By Pini Jason
LAST week, while addressing the 52nd Annual General Meeting of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, President Goodluck Jonathan expressed his opposition to State Police. The President, like every Nigerian, is entitled to his opinion. But in this matter, he is like the chairman of a meeting.
He should have allowed himself to take in all the contributions to the debate before ruling on the matter! The President, I am afraid, spoke too early, and that was what I referred to last week as foreclosing the debate even before it begins!
The President anchored his objection on the same fear of abuse by the state governors. Therefore, he did not advance the debate one bit. But let me refresh the minds of Nigerians a bit. Soon after his “election” as Governor of Anambra State in 2003, Dr. Chris Ngige ran into trouble with Mr. Chris Uba, the erstwhile godfather of Anambra PDP. Ngige was reportedly dragged to Okija shrine with his Bible in his armpit and holy water in the pocket.
Undated letter of resignation
He was kicked and slapped around and forced to sign an undated letter of resignation! These humiliations did not mellow the goateed stubborn Ngige. One day, in July 2003, Assistant Inspector General of Police Raphael Ige drove to Awka, the capital of Anambra, all the way from his base in Umuahia, with about 300 police men, disarmed Ngige’s orderlies and informed Ngige that he was no longer Governor because he had resigned! The AIG proceeded to arrest him and detained him while his deputy was sworn in as Governor! Ngige was fortuitously saved and restored as Governor.
In another instance of recklessness, Chris Uba’s convoy allegedly ran Ngige’s out of the road! Chris Uba, a private citizen, it must be recalled, moved about with almost a battalion of police escorts! At a later date, Nigeria police watched like amused children as hooligans trashed Government buildings in Awka and Onitsha!
When Governor Peter Obi was “impeached” the renegades were escorted by Nigeria police to their hideout in Asaba in the middle of the night from where they carried out their act of political infamy. All the above abuses were believed to have been orchestrated by political forces in Abuja!
The evidences adduced at the Supreme Court by Gen Muhammadu Buhari in 2003 and 2007 during the Presidential Election Tribunals were replete with the complicity of the Nigeria Police in the alleged rigging of the elections by apostles of “do-or-die” politics. Even the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua admitted that the 2007 election that brought him to office was flawed, an obvious euphemism for scandalous rigging!
I recall all these, not really to dismiss the fear that governors could abuse state police, but to point out that we already have a culprit in the Federal Government. So when the President quickly weighs in against state police, it raises a suspicion that those at Abuja who use the Federal police for unconstitutional ends may be afraid of a counter-balancing force in the states!
Let us even accept that the fear of abuse of state police by governors is a possibility. But my question is should the nation be scared off an action that has more merits than demerits simply on account of the fear of abuse? If state police is an action that can help us stem insecurity in the land, are there no ways we can overcome the fear and get on with it? Is there any medicine without side effects?
Do we abandon taking the necessary medicine because of the side effects? Every discovery, advancement or invention in this world owes its emergence to a search for an answer or solution to a problem. We lose an opportunity for advancement every time we are scared of a problem. So if the abuse by governors is the problem, let us find a solution to that instead of being scared by it.
Fears of abuse
I am happy that a few people are looking beyond the fears of abuse by governors and are suggesting ways of avoiding such abuse. The Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Senator Mohammed Sani was reported to have called for the impeachment of any governor who abused the use of state police (Daily Nation August 30, 2012, page 7).
Indeed, a governor could be made to win or lose election based on how he uses state police. Writing in Daily Nation of August 31, 2012, page 20), Mr Adebanjo Saheed, among many solutions, suggested that “we may as well relieve the state police of powers over election matters”.
Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State, speaking at the Yoruba Assembly last week (I won’t be surprised if some people see the Assembly as a secessionist move), supported the call for state police “as long as there were laws guiding the operations of state police”. There are more options we could interrogate, such as: who controls the state police, the governor or a neutral body whose head is elected by the people?
Professor Chidi Odinkalu, Chairman of National Human Rights Commission, last week in a television discussion made a very poignant observation. Before we delve into the need of state police, he said, we must first ask what type of police we want.
In my view, we should even first ask: This country that we fear could break up if we establish state police, what type of country should it be? What values should that country deliver to the citizens? I think the type of police we want should derive from the type of country we want. I am thinking of a country that secures the life and property of its citizens and provides jobs for the youths.
Devolution of powers
Right now, while we fret at every suggestion for devolution of powers, the country is degenerating, corruption is more entrenched, we are overwhelmed by insecurity, the economy is shrinking and unemployment is estimated at 24 percent! These pose greater danger to the stability of the country than state police. My interest in state police is that we shall be killing two birds with one stone; we will provide jobs and enhance security.
Finally, those who argue that states that were finding it difficult to pay the minimum wage could not possibly afford state police are wrong. As I said last week, it should not be compulsory that every state must have state police if they cannot afford it.
First, the Federal Government had no business in a Federal State, to fix minimum wage for the states and local governments. Secondly corruption is what stands between various governments and the ability to pay a minimum wage of N60,000!
Is it not from the same states we read of embezzlement of billions everyday? Was it not from a state that a Governor allegedly bribed a Federal agency with millions of dollars?
Nigeria is probably the most irresponsible nation on earth in the mismanagement of her resources! Are governors not already spending enough to fund state police in supporting police commands in their states and yet not getting value for money? We should review the revenue allocation formula to give more money to the states.
Cede the creation and administration of local governments to states. Let the states assume more responsibilities for their citizens and there will be less money to steal!
Godson Offoaro and Ogbonna Ama
ON Wednesday August 22, 2012, we had arrived Abuja airport after flight delays which are very frequent nowadays. As I was waiting for my checked bag, I saw my very good friend Godson Offoaro, a columnist of Daily Sun, sprawling on the seat, restless and ashen.
His shirt buttons were undone. I thought he was exhausted by the trauma of air travel. As we were leaving the arrival hall, I walked up to him. He barely recognised me!
What is the matter? I asked. He motioned with his hand towards his chest. I could not hear what he was saying. I told him to see a doctor immediately. Next day, Thursday, 23 August, Godson nwa Offoaro died!
Barely a week after I was stunned by the news of the death of Ogbonna Amadi, the electrifying Entertainment Editor of Vanguard.
This is double tragedy for the media all in a space of one week. May their souls find peace in the Lord! May the Lord comfort their families and the larger media family! Amen.