Okechukwu Nwanguma is the National Coordinator of Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN) , comprising 46 civil society organizations committed to promoting accountability and respect for human rights. He focuses on monitoring, documenting and denouncing abuse of human rights by the police and other law enforcement agencies.
For nearly two decades, Nwanguma has been involved in efforts to reform and strengthen state institutions in Nigeria, particularly the criminal justice system. In 2012, Nwanguma was the civil society liaison for a panel on police reform established by NOPRIN in response to another ineffective police reform committee set up by the government. Between 2008 and 2011, Nwanguma organized public tribunals on police abuse in Nigeria to testify before a panel of eminent Nigerians. For 18 years, he worked for Civil Liberties Organization in Nigeria monitoring, documenting and denouncing human rights abuses in law enforcement. He spoke with Vanguard Crime Reporter, Esther Onyegbula on crimewave in Lagos State, efforts made to reduce it and other related issues. Excerpts:
There are reports that crime wave has abated in Lagos State. What’s your honest assessment?
I have not seen the report but from anecdotal evidence including opinions expressed by most Lagosians and citizens across the country and from reports I read in the media, it’s evident that the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Imohimi Edgal has broken now grounds in crime control in Lagos State.Particularly striking for me is the fact that he’s doing so much and achieving so much without much collateral damage.
He’s mindful of the need to respect and protect human rights. He’s scrupulous in dealing with erring police officers whose conduct may smear the image of the force. Edgal is an exceptional police officer who understands requirements in a modern democracy. He recognizes the imperative of public trust, partnership and accountability in accomplishing the task.
The police cannot succeed without public trust and cooperation. That’s why he engages communities through town hall meetings where complaints against police officers bordering on corruption and abuse are punished. In short, Imohimi Edgal is promoting transparent, accountable and responsible policing in Lagos State. He’s my ideal police officer and I wish other senior police officers in the Nigeria Police Force would emulate him. If a n officer like Imohimi Edgal is at the top leadership of the Nigeria Police Force, a lot would be easier for our policemen, our country and our democracy. Particularly commendable is the positioning of police teams at strategic locations where citizens can reach them for prompt action. Dedicated phone numbers are also available for citizens to make reports to the police with ease and without fear of intimidation.
In what ways can the CP improve the command to make Lagos State safer?
He needs to relentlessly liaise with human rights groups to enlighten police officers in Lagos in the community policing process.
Is it remotely possible that the executive arm of the government uses the police to undermine other arms of government?
When the executive arm of government overreaches itself by exerting undue control over security agencies and uses them to harass, intimidate and undermine other arms of government, then it’s a serious cause for concern in a democracy. When security forces are manipulated to frame allegations against heads of other arms of government in a bid to harass, blackmail and attempt to whip them “into line” in the political interest of the president and his political party, then there is serious cause for concern in a democracy. For instance, the siege on the residences of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu on Tuesday, July 24, 2018 are clear acts of abuse of power and sheer brigandage.
Are you concerned by the conduct of security agencies?
We are concerned about actions of security agencies including the Police seeking to confine the Senate leadership to their homes to prevent them from satiating the requirements of their offices which amounts to interference with the functioning of this important arm of government and threatens our democracy. You can then imagine what ordinary Nigerians go through on a daily basis if highly placed and privileged government officials could suffer this level of harassment and intimidation.It’s notable that the Force Public Relations Officer, Jimoh Moshood, denied allegations that the IGP ordered the police invasion and siege on the Senate President’s residence.
We also note his claim that the IGP has ordered investigation into the incident. It will be interesting to know the outcome of the investigation into this unprovoked aggression and clearly unprofessional conduct. It’s safe to conclude that these unconstitutional and anti-democratic tendencies of security agencies were endorsed by President Muhammadu Buhari in whose interest the masterminds purport to act, hence it’s needless to ask him to rein in the various security agencies in their use of state aparatus for partisan purposes.
Don’t you think the police and other security agencies should investigate financial crimes like bribery and money laundering?
While we encourage security agencies to investigate alleged bribery, money laundering or any other crime in the legislature and the judiciary, President Buhari should not give the impression that these ills are peculiar to the other arms of government . Hounding political opponents with security agencies in the guise of fighting corruption is immoral and cowardly.
The president cannot be fighting corruption in the judiciary and legislature while condoning it in the executive and especially, within the Presidency. Nigerians and the international community must take President Buhari up on these issues and also prevail on the Nigerian Police Force to stay out of politics and support democracy.