On September 28, 2014, I took on then Inspector General of Police (IGP), Suleiman Abba, in my column for his threat to stop “candidates with criminal records” from contesting the elections that were a few months away. I opined that the police boss lacked legal authority to stop anybody from standing election; that such power belonged to the court and could not be usurped by any meddlesome interloper, including the police chief.
I questioned what amounted to “criminal records”, knowing that many citizens may have been maliciously accused of crimes and files opened (thus creating ‘criminal records’) in police stations, but the accused may never have been prosecuted, let alone convicted because the facts amounted to nothing. I surmised in that article that Abba could be attempting to use the same old, crude and atrocious political stratagem to harangue some politicians out of a fair contest.
Soon after, Abba found himself in another controversy when he meddled into the politics of the National Assembly to the extent that he interpreted the Constitution and on that basis declared that Aminu Tambuwal, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, no longer held that office on account of having defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
As a lawyer, nay citizen, Abba was right to ‘interpret’ the Constitution. But not being a judge in whose court such a case was brought before, he lacked the authority to pronounce such judgment and proceed to use public funds and personnel (the police) to execute such purported judgment. And Abba sure executed his opinion in a very crude way, sealing up the National Assembly and denying federal legislators, including the Speaker, the right of unfettered access to carry out their constitutional duties.
Earlier this year, a few weeks to the general elections, I met IGP Abba at an event by a civil society group to discuss security and the general elections. I posed a question to Abba and the representative of the Department of State Security (DSS) at the event. I wanted to know how, as security agents, they were able to effectively strike the balance between providing security for the president and exercising impartiality in their maintenance of law and order in the overall interest of Nigeria, conscious of the fact that the president was not only the president but also a candidate in the general election.
The police boss calmly answered all the other questions he was asked on that occasion and took my question last, by which time he said he would like to stand up to address it. He looked somewhat irritated at the question as he started by asking rhetorically, if anyone in the room could truly distinguish between the president and the state. He then went about laboriously to convince the gathering on how he and his colleagues managed such situations. But I was not convinced. I concluded that the IGP had a befuddled understanding of his role in a democracy.
Abba’s tenure as IGP ran from July 31, 2014 to April 21, 2015 making it one of the shortest tenures, even as he still had four years to retirement. The key point of his tenure was general election policing and his failure or success would be defined by what happened in that regard. A few days to the general elections, he instructed voters to leave the polling units after voting, as staying around the polling unit after voting could be termed as ‘loitering’ and therefore an electoral offence. It was a laughable instruction for a country whose citizens know their electoral onions well enough to be able to stay vigil at polling units until their votes are counted and results announced. He was simply ignored by all.
Despite the picture painted above, I am still concerned with the process and manner by which Abba was removed. The fact remains however that we do not know the reasons for Abba’s removal, four years before he was meant to retire from service. Unfortunately, the law does not mandate the president to furnish us with a reason. The constitution requires the president to appoint or remove the IGP on the advice and consultation of the Nigeria Police Council (NPC) . The council is chaired by the president with all the 36 state governors, the chairman of the Police Service Commission (PSC) and the IGP as members. But was the council consulted before Abba was removed?
And even if the council was consulted, was the announcement of the removal of the IGP carried out in a manner that dignified that office? Certainly not! From the reports, Abba’s removal was announced via twitter, yes, twitter! And the twitter message did not emanate from an official account of an appropriate official of the government but from the personal twitter account of Reuben Abati, the president’s aide on media. In fact, Channels Television said they had to telephone Abati to confirm the information he tweeted. Now, this may seem trivial for a social media generation, for which I am an active ‘netizen’. But it does a lot of psychological harm to the officers and personnel of the police that their head could be dismissed in such a dismissive manner.
We may not like the ways of an incumbent of a statutory or constitutional office, but the removal should be done with great consideration for the repute of the office, not necessarily the officer. This again buttresses the recommendation of many civil society organisations, including the Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN) for the insulation of the office of IGP from undue political interferences. One such way is that once appointed, the IGP should enjoy a fixed term of office and should only be removed by a request from the president, supported by two-thirds of votes from the National Assembly.
Published in The Niche newspapers on Sunday April 25, 2015, http://www.thenicheng.com/poor-abba-twittered-away/
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