August 13, 2009

Challenges before Onovo

By Magnus Eze

FOR Ogbonna Okechukwu Onovo, his appointment as Acting Inspector General of Police July 22 and subsequent confirmation by the Nigeria Police Council, August 4, capture the age-long saying, that “the patient dog eats the fattest bone”.

Onovo had previously acted, though briefly, as IG of the Nigeria Police Force in 2007, before he was replaced by the last IGP, Mike Okiro. He holds the record of having served three IGPs as a Deputy Inspector General. Even at that he was said to have been faithful and diligent, believing, as it were, that one day he would be rewarded for loyalty and consistency.

So, on July 22, the jinx was actually broken, making him the first of Igbo extraction to attain such a height in the Force, since the civil war ended in 1970.

Regrettably, Onovo’s appointment was almost marred by political and ethnic considerations. Before this period, ethnic considerations and personal loyalty were the major criteria for the most senior appointments in the Police in the past, the result of which was an inefficient and corrupt Police Force.

Little wonder ethnic bigots and politicians reduced the appointment of Okiro’s successor to a mere political issue; making the entire process seem like the usual Nigerian thing; whereby where you hail from and who you know determine your fate.

It was indeed saddening that the campaigners invaded the media and desecrated the sanctity of newsrooms; they did not only recruit columnists but succeeded in skewing editorials, cover and lead stories as well as articles in their candidates’ favour.

Interestingly, President Umaru Yar’Adua held tenaciously to his rule of law mantra and refused to be swayed by all those cheap methods and tactics. Mr. President by this singular act has no doubt restored discipline in the Force because seniority and experience could once again count in the Nigeria Police.

In fact, the national acclaim that has continued to trail the appointment of Onovo is a testimony that the President could not have made a better choice. This was also reinforced by the Nigeria Police Council as, according to the Minister of Police Affairs, Alhaji Ibrahim Lame, there was no dissenting voice when the body met last Tuesday to deliberate on the issue.

The new IGP has been variously described in glowing terms. Not a few commentators, particularly within the Force, see him as an upright officer who brooks no truancy or illegality. When the issue of who would replace Okiro raged, Onovo was said to have put his faith in God, insisting that it is only Him who has the power to position any man at His own time.

It was gathered that Onovo had rejected a proposal by a highly placed PDP chieftain from the South East to set up a media team to campaign for him. He had reportedly thanked the man for his concern, but told him that the appointment of IGP was not an ethnic thing, pointing out that when he joined the Force in 1977, he did not have the slightest inkling that he would get to the position of DIG.

That Onovo swarm the murky waters of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) between 1998 and 2000 as Chairman/Chief Executive Officer without being tainted is a pointer that he is a man of character.

Nigerians, who noted that Onovo had shown signs of loyalty and patience, have been applauding his appointment as befitting and well earned, while some others believe that his uprightness and integrity may be the much needed tonic that will transform the Police and restore its lost glory.

And that is the current challenge before Nigeria’s 14th indigenous Inspector General of Police. Generally, the core task facing the new Police boss is how to return the Police to its original duty of crime fighting, security and maintenance of law and order.

Since Onovo assumed office, he has repeatedly reassured Nigerians of his commitment to a crime-free society; as he put it, where they will sleep with two eyes closed.

Informed sources disclosed to this writer that the IGP has mapped out plans to curb crime in the South East, not only because he hails from the region but also because he was the first person from the zone to occupy the office of the IGP.

The spate of armed robbery, kidnapping, militancy, assassinations, extra-judicial killings by police personnel and general insecurity will receive the maximum attention of the Police under Onovo.

Mr. Eze, Director, Centre for Media and Development, writes from Abuja.