A combination of criminal negligence, corruption, ineptitude and religious influence appears to have positioned the Nigeria Police Force as the weakest link in the nation’s security chain
He most probably saw it coming. Few days before the federal government announced the removal of Hafiz Ringim, the immediate past inspector general, IG, of police, and six other deputy inspectors general, DIG of police last week Wednesday, Ayo Oritsejafor, a pastor and president, Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, had called for a restructuring of the security agencies.
And his reason for making such a call is pretty straightforward. “Unfortunately, some of our security agents are more patriotic to their religion than to the nation,” he said. He added that “this is why often times when they meet and decide to go and carry out some surprise arrests of Boko Haram members, instead of surprising the militants, they end up being the one to be surprised.”
A good example of this scenario, as far as Oritsejafor is concerned, can be seen in the manner the police lost custody of Kabiru Sokoto, prime suspect in the Christmas Day bombing of St Theresa’s Catholic Church, Madalla, Niger State, which claimed several lives.
Sokoto, a high profile member of Boko Haram, the fundamentalist Islamic sect, was arrested on January 14 at the Borno State governor’s lodge in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, in the company of two other men. He was then handed over to Zakari Biu, a commissioner of police in charge of the Force Criminal Investigation Department, FCID, Abuja, from whose custody the suspect escaped while being taken to Abaji within the FCT. The suspect who was arrested by a large contingent of policemen was said to have been led to Abaji, his hometown, by a team of four policemen who claimed to have been overpowered by a group of young men that waylaid them.
While the matter has so far generated a lot of uproar that ultimately led to the removal of Ringim and the top echelon of the police last week, the escape of Sokoto was not the first time key suspects implicated for their involvement in the activities of Boko Haram would be slipping off the hands of policemen. Another celebrated instance is the case of Aliyu Tishau, a self-confessed leader of Boko Haram. Tishau was arrested by the police and detained in Abuja. While he was expected to still be in detention, the man made a sudden appearance at the Abuja studios of the African Independent Television, AIT, where he granted interviews.
In the course of the interview, Tishau also gave damning revelations about the complicity and negligence of the top echelon of the police in the battle against Boko Haram. For instance, he revealed that three days before members of Boko Haram attacked the police headquarters in Abuja he had warned the police top echelon about a plan to embarrass the security authorities. He was ignored. After the attack, the man said he was brought before the IG in the
presence of whom he called the person who planned and led the attack.
“When I gave my advice, the police chased, arrested me and kept me in detention. Before I was detained, I gave the police the video recordings of how some of our members were being given military training, but the IGP ordered that I should be detained. I was left in detention for 10 months but those things that I warned against are playing out today,” he said.
Damning as his revelations sounded, the situation was even made more grievous when the police could not give a satisfactory response as to how the suspect was able to walk freely into the television station studios without having been set free by a court of law. Besides not being able to account for how the man absconded from its custody, as at press time last week, the police could not also account for his whereabouts.
Indeed, over the years, the police appear to have acquired notoriety for being a cog in the wheel of progress when it comes to the dispensation of justice and securing the lives and property of Nigerians. For instance, after 15 years of prosecution, the nation was later made to come to terms with the reality that the persons who had stood trial all along for the murder of Alfred Rewane, a wealthy businessman and leader of NADECO, under the Sani Abacha regime actually had nothing to do with the case. Whereas the real killers of the man walked free, some of the persons who were remanded in prisons for over 15 years and tried for the murder were only randomly picked on the streets of Lagos and knew nothing about the late Rewane. There are also many other cases of murder and political assassinations including that of Bola Ige, attorney general and minister of justice under former president Olusegun Obasanjo, the police are yet to resolve.
Looking at such situations, Abubakar Tsav, a retired commissioner of police, said many of the men in the Nigeria Police Force are mercenaries who are only out to make quick money to the detriment of the nation’s security. He however added that this does not remove the fact that there are still some brilliant, committed and patriotic officers who are trying their very best. “What has worsened the situation of the police is the lack of supervision by senior officers, indiscipline, disloyalty, corruption and conspiracy of silence occasioned by the politicisation, regionalisation and religionisation of the police,” he said.
It is for these reasons that Simon Okeke, the immediate past chairman of the Police Service Commission, PSC, last week called on the federal government to urgently reorganise the police as an antidote to control the wave of insecurity in the country. As far as Okeke is concerned, it is wrong for just one person to be expected to oversee the numerous security problems that are confronting a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country like Nigeria. He advocated a regional approach to policing, such that each region in the country has its own leadership. “In order to tackle our security problems, the police as the largest security outfit in this country must be restructured. It is not administratively wise to hand over the affairs of a large entity like the police to one person to oversee,” Okeke said.
In what may appear like a response to calls for an overhaul of the police, the federal government, while announcing the appointment of Mohammed Abubakar as acting IG, also set up a committee to reorganise the police. The committee is to be headed by Parry Osayande, chairman of the PSC and a retired DIG. Some of its terms of reference include “to identify the challenges and factors militating against effective performance in the Nigeria Police Force and make recommendations for addressing the challenges; examine the scope and standard of training and other personnel development activities in the police to determine their adequacy or otherwise; determine the general and specific causes of the collapse of public confidence in the police and recommend ways of restoring public trust in the institution; examine records of performance of officers and men of the Nigeria Police Force with a view to identifying those that can no longer fit into the system due to declining productivity, age, indiscipline, corruption and or disloyalty and make any other recommendations for the improvement of the Nigeria Police Force.”
A statement released by the Presidency, announcing the setting up of the committee, added that its recommendations would be implemented along with those of previous committees set up by government on the reform of the police. With such a statement, the government may have inadvertently added fillip to the arguments of those who see the committee as yet another waste of time. Beyond the fact that the committee’s terms of reference are simply a rehash of that of several ones before it, Mohammed Fawehinmi, lawyer and eldest son of Gani Fawehinmi, late human rights activist, is of the opinion that “any attempt to overhaul the security system which does not include a policy to micro-manage funds allocated to the security outfits in ensuring that the funds meant for junior officers at the lowest ranks get to them is a complete waste of time and would cause a re-occurrence of this same problem years to come.” Fawehinmi’s comment touches the hidden sore of the police whose members, particularly junior officers, are often shortchanged by their superiors. Most times, payment of their salaries and allowances are delayed, forcing them to extort money from people on the streets.
It remains to be seen if this current attempt to overhaul the police will yield any positive result or not.