By Owei Lakemfa
THERE are people you meet who not only leave a lasting impression on you but also change your perspectives on issues or particular institutions. I had a cynical view of the Nigeria Police Force, NPF, until I met Yomi Onashile. I was from 1990-92, Secretary of Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, B Zone which comprised the states of the old Western Region.
The Zone organised a workshop for journalists on drugs. Onashile represented the Inspector General of Police, IGP, at the workshop and he presented such a brilliant paper and in so captivating a manner, that some of my colleagues asked if I was sure he was a police officer. That evening, I sat down with him at the bar and we had a long discussion on policing locally and internationally.
He convinced me that the Nigerian policeman was not inferior to his international counterparts except for poor leadership, under funding, nepotism and politicisation.
He thought if these were addressed and re-orientation carried out, the country would have the police it deserves. I was particularly fascinated about his exposé on the INTERPOL and how Nigeria police officers excel in international trainings and engagements.
However, what I had not averted my mind to was his argument that to truly position the NPF, depoliticise it and make it responsible to the citizenry, the IGP should not be a police man. He mentioned as possible candidates, principled and independent people like Gani Fawehinmi who knew the law, are human rights activists and could not be compromised.
A quarter of a century later, Onashile’s persuasive arguments were the basis of the July 11, 2016 column I wrote titled: ‘The IGP need not be a policeman’. One of my arguments was that the appointment of a new IGP leads to a very high rate of attrition in the officer corps as all those senior to the new appointee are forced to retire no matter how brilliant or productive they were.
I pointed out that the June 2016 appointment of Ibrahim Kpotun Idris, an Assistant Inspector General, AIG as the Acting IGP led to the compulsory retirement of six Deputy Inspector Generals and 21 AIGs.
I argued that since the position of the IGP is essentially a political appointment, the police can be insulated from it if he is appointed from outside the force, so the police becomes like the Civil Service, essentially a career structure terminating at a position like a Permanent Secretary. So the DIGs can be like Permanent Secretaries.
I argued that since the basic functions of the police are to preserve and enforce law and order, and protect life and property, the job of the IGP is supervisory or administrative, not operational. This function, a retired judge, conscientious Senior Advocate of Nigeria or intellectual can perform creditably.
These submissions are also in line with my position that the police should not be a ‘force’ but a civil agency run by local, state and the federal governments. Although I heard most of these arguments from Onashile some 25 years before, it sparked heated debate and seemed too radical.
One of the structured responses to my column was from former IGP Sunday Ehindero who said he read my “tendentious” piece with “disbelief”. In dismissing my arguments, he made an allusion that if the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, must be a judge, the IGP must also be a policeman.
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Today, five years after, I can respond to Mr. Ehindero that just as the IGP need not be a policeman, so should the Chief Justice not necessarily be a judge. In fact, one of the most famous CJNs in Nigerian history, Professor Taslim Olawale Elias who was appointed Chief Justice in 1972 was never a judge. Interestingly, after the July 1975 coup that removed the Gowon government that appointed Elias, the United Nations appointed him into the International Court of Justice, IJC and in 1982, he became the President of the IJC.
It was not surprising to me that despite his brilliance, high education, being an uncommon finger print expert and deep knowledge of INTERPOL, Onashile did not make it beyond the rank of Commissioner of Police, CP, before retirement. I never met Onashile again after our unforgettable encounter in the early 1990s. Unfortunately, I will never meet him again because on Saturday, January 30, 2021, he became one more victim of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Coincidentally, two days after Onashile passed, IGP Mohammed Abubakar Adamu became statutorily eligible for retirement in line with the public service regulations and in accordance with Clause 18 (8) of the Nigeria Police Act, 2020. That Clause stipulates that: “Every police officer shall, on recruitment or appointment, serve in the Nigeria Police Force for a period of 35 years or until he attains the age of 60 years, whichever is earlier.”
Adamu was recruited into the NPF on February 1,1986. But 35 years later, on February 1, 2021, Adamu who legally was no longer a policeman, refused or declined to leave. As the chief law enforcer of the country, the IGP is expected to obey, not break the law. So, in order not to be a law breaker, Adamu should have quit office honourably and handed over to the most senior DIG. But he not only stayed put in office expecting President Muhammadu Buhari to endorse and extend his illegal stay, but publicly went to the airport to salute the President on his return from Daura.
Meanwhile, his public relations machinery was being oiled to campaign for his retention contrary to the law. In an international television network, Lawrence Alobi, a retired CP after listing non-tangible and unsubstantiated ‘successes’ of Adamu, claimed that all will be lost unless the latter is allowed to remain in office contrary to the law. In a disingenuous and insulting argument, he paraphrased Jesus Christ that the law is made for man, not man for the law.
So, to Alobi, Adamu does not need to obey the country’s law on his status as a retired police officer nor does President Buhari have to respect the Police Act he signed just four months ago, in September, 2020. Acting the poorly written Nollywood-like script, President Buhari has extended Adamu’s tenure by three months. This is at the first instance.
Who knows, at the pleasure of Mr. President, he can continue to extend the tenure of a man who in the eyes of the law, is no longer in the NPF. Only in monarchies can the king or prince do as he pleases, but in a democracy, the country can only be governed based on the constitution and laws. Laws are made to be obeyed not to be side- tracked, observed in the breach or trampled upon.