BY Charles Kumolu,
A retired Police Commissioner, who served in Lagos State among others, Abubakar Tsav, in this interview, traces the rivalry between the Army and police to military rule, saying the powers of the police were appropriated by the military after the January 15, 1966 coup. He also offers solutions to the age-long bitterness between the two security agencies.
The recent killing of three policemen by soldiers was not the first time members of the two security agencies were clashing. What is the problem between the police and the Army?
These agencies are working for the success of the same government but there is rivalry among them. Each unit feels it is better than another unit. The Army thinks it is superior to the police. The police also feel they are superior to the Army. Before January 15, 1966, coup, which was the beginning of military incursion into politics, the police had more authority than soldiers. I joined the police before the first military coup and soldiers were taking instructions from the police. Whenever anything happened, they came to the police because we had more authority under the law and we had more responsibilities. Suddenly, when the military toppled the government of the federation, they divested the police of all its powers and arrogated it to themselves. It was from that moment that they started intimidating the police. No matter anybody’s rank in the police, the military men think they are superior to that person. Sometimes, female military officers do not even give compliments to a senior police officer. That was not the case when I joined the police.
Having traced the origin of the crisis to the military incursion in politics, how can its recurrence be stopped?
All the forces should unite and achieve common goals. If there is no law uniting all the forces, it is high time the National Assembly enacted a law so that there would no longer be rivalries. What we have is like a situation where so many wives are married to one man, with each one trying to please the man so that the man would see the other wives as bad. In some local areas, military personnel call policemen women who are not capable of performing their duties. They even get the honour and respect more than the police. If the police arrive anywhere the military mounted a roadblock, the Army personnel should give the police the right of way as soon as they identify themselves. The military is also to assist the police when they are in trouble without seeking any clearance but it is not so in Nigeria. Corruption is one of the reasons responsible.
Can you explain the relationship between corruption and the rivalry between the police and the Army?
When the police are doing their job and there is a need for the military to come in, the police would think the military would stop them from taking bribes. Similarly, whenever soldiers take over the job of the police, they claim to be superior to the police. The National Assembly should make a law to strengthen areas of cooperation among all our security agencies. They all should be accorded respect according to their ranks.
The impression of the public is that the Army occupies the top in the pyramid of security agencies. Is there any law that says the Army is higher than any other security agency?
This problem started when the Army took over in 1966, they arrogated powers to themselves and felt they were superior in every aspect. That is why sometimes they arrest people and detain them, which ordinarily is the duty of the police. No law made the military superior to the police. In areas of operation, when the police feel they cannot carry out an assignment, they write to the military asking to be assisted. When they take over the situation, the police would now be advising them about the task. Unfortunately, every agency thinks it is superior to others.
What do you make of the claim that the police abdicated their responsibilities for petty pecuniary reasons and indirectly paved the way for soldiers to take over their place in the society?
It is not true. Even with the military incursion into politics, the police still followed due process in carrying out their functions. The police arrest, investigate and charge cases to court but soldiers assault people as soon as they arrest them. They introduced instant justice and people thought it was the right thing to do. That kind of situation made many Nigerians believe more in the military. During the civil war, soldiers did whatever they liked and officers could not correct them. They still have the mentality to date. It is an unfortunate situation. When the proliferation of arms was just starting, we told the police to perform their duties but nothing was done. Today, there are many arms in the wrong hands. At the time, we knew certain politicians who were arming youths and we gave instructions but nobody listened. The Commissioners of Police were loyal to governors. So they could not do anything. It is the failure of the police to stop the proliferation of arms that made most places unsafe. When I was an Inspector of Police in Lagos, one Emmanuel Olawale was the Commissioner of Police. The man was not educated but he was a good officer. At the time, he could mark out an area and ask the police to search the houses and we did that and were able to reduce crime in Lagos. Now, people are more interested in money for the acquisition of properties which they would die and leave behind.