It says a lot about the nation’s interest in all matters related to Inspector-General of Police(IGP) Ibrahim K. Idris that his 20-minute meeting with President Buhari last week was given the type of media coverage and attention usually reserved for moments of great national achievements or avoidable tragedy. The nation was reminded that his statutory retirement is imminent, although, typical of all issues related to the man, some sections of the media suggested that he should have retired before that brief meeting. At this stage, it will be safe to assume that the IGP did not lose much sleep over these latest reports about him, if, that is, he bothers to cast the briefest of glances at the media at all. Our history has a rich store of IGPs who established firm records of fame or infamy, but Idris appears to have raised the bar considerably as his stewardship appears ready to go into history as one that oversaw the total failure of the Nigeria Police to perform the most minimal of its responsibilities.
Even the best mouthpiece of the ruling APC will not successfully challenge the accusation that more Nigerians have been exposed to organized violence and terrifying criminality under the Buhari administration than under any other administration. (The jibe that Katsina, Zamfara and Borno States, three of the most threatened parts of the country had spawned the President, the Minister of Defence and the Chief of Army Staff respectively must hurt, but it is neither fiction nor an irrelevance.) The citizen’s first line of protection against crime and violence is the police. In most instances, it is also his last. When the police cease to function as it so obviously does now in Nigeria, the citizen is literally abandoned to every type of abuse and pillage. It has been Idris’s lot to be undertaker of the police as the most basic of state institutions. Appointed by the President at the cost of the careers of many seniors, Nigerians had expected that he would turn around the most vilified institution into a national asset, a cover that should give the citizen confidence and protection. When rustlers, bandits, ethnic militias and kidnappers raised their ante under the current administration, threatening to rubbish the successes against the more familiar foe that was Boko Haram, it was reasonable to expect that the hand-picked IGP will raise the professionalism and efficiency of the police to reflect the presence of an administration voted to end rampant insecurity.
He did not. More and more conflicts and violent crimes found space because the police was virtually non-existent when it was most needed to prevent, contain or bring to book violent criminals who saw and exploited the miles that existed in those spaces. The police became entangled in local conflicts where it made its token presence felt, compounding the sense of exposure of citizens. Vast tracks of territory and huge populations that had lived with the most minimal of structured policing in the past became overtaken by bandits, robbers and kidnappers with virtually no challenge. Feeble efforts of rural communities at do-it-yourself security was viciously punished by criminals, until it ceased altogether when villagers realized it was easier to pay for protection or ransom, or relocate and live as IDPs.
The military, stretched beyond even the most minimal level of effectiveness, laboured more and more to do its job as well as that of the police. Internal security challenges tied down both in a manner that rendered them incapable of reinforcing each other to provide minimal security to citizens. Indeed, in general terms, the police virtually abdicated most of its conflict management responsibilities to a military poorly equipped and trained to undertake even its own basic defensive responsibilities against uprisings and a stubborn insurgency. In these circumstances, a worst case scenario is a failed police and a military challenged beyond its containment strategies. That, unfortunately, is what the nation is facing at the moment. A resurgent insurgency in the context of a politicised atmosphere and a severely demoralized and terrified citizenry is creating frayed nerves and opportunistic bites at the more sensitive parts of politics and governance.
IGP Idris had sunk with the police in terms of impact and professionalism. His unending battles with the federal legislature have been compounded by deep concern of opposing political parties, civil society and even the international community that he represents a major liability for credible and peaceful elections. His posture is patently partisan, unapologetic and belligerent, yet it will be foolhardy to assume that President Buhari will let him go with a few weeks to the elections. It is not in the character of President Buhari to remove people because overwhelming and informed opinion says they have no place in or around his administration. Ideally, the President should let him retire, but many of those who understand the central role of the police in the conduct of elections will advise that he is retained until victory. This will send very damaging signals on the willingness of President Buhari to allow the conduct of credible elections in a few weeks. Idris may stay on top of a policing institution whose only role may be to cast doubts over the credibility of an election.
The pressure to roll back Boko Haram appears to be fraying the nerves of the military as well. While the nation should be alarmed at the manner the military’s setbacks are exploited by detractors and irresponsible publicity, it is important to insist that the military does not lose its head at this critical moment. The military needs to improve its understanding of the responsibilities of the media, particularly the realities that the fight against Boko Haram is a national endeavor in which the media is a key player. The military cannot stop the media from reporting the war. What should or should not cross the line on national security is never static, but it can be made healthier by mutual respect and productive engagement by all interests on the same side.
The management of national security must be the most important issue in these forthcoming elections. Whoever will get our votes must convince us that he will re-invent policing and security institutions as foundations of governance. All options that should do this must be critically scrutinized. The nation must not pass the opportunity to live without bandits, kidnappers and ethnic militias as permanent features of its life. We need to be convinced that the military can be adequately supported to win the war against the insurgency. The next administration must make a profound difference in our individual and collective security, because the nation will not survive another four years of our current circumstances.
Jamila Abubakar wrote this piece from Abuja