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We were lucky nobody took us to court, Frank Mba speaks on police reforms, SARS’s operations

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The Nigerian Police Force under the new Acting Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu Abubakar is committed to repositioning the force in compliance with the provisions of the law, says new Force Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba.

Fielding questions from a team of journalists on Channels Television Breakfast Show, Sunrise Daily recently, Mba spoke on a wide range of issues including the preparedness of the Police for the 2019 elections, ongoing reforms particularly the re-organization of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, amongst others. The programme was monitored for Saturday Vanguard by our correspondent,  Dirisu Yakubu.

What do we make of the directive by the Acting Inspector General of Police on Federal SARS?

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Mba:  We acknowledge that there are problems and challenges. Things have not gone the way they ought to go. We are determined to make things right and we are determined to do things in the proper perspective.

The kind of reforms that the current Inspector General of Police, IGP wants to do with SARS are not going to be cosmetic reforms. We are not just going to deal with nomenclature issues; we are going to carry out deep-rooted reforms that are designed to make not just SARS operatives but the entire officers and men of the Nigerian Police Force to become citizen-centred in the discharge of their responsibilities.

We want to bequeath to Nigerians a Police Force that is citizen-centred, a Police Force that will be rules-driven and a Police Force that will be rooted in a deep culture of transparency and accountability. Now, going to the issue of SARS re-organization, what the new IGP has done was to restore constitutionality and order.   The issue of returning SARS to the command and control of the Commissioners of Police, CP is actually a constitutional matter.

If you look at Section 215 (3) of the Nigerian Constitution, it provides specifically that the command and control of the police shall be under the Inspector General of Police. However, Police contingents that are based in any state of the federation shall, subject to the command of the IGP, be under the exclusive command of the CP in charge of the states.

It is a misnomer, an aberration for you to have an important arm-bearing unit like SARS in the state and you strip the CP of every form of command and control and every form of supervision on this very important operational unit. Incidentally, some of the SARS offices are even domiciled at the Police headquarters of the state commands.

And yet the CP who is constitutionally recognised as the one that has the command and control, administratively and operationally of the state command has no say in what they do. We were just lucky that no Nigerian actually dragged us to court.

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First of us, what IGP Mohammed Adamu has done is to restore order and constitutionality. Secondly, we are also trying to bring Policing services closer to the people. Imagine a situation where a SARS operative in Yenagoa or somewhere in Bayelsa has misbehaved and the Nigerian whose right has been infringed upon rushes down to the police headquarters in Yenagoa, to the office of the CP, makes his report and the CP throws up his hands up helplessly and says things like, “sorry, there is nothing I can do. I don’t have command and control over them; they are not under me, please rush down to Force Headquarters in Abuja, so that you can make your report.”

That is a misnomer. That is taking services too far from the people. So, what are we doing? We want to bring policing services closer to the people. If a SARS operative misbehaves for example, you can easily walk up to the office of the CP in charge of the state, make your case and the CP is expected to take appropriate disciplinary action.

Thirdly, we intend to restore what we call unity of command and control. The CP cannot be in charge of a state, he is in charge of state CID, he is charge of all the area commands, divisions and yet there is a unit there that he cannot control.

That affects the effective discharge of the responsibility of not just the CP but the entire command. In our policing and investigations, there are moments you need to consolidate cases that are going on in your command. Let’s assume you are the CP in charge of Lagos, a particular case is going on in Yaba and you find out a strand of that particular case is also going in Apapa, and a component of it is also going in Ikeja, because that is the way criminals operate.

Sometimes, they are involved in multiple crimes and the victims of these crimes report these crimes at different Police divisions. Probably, a strand of it is also being handled by the SARS office in the command, the CP should be able to exercise his discretion by directing any of those units handling the cases to consolidate the cases and direct the other units to transfer those cases to the unit that is best positioned to actually deliver.

Is this a step aimed at decentralizing the Nigerian Police Force?

I don’t want to align myself completely with what you’ve just said. However, what we are trying to do now, we believe is in alliance with the yearnings of Nigerians. Nigerians have always called for the decentralization of powers, they have always called for the devolution of powers and most importantly what we are doing is also in tandem with democratic and community policing. The people you are policing ought to be close to the policing institution. The people you are policing ought to have a say in your policing strategy. We don’t want a SARS office that is domiciled in Akure and yet under the absolute control of a Commissioner of Police in Force Headquarters, Abuja. No, that is not proper.

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I want to tell Nigerians one thing. What the acting Inspector General of Police has just done is a tip of the iceberg, a micro of the macro reforms we want to carry out.

We are not doing this work alone; we are going to work with the Presidency, the National Security Adviser, etc.

What would be the role of the new Special Election Investigation Team?

It is an ad-hoc investigation team that has just been set up. Its mandate is going to be a very narrow mandate. It is going to be focused extensively and exclusively on electoral offences; offences that we anticipate maybe, that will be committed in the run-up to elections, during the elections or maybe post elections. As soon as we are done with that, the team will be disbanded. The reason is to ensure effectiveness in the handling, investigation, processing and prosecution of offences that might be committed during the elections.

We do hope that Nigerians won’t commit offences during the elections but we need to plan ahead, we need to be strategic, we need to be forward-thinking and forward-looking. And that’s exactly what we are going to do. This team will be domiciled under the control of the Deputy Inspector General of Police in charge of Force Investigation and Intelligence Department.

And this team will also work directly with or in partnership with the legal department of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC and so it was created to ensure that cases that have to do with electoral offences are handled in the most expedient manner.

During staggered elections, we had high numbers of Policemen seconded to these states, Ekiti and Osun states. Now, we are going to have a general election. We know the President at some point asked the Police to recruit more personnel. How ready are the Nigerian police? Do we have enough men to work during this election?

Let me use this opportunity to assure Nigerians that we are prepared, we are poised to give Nigerians the best ever security arrangement in a general election in Nigeria. We will guarantee a level play field for all political actors. We will ensure that politicians, candidates for the elections, the electorate, election observers and monitors are all given a free, safe and an enabling environment to discharge their respective constitutional rights and functions.

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I will quickly want to let you know also that we will not be doing this alone. There are other sister security agencies that will be joining us in the policing and monitoring of the electoral duties. We expect our colleagues from the Nigeria Civil Defence, Immigration, Customs, Prisons, Federal Road Safety Commission and the rest to be part and parcel of the whole process of policing this election.

If you walk into a polling unit, you may just see a Police officer and an operative from other units but wherever you see a Police officer and operatives from other security agencies; the Police officer irrespective of his rank will be the leader of that team. The Police will continue to maintain its primacy in internal security arrangement, assignment and task.

I want to assure Nigerians that with the complimentary effort of other sister security agencies, we have enough manpower to be able to deliver on this core mandate. And Nigerians have nothing to fear; we are here to ensure that we safeguard lives and properties.

We are here to do the right thing. We will remain professional, impartial and we will provide excellent security service. It is our responsibility to protect the innocent, the weak against the oppression and intimidation by the strong. It is our responsibility to protect the peaceful against the violent and disorderliness of law breakers. It is our responsibility to guarantee at all times the constitutional rights of all Nigerians to equality, liberty and freedom.

At what point does this Special Election Investigation Team earn its duties. Are they the ones to be answerable to election tribunals when the matters get there?

I don’t want to link them with the election tribunals because if you cast your mind to cases that came before election tribunals in the past, they are always politicians coming against other politicians. It is usually one politician suing another politician and joining INEC and other relevant bodies to the suit. The Police certainly will not be involved in such kind of cases.

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Our domain will be exclusively on infractions on the law. If you destroy election materials for example, snatch ballot boxes or you engage in vote buying, or you engage in any other activity that directly infringes on the criminal aspect of the law; that falls within the ambit of our responsibility. It is those areas that we will be looking at.

We will certainly not be party to electoral suits when a candidate is probably seeking an order of the court to either annul an election or seeking an order of the court to invalidate whatever results that have been given.

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