalists, election monitors and even voters that participated in the exercise did not fail to note that security personnel and human frailties were the major undoing of the election despite the much-vaunted benefits of technological innovations. When card readers malfunction, it is left for the human factor to remedy the accident. But when the security personnel, who ordinarily are expected to ensure that everything about the election is done in accordance to the set down rules; begin to interfere unduly in the process; there is no way to check that excess. The Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) has stated its preparedness to study the election and come out with a report. While it is hoped that after that soul searching INEC would come out a verdict of self-indictment, the fall of the former Chief Cop should occupy immediate x-ray.

The common refrain about the possible reasons why Abba kissed the dust on some major national newspapers is that he has become the first major casualty of the just concluded general elections. In some of the essays, the former IGP was made to look as a victim of presidential vendetta by President Goodluck Jonathan, who along his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) inexplicably lost to the opposition All Progressives Congress, (APC). But the facts on the ground pertaining to the former IGP’s performance within the last year show a tendency towards a loss of direction and grasp of his mandate.

Though Mr. Abba did not rise from the rank and file to the topmost echelon of the Police department, his education and knowledge on the job must have convinced him that impartiality and perceptibility remain the key standards of engagement. That is why the lowest common denominator of the training of a policeman that he should multiply his eyes, add his ears, minus his mouth and sum up with his brain! Some commentators had tried to chew on the former IGP’s exchanges with some powerful figures in the presidency over the deployment of Mr. Tunde Ogunsakin, an Assistant Inspector General, (AIG) of Police; from his Calabar base to Port Harcourt, ostensibly to oversee the governorship election in Rivers State.

That deployment, which was said to have followed grievous protests by Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi, gave the immediate impression that the IGP was answerable to some State Governors contrary to the constitutional stipulations. There were also the other moot suggestions that the Presidency did not take into consideration that Abba was a pally of Kano State strong man, Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso, before appointing him to head the Police.

Whatever may be the public and private relationship between Abba and State Governors, his fall brings back to the discussion table the desirability or otherwise of creating state police in the federation. Even at the politicization of Nigeria police should not be lost on any keen observer. Similar to the accusations leveled against the National Assembly by the former Central Bank of Nigeria, (CBN) Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the Nigeria Police has been paying more than normal attention to securing politically exposed persons. It is common sight at various private schools to see police officers clutching school bags of children of influential citizens. In certain situations police orderlies find pleasure in running errands of wives of men considered to be high-risk targets and offered police protection.

With this kind of lopsided policing and fawning over men of fortune, the Nigeria police have lost the traditional respect and confidence reposed on it by the people. Consequently it becomes easy for security details of politicians doubling as glorified political thugs and partisan operatives. While they are rendered as participant observers, most policemen find it very hard to disengage their subconscious from their association with politicians. This disposition has also tended to warrant the scheming by police commissioners to be posted to states considered to be juicy especially the Southern states where money is wont to buy freedom from police harassment and delay. Having lost their traditional respect reserved for them, the police are no longer the people’s friend and professionalism gives way to opulence. Progression in the force also becomes dependent on influence or length of service even if the days of the police officer were spent just running errands in bogus homes of political godfathers. These are some of the issues that Mr. Abba’s ouster should elicit critical examination if Nigeria is serious about effective policing.

However it is obvious that Abba allowed his mouth to run garrulously contrary to the demands of his professional training. Moreover he seemed to have joined wittingly or unwittingly in the diminution of derisive contempt for the Presidency, which became a pastime of opposition politics. This tendency may actually have necessitated the short and sharp communication of the IGP’s sack by the Presidency, which gave no details or reasons. The statement released by Special Adviser to President Jonathan on Media and Publicity read: “President Goodluck Jonathan has relieved the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Suleiman Abba, of his appointment and duties with immediate effect. President Jonathan has also appointed Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Solomon Arase, as Acting Inspector-General of Police, also with immediate effect”.

By August 1, 2015 it would have been full one year Mr. Abba was named as acting IGP and by November 4, 2015, he would have been celebrating his first anniversary as the substantive Inspector General of Police. It is perhaps on the confidence that he still had full four years before retiring from office like his predecessor, that the former IGP exceeded his mandate on many occasions like an untouchable. Like former CBN Governor who doubled as a whistle blower while in office, Abba sought to be a lawgiver even while ensconced in his executive office. Many people would remember the former IGP for his unilateral decision to withdraw the police orderlies covering the Speaker of House of Representatives, Alhaji Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, shortly after he defected to the APC. Just before the rescheduled 2015 election, Abba was on hand with another off the cuff order on electorates to leave polling units as soon as they have cast their votes. The interchange between the Presidency and Abba over Ogunsakin’s deployment could therefore be seen as a vain effort by the former IGP to please new masters after the outcome of the march 28, Presidential poll which President Jonathan conceded to General Muhammadu Buhari.

In the light of the foregoing, it would be downright dumb for the IGP not to have seen his sack coming. There are many tell tales leads to such eventuality. For instance in a November 1, 2014 letter, prominent Lagos lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, pointedly accused the former IGP of perpetuating illegalities in the execution of his mandate. Itemizing the series of misdeeds of the Police under his watch as IGP, Falana informed Abba that; “since you were appointed the Acting Inspector-General of Police by the President of the Republic on July 31, 2014 the Nigeria Police Force has been involved in partisan politics to the detriment of law and order in the country”. While noting that “your actions and utterances in the circumstance have exposed the Police to unwarranted ridicule”, Falana invited Abba to consider resigning his appointment since according to him, “law and order in the country cannot be maintained by a compromised Police institution.

There have been several proposals for the reform and reorganization of Nigeria Police. The sack of IGP Suleiman Abba and the appointment of Mr. Solomon Arase, who has just one more year in service, in his place; provides enormous opportunity for this cleanup and re-girding. A twenty-first century police force should be pro-active in preserving social harmony, protecting the society and ensuring that the prevention of crimes. And this they can only do if they get focused and avoid the corrupting perks of politicians. Great care and caution should be taken in elevating officers to the position of Inspector General of Police to maintain the professional and high moral rectitude expected of the modern police.