By Donu Kogbara
There have, in recent days, been nationwide rallies and social media campaigns both for and against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, a branch of the Police Force.
SARS looms especially large in my home state, Rivers, which is always more politically polarized than any other state in the Nigerian Federation.
Supporters of the PDP Governor, Nyesom Wike, have accused SARS of multiple crimes, including murder and electoral fraud, and called for the squad to be scrapped.
Meanwhile, Wike’s opponents – supporters of APC stalwart and former Governor, Rotimi Amaechi – insist that SARS is doing a great job and should be left alone.
One of the stars of this toxic drama is Akin Fakorede, the increasingly famous SARS boss in Rivers State. Fakorede has fans who want him to stay put and detractors who are furiously demanding his dismissal and prosecution.
I have not done any research into Fakorede’s activities, so have no idea whether he is guilty or innocent. But I feel very strongly that when senior law enforcers become so controversial within a particular context, they should be transferred.
When Amaechi was the Governor of Rivers State, he felt oppressed by Joseph Mbu, the Police Commissioner at the time. Mbu was said to be close to Amaechi’s presidential enemies during the run-up to the 2015 election…and to be following a script that was focused on humiliating and disempowering Amaechi.
Mbu of course denied the political bias allegations that were directed at him and said that he was just doing his job and not helping any one faction. According to him, he wasn’t ready to be anyone’s lackey.
Whether one believed Mbu or not, he became too central and visible a player in the conflict between the Governor and those who sought to mess him up. And I recommended at the time that he should be transferred to another state.
I feel the same way about Fakorede now. I don’t know him or have anything against him. And it’s possible that if I ever meet him, we will get on like a house on fire. But it really doesn’t matter whether he is good or bad or a bit of both (like most human beings). What matters is that he has become the story.
His name frequently features in lurid headlines. Many people suspect him of not being neutral and of being chronically compromised and of not being capable of delivering even-handed treatment to all of the political groups in Rivers State.
Even if these accusations are false and unjust, Fakorede needs to move on and be replaced by someone who generates fewer suspicions and allegations and headlines.
Last week on this page, I said that I hoped that Prince Uche Secondus, a family friend, would be elected as the Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP, Chairman.
A Vanguard reader called Usman Abudah (08023397100) was so incensed by my pro-Secondus write-up that he sent me the following text messages:
I suggest to the Editor to please take the trouble to check the kind of items columnists present. You nearly caused me headache with that unethical usage. Please be advised not to abuse the freedom given you by the paper. Did Uncle Sam [Vanguard Publisher] see that bit or approve its usage? Please watch it and never misuse your column in future. I have an option to stop buying Vanguard.
Dear Donu, your column was grossly and unprofessionally utilised with your piece on Secondus. You could as well take a full page to campaign for him rather than abusing the column of the Vanguard. You are lucky that I am not the publisher or majority shareholder. I would have sacked you. You have reduced the reputation of Vanguard in the estimation of thousands of responsible readers.
While conceding that it is a free world and that readers have every right to be irritated or angered by some or all of the contents of this page, I feel that Mr Abudah has been very unfair to me and my superiors (my Editor and Publisher).
Columnists are not morally obliged to sit on the fence or professionally obliged to bend over backwards to be objective and dispassionate. We are not news reporters who are required to provide impartial coverage of current affairs.
Individuals become columnists precisely because they are opinionated by nature. And, sure, opinionated individuals can be annoying; but they have their uses and are hired by print and broadcast media outlets to liven things up and say/ write stuff that stimulates debate, provokes thought or inspires emotional responses.
Columnists are, if you ask me, not supposed to be bland and are entitled to comment subjectively about any issue under the sun and to support (or criticise!) anyone or anything we regard as worthy of support or criticism.
As it so happens, my piece on Secondus was pretty short and didn’t wax lyrical at great length about his strengths. But even if I had filled this entire space with lavish compliments, so what? One of the perks of this job is that you can occasionally praise, in public, living or dearly departed chums and relatives!
Anyway, I didn’t seek or receive any payment from Prince Uche Secondus and he didn’t ask me to endorse him and I doubt that the PDP Convention delegates who had the power to elect or reject him were influenced by my soppy sisterly endorsement. And I will be surprised if “thousands of responsible readers” share Abudah’s view that I have undermined the reputation of this newspaper.
And Secondus won. And I’m glad.