On Wednesday, the Ekiti State Police Command dispersed an elections rally organized by the PDP and its activist governor Ayodele Fayose. The police claim that they stopped the campaign rally: “to forestall the outbreak of violence between the two leading political parties.” Governor Fayose was on television Wednesday evening openly weeping and gnashing his teeth that he had not only been tear-gassed but also physically abused and battered by the police. Governor Fayose is known for his melodrama and clearly over-acted the script by wearing neck contraptions, weeping and rolling on the flour for effect but the drama should not distract us from the serious implications of what happened. The previous day, the ruling party had their rally in Ado Ekiti and basic principles of fair play would dictate that you cannot stop their main rival from having their own rally. Using police brutality to disperse the rally was totally unacceptable.
The police were reported to have blockaded the Government House and attacked some of the personnel inside. Premium Times yesterday reported the Police Public Relations Officer, Caleb Okechukwu, in a statement he signed on behalf of the Deputy Inspector General of Police, Operations, Habila Joshak, on Wednesday, declaring that the public should discountenance the allegations that it attacked the governor and invaded his office. The statement described the allegation as “misleading and aimed at causing anxiety in the minds of the public. He affirmed that the police will, at all times, continue to maintain law and order and also rise up to their responsibility to perform their mandatory and statutory duty of protection of lives and property of innocent citizens before, during and after the election. The problem is that the police has a long tradition of partisanship in electoral contests and their denial should be taken with a grain of salt. In this age of video, many images of the incident that have since gone viral, in which the police were seen using tear gas and violence to disperse the PDP supporters are available.
Many commentators over the past two days have recalled the role Governor Fayose had played in July 2014 using security agencies to attack APC supporters and even governors. At that time, PDP might was used to stop Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole flying out of was Benin airport, while the planes carrying Governors Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano and Aliyu Wammako of Sokoto States were not allowed to land in Akure airport to attend the APC campaign rally. The then Governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi managed to get near Ekiti State but his convoy was ordered to turn back at the border between Ondo and Ekiti States by military officers. However, the convoys of the then Ministers of State for Defence, Musiliu Obanikoro, and that of the Police Affairs, Jelili Adesiyan, who were in the ruling party were allowed to pass. The harassment by security forces was one of the factors that led to the defeat of Kayode Fayemi, the then state governor who would be contesting again in tomorrow’s gubernatorial election and this time he is on the side with federal might.
Two wrongs can never make a right and the fact that PDP used its control over security forces to mess up the opposition in 2014 in no way justifies the APC Administration doing likewise in 2018. We can only deepen our democracy if we stop the partisan use of security forces even if the current government had suffered from such behaviour in the past. Of course, part of the current dynamics is that Governor Fayose had provoked the ire of the APC Administration by going on air to say President Buhari was not welcome in Ekiti State and called on people to boycott the Tuesday rally the APC organised. He also took commercial traffic off the roads to make movement of APC supporters more difficult. These actions are totally unacceptable but they should not lead to responses of the same type.
The police must strive to become an instrument for protecting and defending civic and democratic spaces in a neutral and non-partisan manner. Unfortunately, the Force is not fit for purpose and has developed a reputation for blatant self-serving actions. We recall last year when the Police declared that Senator Isa Misau was not a Senator but a serving police officer that absconded while on active service after he criticized his former employers. One of the allegations that Misau made was that the police charge VIPs and others for services and this money is “chopped” by the “Oga at the top”. This statement is one of the least guarded secrets in Nigeria that everyone knows to be true and yet the police would attack even politically prominent people for saying it. In more recent months they have threatened to withdraw police protection from the Senate President for daring to question their actions.
The former Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, has repeatedly drawn the attention of authorities on the dysfunctionality of the Nigerian Police Force. He has called on government to revisit and implement the recommendations of the Danmadami Police Reform Committee, which drew a roadmap on what needs to be done to make the police more efficient and functional. Central to the roadmap is reinventing the office of the Inspector General of Police as a site for standards and quality control rather than providing political support for the government of the day. This means taking operational duties away from the police headquarters to the state level where operations actually take place. This implication is that available resources of the police should not be “consumed” in the office of the IGP with very little left for operations in the states.
With the numerous security challenges Nigeria is facing today, ranging from resurgent secessionists, Niger Delta militants, religious fundamentalists, Boko Haram terrorists and so on, Nigeria desperately needs some functional police and the first step in that direction is to reduce corruption within the Police Force. We had a warning last week when police officers took the unprecedented action of demonstrating in Maiduguri because their bosses had been “chopping” their allowances for the last six months while they suffer in risky operations without even the money to feed themselves. We cannot continue with such irresponsible and dangerous behaviour.
The Nigeria Police, under normal circumstances, has the primary responsibility of maintaining law and order in Nigeria. It is expected that before trouble rears its head, the police would have nipped it in the bud. No operation within the civil population should be conducted without the involvement of the Police. The Police investigation department should be aware of all nefarious activities of individuals and or groups in the society. Clearly, the police have not recovered from the cannibalisation of its investigation department to establish the National Security Organisation and subsequently, the State Security Service. If kidnappers can act with impunity on certain roads for years, its precisely because that capacity for intelligence gathering and investigation has been lost for a long time,
Moving forward, the government should stop the current practice of sending the military to deal with civil disturbances. We should grow the police and build its capacity to do its work. We need to launch a ten-year development plan to ensure the presence of the Nigerian Police in every community and other flash point areas for effective maintenance of law and order. The army is not trained for dealing with civil tensions so an immediate effort is required to make the Police authorities to revisit the system of Nigeria Mobile Police Force Unit, as it was in the yesteryears, so that involvement of the Military in the management of civil disorder would be minimized. Currently, there is a recruitment process into the police and there are concerns that the process has been compromised by massive corruption. The Police authority should ensure that recruitment into the Force should be done on merit, suitability and character as the Nigeria Police of today contains all manner of shady characters. In line with the above, it should ensue professionalizing the Nigeria Police through capacity building, procurement of civil disorder management equipment and improved welfare for ordinary police men and women.