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The Lame /Onovo face-off

Policemen with the IG, Onovo

By Emma Nnadozie, Kinsley Omonobi and Evelyn Usman

The story with its   accompanying  photographs were not only shocking but gory.  It detailed how 19 passengers aboard a luxury bus from Enugu to Lagos were crushed to death on the  Ijebu-Ode/Shagamu Expressway in the second week of February, 2010.    Emotions were high.  Nigerians condemned the incident.

The Senate and the Police Affairs Ministry vented their anger at what they tagged “high level of insecurity” in the country.  The Minister of Police Affairs, Dr. Ibrahim Lame,  pointedly accused the Police High Command of having lost the capacity to tackle crime situations in the country.  And, like a school teacher issued a two-week ultimatum to the police authorities to buckle up or get the boot.

The condemnation  rattled Police authorities who ordered a high-powered team of crack detectives  to investigate and report on the veracity of the said  bloody robbery attack.

Alas, when its findings came to light, it turned out that the incident which  reports said occurred  in February 2010, indeed  happened last  July.  In fact, drivers of the vehicles involved in the bloody saga were quickly re-arrested and flown to Abuja to tell their own side of the story.

When the drivers narrated their story, it was just a re-hash of the Police official report on the incident.  They  expressed dismay at the way and manner the incident was twisted.

MINISTERIAL OUTBURST
It will  be recalled that as soon as the story of the bloody incident hit the internet, Lame immediately  summoned top officers of the Police Force including the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Ogbonna Onovo to a Ministerial briefing.  At the hurriedly arraigned briefing    which was attended by both newsmen  and other interested parties, Lame threw decorum to the winds and openly lambasted the Police for their inability to checkmate the rising wave of insecurity in the country.   He rebuked the police and asked the force to step up its crime-fighting strategy or risk having its leadership sanctioned.   But,  Onovo, who was present at the briefing  disagreed with the minister’s evaluation of police crime-fighting ability, and argued  that the times do not call for blames and finger-pointing.   He however did not fail to list factors  inhibiting police willingness and zeal to perform better.

PLOTS  AGAINST ONOVO
Interestingly, the allegations and counter-allegations have shockingly unearthed fears of clandestinely allegedly  sponsored plots to push out the Inspector-General of Police before the 2011 general elections.  In fact, the said luxury incident has been cited as the rationale  behind such damning accusations against the police hierarchy by the Minister of Police Affairs.

To archive this target, Crime Guard  gathered that a group consisting of top politicians including some National Assembly members, some governors, powerful Northerners and a few co_travellers from the South -Eastern  states,  who feel the Police boss may scuttle their political calculations for 2011, have vowed to ensure that he was prevented from serving out his leadership of the force before the general elections.

The uncompromising attitude of the IGP with regard  to recentldy held elections  including the largely-acclaimed successful Anambra State governorship election, the Etsako Central Local Government election and the  Jigawa by_elections in which the peoples votes counted,  are perceived to be worrying signals which may backfire with regard to the 2011 elections.

FUNDS FOR POLICE REFORMS
Aside the elections, Crime Guard gathered that the aspect of the implementation of the Police Reform programme beginning in 2010, involving the release and disbursement of funds  running into trillions of naira, by the Federal Government to revamping  the Nigerian Police Force, is also at the centre of the plot to get Onovo out by all means.
“The implementation of the police reform programmes includes the  provision of funds for the repair of, and building of new Police barracks, purchase of bullet-proof vehicles and bullet-proof kits for hundreds of thousands of officers and men, purchase of helicopters including those with bullet-proof, purchase of communications equipment particularly the much-talked about CCTV and the huge emphasis that would be placed on training and re_training,” a source said.

Regarding  Police Reform,
fear that Onovo who has spent all his life in the Police and experienced the havoc caused by inadequate funding of the force, improper kiting for effective performance, poor and unimaginable living conditions in the barracks  and lack of proper motivation to make the Nigerian policeman perform effectively may not allow the funds for the reform programme go a different way from the plans of government. Indeed not a few people believed that the  recent claims by the Minister of Police Affairs, that cases of extra- judicial killings across the country, human rights violations, high profile assassinations are on the increase and there is deliberate failure to comply with government directives by the Police High Command, which are coming up after the airing of a foreign programme on Aljazeera on extra_judicial killings the Boko Haram crisis in 2009, and the bloody highway attack at Ijebu-Ode in 2009, are scripts from the plot. It is against this backdrop that a cold war appears to have developed  between the Minister and the top hierarchy of the  force.

HIJACK OF IGP POWERS
It was learnt that following the plot, revelations of how the work of the Nigerian police has suffered undue operational interference from the minister is coming to the fore with allegations of direct usurpation of the duties of the Inspector- General of Police by the Minister.

Crime Guard findings also showed  that the Ministry of Police Affairs, as a result of directives from the Minister, may have taken over the award of, and implementation of police contracts including provision of operational equipment which statutorily fall within the purview of the Police Tenders Board and subsequently under the supervision of the IGP.

Consequently, a parallel department for the processing of, and payment of all Police contracts which hitherto existed at the Police Headquarters  has been opened at the Ministry of Police Affairs with an Assistant Director in the ministry overseeing the implementation of the Minister’s directives.

In this regard, it was learnt that all contracts in the region of N2million to N5million which the IGP is statutorily entitled to award and which should be paid for after completion is certified by force headquarters, have been taken over by the ministry as the parallel department is now responsible for award, payment and certification of such contracts.

Though, it is a well-known fact that contracts up to N100million and above is awarded by the Federal Executive Council while the Minister can award contracts of N50million after ministerial tenders board meeting.   That of N5million and below which the Police Tenders Board can award, is also being taken over by the minister whereas even if the ministerial tenders board meets, his candidate still allegedly gets the job.

Officers of the Police Force are, therefore, raising eye-brows over the implementation of the seven  cities project, one which seeks to ensure that states with high crime rates are provided more communication, patrol, crime detection, ammunition and better protective equipment to ensure that criminality is reduced to the barest minimum.
Crime Guard gathered that the multi_billion project involving states in the North, East, West and South is on the threshold of a massive failure with over N250million of the total budget, allegedly spent on consultancy alone and another N300million said to have been spent on training of officers and men for the seven cities project whereas there is allegedly nothing on ground to show for such training.

Another issue believed to be causing disaffection between the Police Affairs Minister and the Police hierarchy is the alleged  frequent and flagrant usage of Police equipment, in particular, helicopters meant for operational purposes by the Minister.

Sources alleged there were  several instances when  urgent security matters needing the immediate use of the helicopters had to be  put on hold.   A source who shed light on the helicopter issue pointed out that several top government functionaries have made the usage of Police helicopters a routine source of movement, adding that it was hampering the use of the choppers for operational purposes.

SUSPENSION OF POLICE VEHICLE TRACKING PROJECT
As if these usurpation and interference in Police functions were not enough, the Ministry of Police Affairs, a fortnight ago, also issued a statement ordering the cancellation of an innovative crime- fighting project, the Vehicle Tracking System developed by the Police to contain increasing rate of car snatching incidents in the country.

The IGP,  in company of the Police management team, had while launching the tracking system, explained that it was a breakthrough since previous attempts at using vendors and contractors had failed the police hence the new initiative took all the lapses of the past into consideration.

Surprisingly,  a statement entitled ‘Suspension of Police Vehicle Tracking Project’, came up a few days later saying, “The attention of the Honorable Minister of Police Affairs has been drawn to the recent public launching of a Public Partnership Project on Vehicle Tracking with the United Bank for Africa by the Inspector_General of Police, Mr. Ogbonna Onovo.”

“While the initiative is commendable, it has been noted that its implementation has implications for the general public that are required to pay (N500) for the services rendered which requires the approval of the Federal Executive Council.

“In view of this and the reactions the launching has generated up to the level of the National Assembly, the Minister has directed that further action on the project be suspended to enable appropriate administrative action to be taken in line with the policy of the Federal Government on Public Private Partnership projects”.

The implication of the action of the Minister, according to  policemen who spoke to  Crime Alert, is that the IGP is being portrayed as someone who has lost his operational control over officers and men as the minister mostly now give directives on how the police are run.

DIVERSION OF POLICE FUNDS
These startling revelations are just a tip of the iceberg when juxtaposed with what some ministry officials in Abuja called “the lopsided nature of funding the Police Force’ in Nigeria. The shocking tale showed that while almost all the security agencies in the country are been funded directly from the Federal Government coffers that of the Police Force has for long  been tied to the apron strings of the Ministry of Police Affairs.  The far-reaching implications and damaging effects are as myriad as they are multifarious.  The hackneyed policy has consistently ensured that all the funds meant for the improvement of the Force have been going through a perfectly crafted but dastard procedure and sequence, hatched and supervised by the Police Affairs Ministry to the grave detriment of the improvement of the Police Force.

NDLEA CONNECTION
Worse still, indications emerged that the face-off between  Lame and Onovo is a backlash from the days when Onovo was the Chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA). Then, Lame was the Special Assistant to the President on Narcotics and Drugs.  Sources said the duo disagreed sharply over the disbursement of funds from the United Nations totallling over $3 billion.


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