27th November, 2013
With its unfettered crackdown on the opponents of President Goodluck Jonathan, the Nigeria Police is making a passable imitation of a whip in the President’s hand
Apart from allegations of partisanship by a section of the country in the 2001 ethno-religious crisis in Jos, Mohammed Dikko Abubakar’s appointment as the 15th indigenous Inspector-General of Police, IGP, in January 2012 was generally well received. At the time he was charged with bias, Abubakar was Plateau State Commissioner of Police.
The public acceptance that greeted his appointment was a product of his record of service. Between the rank of Commissioner of Police and Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Abubakar had served in 16 states and had a particularly distinguished tenure as the Commissioner of Police in Lagos State, where he regularly joined his men on night patrols. That reputation inspired the belief that he had the experience to tackle the myriad of security challenges confronting the country. The jury, however, is still out on Abubakar.
Even then, recent events around Abubakar’s headship of the police has shifted focus from the force’s capability or lack of it to combat crime. Instead, public attention has swivelled to the whiff of partisanship in the conduct of the force. The general suspicion, not exactly without foundation, is that the police have been mandated to round on opponents of President Goodluck Jonathan. Worried by the strong whiff of bias, the House of Representatives, on 5 November, summoned Abubakar to appear before its Police Affairs Committee. This was sequel to the disruption of a meeting of governors elected on the platform of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, but opposed to the President and his supporters within the party.
But with his eyes on 2015 PDP presidential ticket, President Jonathan has remained solidly behind Tukur, who is considered a trusted ally. This is even more so since one of the demands of the G-7 governors is that Jonathan should not seek re-election, as allegedly contained in an agreement he signed before the 2011 election. Efforts to bring the rebellious members back to the mainstream of the party have so far failed. The peace efforts are continuing.
But as much as they can, aides and loyalists of the President in charge of key agencies and parastatals of the government have deployed those under their control to make life difficult for members of the new PDP. Opponents’ aircraft have been stopped from flying. Recently, the government pressured the management of Max Air to cancel a chartered flight scheduled to convey the G-7 governors from Abuja to Ota. The Federal Capital Development Authority, FCDA, has also marked the national secretariat of the new PDP for demolition, citing a contravention of building regulations though the same building had been used as the secretariat of the National Democratic Party for years.
The FCDA has similarly marked for demolition properties in Abuja belonging to the Kano State governor, Kwankwaso and Senator Aisha Al-Hassan, another member of the new PDP.
But the FCDA does not have the same teeth as the police, which are a major tool of the Presidency’s enforcement of its will. Two days before the House summoned the IGP, Nnana Amah, Divisional Police Officer of Asokoro Police Station, led four truckloads of policemen to the Kano State Governor’s Lodge, where the G-7 governors were holding a meeting. He was initially refused entry, but when he eventually met with the governors, he reportedly told them he had orders from above that the meeting should disperse. “We were holding our meeting with the governors when the DPO of Asokoro came in to say that he had instructions to disperse us. And we said if you had instructions that we should not hold a meeting, we were ready to be arrested. We felt that this is the height of impunity for a DPO to have the guts to tell a group of governors that we cannot meet,” former governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola, who was part of the meeting, later told journalists. Ama was forced to withdraw after the governors stood up to him and his men.
In a motion moved by Idris Mohammed Sani Kutigi, which had the backing of 60 other members of the House, the lawmakers said Amah’s action reflected the contempt with which men and officers of the police regard democratic freedoms. He added that the House was concerned that a Chief Superintendent of Police attempted to arrest and disrupt the meeting of the G-7 governors, disregarding their constitutional immunity. The attempt to disrupt the meeting was condemned by the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and other members of the civil society.
The week before the incident, the G-7 governors also moved their meeting away from the Sokoto State Governors’ Lodge, Abuja, following information that a detachment of policemen were about to storm the place.
When Abubakar appeared before the House, he justified Amah’s action thus: “DPO was not sent by anybody…He was only doing his job.”
He added that the public was misled into believing there was a disruption since the governors, according to him, continued their meeting “after their interaction with the DPO”. While faulting the defence put up by the Abubakar, some analysts told this magazine that the Inspector-General Police failed to understand that Amah’s action was at variance with democratic norms. They also argued that Abubakar could not claim to be unaware of what Amah’s did since his previous disruption of a similar meeting at the Sokoto Governor’s Lodge was well reported. “While we may agree with the IGP wholeheartedly on his stand and it is not our wish to accuse the IGP of lying, we hereby challenge him to prove his sincerity by instituting a probe into that shameful incident,” the new PDP said in a statement issued by its National Publicity Secretary, Eze Chukwuemeka Eze.
The new PDP also argued in the statement that the IGP cannot also claim ignorance of the impunity being perpetrated in Rivers State by the Commissioner of Police, Joseph Mbu, who has been locked in a running duel Governor Rotimi Amaechi since he was posted to the State in February. In a recent interview with this magazine, Amaechi claimed Mbu was posted to Rivers State at the behest of the President’s wife, Mrs. Patience Jonathan. Mrs. Jonathan and Amaechi have not been best of friends since the 2010 incident during which the President’s wife snatched the microphone from Amaechi at Okrika, her hometown. This was after the governor had informed Mrs. Jonathan of his plans to demolish some buildings surrounding a local school to make the environment more conducive for learning.
Amaechi’s perceived lack of enthusiasm for Jonathan’s re-election bid, his call for probe of fuel subsidy payments as well as his campaign against sovereign wealth fund and excess crude account via his position as Chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum have also put him in the President’s black book. The feud, which has since witnessed many twists and turns, eventually resulted in the sack of the executive committee of Rivers State PDP chapter, which was loyal to Amaechi, early this year. The new executive committee in the state is led by Felix Obuah, a loyalist to Nyesom Wike, Minister of State for Education, who is on the side of the President and his wife. Obuah, Wike and Mbu have been working hard to create a difficult climate for Amaechi. To Mbu, any gathering linked to Amaechi or his government is abominable. Mbu saw nothing wrong in asking his men to chase away 13,000 newly-recruited teachers, who wanted to collect their posting letters at Port Harcourt’s Liberation Stadium about two months ago. He later described the teachers as “miscreants”.
Barely 72 hours after, Mbu deployed over 100 policemen to stop the inauguration of the Rivers Leadership Advancement Foundation (RIVLEAF) in Bonny Island, headquarters of Bonny Local Government Area of Rivers State. He justified his action with a claim that there is a subsisting a ban on such gatherings. Mbu, however, has regularly failed to uphold the cited ban on gatherings linked with Wike, who has been inaugurating chapters of his Grassroots Development Initiative, GDI, a group devoted to mobilising support for President Jonathan’s re-election bid and his own governorship ambition.
Following his dispersal of the teachers, the Rivers State councils of NLC and the Trade Union Congress, TUC, issued a 21-day ultimatum to the IGP and the Police Service Commission, PSC, to redeploy Mbu or risk an indefinite strike. The two labour unions demanded from the IGP and Mbu an unreserved apology tear-gassing the teachers.
Before then, Mbu once directed his men to block access to Rivers State Government House, thus preventing Amaechi and his guests, made up of former Speakers of state Houses of Assembly, from using a particular route.
Fed up with activities of Mbu and lack of response of the authorities to calls for his re-posting from various quarters, including both chambers of the National Assembly, Amaechi petitioned the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, last month. In the 56-page petition, the governor accused Mbu of creating a virtual state of siege in the state, while citing various instances of gross violations of rights to freedom of expression, lawful assembly and disregard for judicial authorities committed by Mbu. Amaechi recalled how the Rivers State House of Assembly was shut down by “a group of hired thugs and ex-militants” under the watchful eyes of policemen posted to the Assembly by Mbu. He also recalled that policemen, acting on Mbu’s orders, sealed off the secretariat of Obio/Akpor Local Government Area as well as the withdrawal, without observing the necessary protocol, of security details of principal officers of his government.
Amaechi also complained that basic constitutional freedoms of thought and expression of citizens, including those of himself and principal members of government, are being abridged under Mbu.
Also on 22 May, the petition alleged, Mbu approved a protest by over 5,000 ex-militants and other criminal elements, under the leadership of the notorious Ateke Tom and Soboma Jack, on the streets of Port Harcourt, an action which he said created “fear and an atmosphere reminiscent of pre-amnesty siege in the minds of right-thinking residents”. “There is ongoing siege against the people of Rivers State through the unprovoked, unlawful and disproportionate use of violence by police on the directives of the State Police Commissioner –Mr. Joseph Mbu–on any pretext whatsoever. The NHRC is invited to note that the degree of impunity being used to perpetuate the siege knows no bound,” said the governor. Ironically, when the IGP was asked about the situation in Rivers, without conducting a formal review of events, he told reporters that “the situation in Rivers State is okay. We are not politicians; we cannot be brought into the politics of this country”. Mbu has refused to appear before the commission to defend the allegations against him and has carried on as before.
In response to the recent visit of representatives of the newly registered All Progressive Congress, APC, to Rivers State, police banned all political, socio-cultural and religious gatherings within and around the airports, including tarmac, lounges and other sensitive security points. A statement by the Force Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba, said the ban was part of efforts towards averting any security breach and the need to protect critical infrastructure, travellers, air crew, airport staff and personnel at the nation’s local and international airports. The directive studiously ignored the fact that Mrs. Jonathan had held similar rallies and receptions at the airport without the Police raising an eyebrow.
But it is not only the governors that have borne the brunt of police impunity. On 12 November, a detachment of policemen, led by an Assistant Commissioner of Police, took over the Conference Hall of NICON Luxury Hotel, Abuja, venue of a two-day colloquium on Freedom of Information Act organised by the Dino Melaye- led Anti-corruption Network. The Assistant Commissioner of Police claimed to be acting on the IGP’s orders. The policemen dispersed the guest and barricaded the venue. “This morning, we came over to open the hall and the management of the hotel briefed us that there was an order from the IGP stopping the programme. I then asked why the police will stop a programme where they’ve been invited as participants,” Melaye, a former member of the House of Representatives, said.
Also last month, Melaye was briefly arrested during a protest by his group against the purchase of armoured cars for the use Ms. Stella Oduah, Minister of Aviation, by a parastatal under her ministry. Ironically, another group of youths that came to the venue to demonstrate in support of Oduah was allowed to carry on unhindered. The police team, led by one Sunday Odukoya, held the Melaye group hostage for about an hour for allegedly obstructing traffic and disturbing public peace. Two weeks after the protest, another team of policemen led by one Patrick Ejoh, an Assistant Superintendent of Police, arrested Melaye in his office for “criminal intimidation and threat to life,” of the minister, according to warrant of arrest displayed. The policemen also ransacked the office in an apparent attempt to get incriminating documents. He was later released and has not been charged for the offence as at the time of writing this story.
At a point in the ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, the union asked its members across the country to organise rallies and processions to educate the public on the necessity for the industrial action. The rallies were organised to counter the ones organised by government-sponsored groups, which sought to portray it as insensitive to the plight of parents and their wards. While the police allowed the pro government rallies and even provided protection for the protesters, like the one held by women alleged to be traders in Abuja, they ensured that the lecturers did not get beyond the gates of their campuses nationwide.
At the University of Abuja, armed policemen barricaded entrances to the campus and stopped members coming from outside from joining the rally. The police also tear-gassed the protesting lecturers. The situation was the same in other campuses across the country. The police claimed that the rallies were stopped to prevent them form being hijacked by hoodlums.
But the lecturers argued that the selective disruption of rallies by the police is an embarrassment to the country and a danger to democracy as the Court of Appeal, in 2007 nullified the Public Order Act, which required citizens to obtain police permit before holding public rallies. “The incessant interruption of ASUU protests is a criminal violation of the constitutional rights of the members of ASUU to peacefully protest. The freedom of expression and freedom of association are guaranteed under the constitution. The police should go and read the law or go to court for interpretation where they are not certain,” Fred Agbaje, lawyer and human rights activist, said. Analysts believe that if not curbed, police repression and impunity will grow stronger as the 2015 elections draw nearer. They cited the arrest of 180 accredited election observers by the Imo State Police Command as a sign of what to come.
Reacting to the disruption of the colloquium organized by the Melaye group, human rights lawyer Femi Falana, asked the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Mohammed Adoke, to warn the police to desist from further dispersing meetings and rallies of Nigerians under any guise.
In a letter addressed to the Attorney-General, Falana argued that the disruption of the colloquium gave “a dangerous impression that the Federal Government has declared a war against organisations”. He further argued that the disruption of the colloquium by the police amounted to contempt of the order of the Federal High Court and that of the Court of Appeal and “a violation of the fundamental rights of Nigerians to associate and assemble peacefully.” Falana added that both courts had in the case of the All Nigeria Peoples Party v. IG (2006), held that no police permit was required for “holding of rallies or processions in any part of Nigeria.”