Police Partisanship: Bad Omen For 2015 General Elections And The Survival Of Democracy In Nigeria
Text of a Press Conference by NOPRIN Foundation on Wednesday, November 26, 2014
NOPRIN is a network of 46 civil society organisations spread across Nigeria and committed to promoting police accountability and respect for human rights.
NOPRIN is seriously concerned about recent developments in Nigeria which diminish the prospects of the likely conduct of peaceful and credible elections come 2015.INCREASING POLITICAL INTOLERANCE AND DESPERATION, POLICE PARTISANSHIP AND RETURN TO AUTHORITARIAN TACTICS: These deleterious developments constitute grave threats to socio-economic and political stability and the survival of Nigeria’s fragile democracy.
NOPRIN is particularly worried about the serial egregious assaults on constitutionalism and the rule of law and the brazen partisanship and excesses of the police and other security agencies.
As we approach the 2015 elections, and if they must hold, we see it as a point of duty to sound a note of warning about the dangers inherent in the increasing intolerance and political desperation which currently characterise political contestations. These acts of intollerance and desperation are more manifest in the use of the police and other security agencies as willing tools in the hands of the Presidency and key members of the ruling party- PDP to continuously harass, hound and intimidate political opposition and to stifle basic freedoms guaranteed under Nigerian laws. Stretched beyond elections, there is a clear and present danger to the survival of our hard-won democracy.
The primary reasons that the police exist are to serve and protect the citizens from whose taxes they are paid and maintained. But recent activities of the Nigerian police, and sometimes, the SSS- from Rivers, to Edo to Ekiti and now, Abuja and then, Lagos, subvert the rule of law, undermine democracy and create the enabling environment for chaos and social instability.
Show of Shame at the National Assembly And Other Acts of State Bringandry
The deployment of the police and State Security Service to invade the National Assembly in a Gestapo fashion, after the public outrage that greeted the earlier withdrawal of the Speaker’s police details, is a clear exhibition of this government’s contempt for the rule of law in its desperation to remain in power. It is also a further evidence of its insensitivity to public opinion. It was clearly an act of chichanery for the President to have requested the Speaker to reconvene the House from recess to consider an urgent matter bordering on security only for the same President to lay ambush for the Speaker by deploying security agents to besiege the National Assembly, block the entrance to the gate and deny the Speaker and other House of Representatives members access to their Chambers – in a bid to impeach the Speaker by any means possible. It is shocking that the President could go to this extent of playing politics with the security of citizens, using the pretext of requesting the legislators to reconvene and urgently consider and approve his proposed extension, for the third time, of the emergency rule in the three states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe.
While the dust raised by the show of shame at the National Assembly on Thursday November 20, 2014 was yet to settle, we were treated to yet another embarrassing act of state sponsored terrorism using the instrumentality of the self-same security agencies.
On Saturday November 22, 2014 operatives of the State Security Service and soldiers, stormed the opposition All Progressives Congress Party’s data centre in Lagos and ransacked the data centre, carted away items and arrested some data agents and security guards. The explanations offered by the security agencies and the authorities that sent them sounded very puerile, spurious and implausible. All evidence point to a clearly damned act of political desperation and victimisation of the opposition by the government.
Prior to all of the above, the same Nigeria police provided security cover for the Ekiti absurdity whereby 7 out of 26 legislators of Ekiti House of Assembly who recently defected to the ruling PDP from the opposition APC purported to have impeached the House of Assembly Speaker. This brazen constitutional breach was masterminded and coordinated by the lawless and brash Ayo Fayose the recently sworn in Governor of Ekiti State. Fayose’s conducts before and after he was sworn in as governor leave much to be desired of a leader in a civilsed and democratic clime.
Presidential endorsement of state banditary
More worrisome is the fact that President Jonathan, who is the operational head of the Nigeria Police Force (a constitutional aberration), has repeatedly demonstrated, in speech and action, his endorsement of these acts of banditry and impunity by the police, state security service and leading members of his party.
Clearly, this government is desperately and steadily moving along the high way of full blown dictatorship with the police and SSS as enforcement squads for the repression of opposition. Mr. Presidents’ body language and the utterances by his spokespersons tell it all. This is an unfortunate draw back to the dark days of military tyranny which Nigerians fought and defeated at great cost.
We recall that in what could either be a crass display of tactlessness or a disdainful display of insensitivity to public opinion, President Jonathan chose to confirm Mr. Suleiman Abba, then Acting Inspector General of Police (IGP), as substantive IGP in the same week that Mr. Suleiman unjustifiably withdrew police protection from Aminu Tambuwal, Speaker of the House of Representatives. The IGP, in a display of loyalty to his political master, rather than to the law, ascribed to himself powers he does not have. Without any pretence at veiling his partisanship, the IGP went beyond his legal and professional boundry by usurping the role and powers of the judiciary to interpret the constitution and then proceeded to pronounce and enforce punishment on the speaker. He withdrew the police details attached to the Speaker because the Speaker defected from the PDP to APC. And the President, in a clear gesture and typical character of rewarding police partisanship and incompetence, confirmed Mr. Suleiman Abba as substantive IGP, without regard to overwhelmingly disapproving and dissenting public opinion.
If we are scandalised that the Presidency could approve and justify the withdrawal of the Speaker’s police details, then our conscience remains even the more outraged by the approval by this same Presidency of massive official security escort for Ali Modu Sherrif, the former Governor of Borno State who is suspected to be a key Boko Haram sponsor.
Personal Interest Versus National Interest: Uncertainties Over 2015 General Elections And The Survival of Democracy in Nigeria
Deploying such a large contingent of policemen to the National Assembly, as was witnessed on November 20, just to achieve a self-serving partisan objective, when the country is plagued by high level insecurity is indicative of what this government considers as priority.
The role of the security agencies in attempting to deny the Speaker, Mr. Aminu Tambuwal, access to the House Chambers is very shameful, embarrassing and the height of partisanship unbecoming of law enforcement agencies in a democracy.
If the Speaker was considered to have offended the law, the same law also stipulates the procedures for his removal- if that is warranted.
We wish to reiterate, for the umpteenth time, and for the purpose of emphasis, that neither the Inspector General of Police nor any other security authority for that matter is in any lawful position to interpret the constitution, decide when and if the Speaker is no longer the speaker and then go ahead to strip him of his privileges or deny him access to the chambers where he was to preside over an emergency meeting summoned, at the behest of the President, to decide on an urgent issue of national importance- security.
For President Jonathan and his security Chiefs, they have demonstrated once again, that the political interest and survival of the President is prioritised over and above the security, wellbeing and survival of the generality of Nigerians.
A paradox of performance
These same Nigeria police personnel who have proved very capable at harassing and intimidating opposition and exploiting ordinary law abiding citizens have proved grossly incompetent when it comes to professional police duties. It is the same federal government that deliberately denies them the funding, training, equipment and motivation which they require to effectively discharge their professional functions and operations that still uses them to do their dirty jobs which are outside their constitutional and operational mandate.
This week, a Federal High Court in Abuja was reported to have struck out a 2-count terrorism charge against Aminu Ogwuche, the alleged mastermind of Nyanya bombing in Abuja. Ogwuche was freed after months of trial for the April 2014 attack which killed more than 70 people. The Court struck out the charges due to lack of diligent prosecution by the state. This was after all the noise accompanying Ogwuche’s arrest. The police failed in their primary duty to effectively prosecute and secure the conviction of a suspected terrorist. It would appear then that the police, unable to prevent crime, resort to committing crime.
The National Assembly Should now Commence a Constitutional Amendment to Insulate the Police From Political Control
It cannot be overemphasised that the brutal police assault on the Speaker and other members of the House of Representatives and the unwarranted use of tear gas to disperse them and disrupt the house proceedings is not only unjustifiable but a patent display of partisanship.
This is not the first time a Nigerian President would send the IGP on an illegal and partisan mission to harass leaders and members of a separate, equal and independent arm of government. In 2000, under President Obasanjo, the IGP invaded the official residence of the Senate President, late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo for defending the independence and integrity of the Senate. Under Obasanjo still, the police were also used to abduct a sitting governor in an illegal attempt to remove him from office for standing up to an imperial President.
I dare say that this blatant display of partisanship by the police at the National Assembly has once more brought sharply to the fore the danger inherent in centralising both policy and operational control of the police in the hands of the president. Nigeria is the only jurisdiction where the President holds absolute control of the police and easily manipulates them to achieve his political interest and advantage. The extant legal framework ensures that the NPF remains partisan and accountable only to the president who appoints and can, at will, fire the IGP. This, not only destroys police professionalism and effectiveness, but also undermines the principle of separation of powers.
CALL ON THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY
1. These recent developments clearly indicate how much threat the police pose to 2015 and democracy. The only way to prevent this threat is for the National Assembly to now, support and pass into law, civil society’s bill presented since 2006 for the amendment of the Police Act and relevant sections of the Constitution to, among others, remove operational control from the president and make the police accountable to multiple constituencies.These same Nigeria police personnel who have proved very capable at harassing and intimidating opposition and exploiting ordinary law abiding citizens have proved grossly incompetent when it comes to professional police duties. It is the same federal government that deliberately denies them the funding, training, equipment and motivation which they require to effectively discharge their professional functions and operations that still uses them to do their dirty jobs which are outside their constitutional and operational mandate.
CALLS ON THE PRESIDENT AND IGP
2. NOPRIN calls on President Jonathan to exercise restraint, prioritise national security and the progress and development of Nigeria over his personal political ambition. He needs to demonstrate a modicum of sensitivity, beyond rhetoric, that he is genuinely concerned and perturbed by the plight of millions of Nigerians who are maimed, killed and/or displaced on daily basis by insecurity.
3. The President must imbibe tolerance and other democratic principles and stop deploying security agencies as instruments of harassment, intimidation and oppression against citizens and political opponents
4. The President should allow security agencies to serve the interest of Nigerians and not the interest of an individual or of a narrow group. The president should therefore, restrain the police and the SSS and ensure that they stay out of politics.
5. The police must stay out of polics but support democracy rather than undermine it by subverting the rule of law which protects democracy.
6. The police should protect Nigerians against insecurity and not constitute a threat to security.