On July 30, 2014, Inspector General Mohammed D. Abubakar will bow out of the Nigeria Police Force having served the nation for 35 years. No one will unfortunately miss him. If anything, everyone will be delighted to see him out. For someone who made national headlines as the Lagos State Commissioner for Police for a few impressive strides in operations and in no time became the darling of the critical Lagos community, a development which probably also accounts for his rapid rise to the rank of Assistant Inspector General, this turn of events was never expected.
Make no mistake: M. D Abubakar’s loss of public confidence has nothing to do with the growing nationwide security problem, as reflected in the Boko Haram menace which has ravaged the northern part of Nigeria or the new phenomenon of Fulani herdsmen bedecked with fearsome paraphernalia of war and destroying countless communities along their way almost without any challenge from security agencies. The nationwide security issue is, frankly, beyond the scope of the police. Therefore, we cannot in good conscience blame it on the police, let alone the leadership.
IGP Abubakar’s undoing is the awful practice of allowing the police to be used as agents of destruction by those the late Dr. Pius Okigbo, Africa’s most decorated economist, called “inelegant men of money and power”. In the last few days, the media have been awash with graphic reports of how officers and men from the Abia State police Command marched to the residence of The Sun newspaper, Mr. Ebere Wabara, in Surulere, Lagos, and not only arrested him but had him handcuffed, as if he were a most violent and dangerous criminal. Wabara was marched to Umuahia, the Abia State capital. The police were acting on the orders of Governor Theodore Orji whose government was to charge the editor with sedition. Frankly, it is almost unimaginable that someone could be charged with sedition in the 21st century, all the more so in a country which claims to be practising democracy. As brilliantly argued by such legal luminaries as Professor Itse Sagay, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), and Mr. Bamidele Aturu, a foremost human rights campaigner, the sedition law was a creation of the colonial government, and Nigerian courts, like their English counterparts, have repeatedly declared it outdated.
If Gov Orji’s use of the Nigeria Police Force to commit an unconscionable and illegal act is embarrassing, the role of the police in the arrest, detention, torture, dehumanization and prosecution of citizens in the hitherto sleepy and little known town of Oraifite in Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra State is sacrilegious. For reasons which I have not been able to understand yet, most people in this town where I did my year of compulsory National Youth Corps Service (NYSC) have issues with the flamboyant government contractor and controversial member of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Emeka Offor, who is from the town. They always make their views known in an online magazine of the people called Mbala Obodo.
(Oraifite has since 1990 been my second home, as I now speak its own dialect of the Igbo language better than most indigenes and celebrate both Christmas and New Year there from time to time.) Almost every person who has ever dissented with Offor on this website has since last year been arrested by the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) and subjected to very dehumanizing treatment. Each of them has been charged by the police in courts in Anambra State and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) with defaming Offor. Defamation, slander and libel are all related offences, and they are all civil matters. Why the police under the leadership of IGP Abubakar have undertaken the prosecution of such cases, after SARS men have been used to arrest and debase the humanity of people allegedly committing this offence, shows how low the leadership of the police has fallen in recent times.
Let us cite some of the instances of the Oraifite people arrested by SARS and charged by the police with defaming the character of a private citizen and businessman named Emeka Offor. We may start with the most recent. On Friday, March 28, 2014, a popular importer based in Onitsha, Anambra State, Chief Eugene Nworah, was arrested by men from the SARS headquarters in Anambra State located at Awkuzu in Oyi Local Government Area. As at the time of writing this short article (Monday April 7), Chief Nworah, better known by his traditional sobriquet of Nwa ji Mma Gbuo Agu, is still held by the police who have in the last one week paraded him handcuffed in the streets of Oraifite and Onitsha where does his business. In a desperate attempt to justify their holding him alongside hardened criminals in a cell for over one week in flagrant violation of the Nigerian Constitution which states that no person can be detailed for more than 24 hours without charges in court unless an offence as serious as murder is involved, the police who could not find any incriminating object against him anywhere hurried to the Onitsha Magistrate Court, of all places, this afternoon to charge him with arms dealing, in addition to defamation of Emeka Offor’s character. Chief Nworah had earlier in an online write-up accused Offor of being the brain behind his loss of nine 40-foot containers with goods worth N970m.
Ironically only this afternoon Mr. Justice Peter Afere, sitting at the Federal Capital Territory High Court at Apo in Abuja, awarded N5m damages against both the police and Offor for infringing on the fundamental rights of Comrade Bonny Okonkwo, a South African-based Nigerian businessman from Oraifite who was arrested from his residence in Surulere, Lagos, by SARS men from the IGP’s office who detained him in solitary confinement from July 17 to August 23, 2013. He was released on the orders of Chief Magistrate Dahiru of Kubwa Judicial Division.
The case of Ifeanyi, Chinedu and Tochukwu Igboanuzue has been reported. These brothers were arrested by SARS for accusing their elder brother, Sunday Igboanuzue, a close ally of Offor, of acting improperly to their sister, Joy, before she died on December 5, 2013. Because of the controversy of their arrest and detention, their sister was buried only on Friday, March 21, 2014. The three brothers secured their freedom only on court orders. But they are now being tried by police at the Ozubulu Magistrate Court for defamation of the character of their brother who is Offor’s ally in Oraifite local politics. Ifeanyi Nwokolo, an Nnewi based trader, was arrested together with his cousin, Muozube, by SARS men from Nnewi for having the effrontery to bicker with each other over the ownership of a piece of land adjacent to Offor’s palatial residence in the village. Such examples of gross abuse of SARS against Offor’s kinsmen and the gross violations of basic human rights inherent in the actions are legion.
IGP Abubakar has allowed the police on his watch to behave in a way which makes reasonable members of society believe that the Nigeria Police Force has been privatized to Dr. Okigbo’s “inelegant men of power and money”. This is an awful way for Abubakar to end his career. It may be the only thing for which his police leadership will be remembered, at least in the Southeast. It is difficult to convince Nigerians that the IGP’s men in the Southeast and elsewhere have been debasing their office in this manner without his blessing.
Hameed is a political scientist and essayist based in Ilorin, Kwara State.