No country prays for a political crisis. But every country must contend with a political crisis for reasons that are entirely human. Contending political interests generate political crises. However, unwelcome as it may be, a political crisis is not necessarily a bad thing in a democracy, provided it can be properly managed and the right lessons learnt and applied to guide the present and the future.
A political crisis tends to force people to rethink and change their positions on important issues that agitate the public. To put it another way, a political crisis sometimes forces people to open their eyes to certain realities that they might have taken for granted. To drive the point home in sacerdotal terms, an epiphany awaits anyone who takes the trouble to trudge on the road to Damascus.
I was reminded of this only last week when four brave northern governors, all of them PDP, did what you would not expect PDD governors to do in the trying circumstances for the largest party in Africa. Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), Babangida Aliyu (Niger), Sule Lamido (Jigawa) and Rabiu Kwankwaso (Kano) paid a solidarity visit to their beleaguered colleague, Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State. You would not expect this of PDP governors because Amaechi and President Jonathan and his wife are in the boxing ring in what is clearly a battle for supremacy in the state. And a few heads have already been battered in the Rivers State house of assembly.
There are some obvious risks for PDP governors who openly support a fellow governor who is in the very black book of the president. But these are men of principle. They acted entirely on principle and could not care less if they too earn a place in Jonathan’s very black book with a growing list of political enemies, real, assumed and imagined.
At the end of their visit, the governors issued a statement in which they acknowledged “the great work Governor Amaechi and his team are doing in Rivers State.” Interestingly, they devoted nearly half of their short statement to their “shock at the role of the police in Rivers State (and condemned) its clear partisanship in the show of shame that took place at the Rivers State House of Assembly.” They asked the inspector general of police to redeploy the state commissioner of police, Joseph Mbu, because his “actions smack of unprofessionalism and political partisanship which is unbecoming of his office.”
Mbu, it seems, may be the epiphany of some sorts for the governors. His “unprofessionalism and political partisanship” may force them to reconsider their stand on the agitation for state police. They said: “Arising from the actions of the police and Mr. Joseph Mbu in Rivers State, the call for state police as a constitutional provision has become a necessity.”
You see, sometime in June last year, the Nigerian Governors Forum, chaired by Amaechi, came to the conclusion that there was merit in the agitation for state police and the governors should press for it in the current constitutional amendments now before the national assembly. A few days later, the Northern Governors Forum backed out of this agreement. It was their reconsidered view that state police would compound the nation’s security problems. They fell back on the oft-repeated fear that state governors might misuse the state police.
It would be foolish to deny that the politicians and regional governments misused the native authority police in the First Republic. Surviving political opponents from that era would recall only too well what some of them went through in the hands of the native authority police too eager to do the bidding of their political paymasters.
Regrettable as that may be, I have always argued and will continue to argue, that those who are opposed to state police on that account miss the point. No system is abuse-proof. Their fear may be genuine but it still begs the question. Nigeria is a federation made up of 36 states. In theory, these states are the federating units of the federation. Despite the systematic bastardisation of our federalism, under the principles of federalism, each state still enjoys a certain degree of autonomy as an independent unit within the whole. The primary responsibility for the security of each state rests squarely with the state itself.
The constitution recognises each governor as the chief security officer of his state. A centralized police force that takes orders from the centre makes the state governor an impotent chief security officer of his state. Mbu is not the first state commissioner of police to show where his loyalty lies. Those who care to take a short stroll down memory lane would easily come to what happened in the old Anambra State between the state governor, Jim Nwobodo, and the state commissioner of police, Bishop Eyitene. He, like Mbu, acted the script of his ogas from the centre in Lagos.
Amaechi’s situation has starkly demonstrated the impotence of the state governors as chief security officers of their state. Amaechi cannot protect himself. He has no security means for doing that. Mbu, whose job is to help the governor provide security in the state, does not take instructions or orders from him. He takes orders from the inspector general of police who, in turn takes orders from the presidency and assorted characters in the political camp of the president. Is there greater evidence that the Nigeria Police Force is not abuse-proof?
As I have argued elsewhere, no human institution is abuse-proof. The important thing is to have checks and balances to minimize the abuse. By the way, is there a president or a governor who does not abuse his exalted position by bending the powers and the privileges of his to his own whims and caprices? Tell me another story.
The state governors must recognize the continued danger this anomaly poses for the country and the implications for its democracy and even the rule of law. I urge them to take steps now to push for a constitutional provision for state police. The longer we dither and mouth the silly mantra that Nigeria is not ripe for state police, the more we imperil the chances of our ever attaining true federalism.
Weep out, Amaechi. If your colleagues see the light and push for state police, much good would have come from your current travails.