Dangers of Partisanship of the Nigerian Police, ByJibrin Ibrahim

Jibrin-Ibrahim 600Power is deceitful and often, people in power think they can do anything they want to do. It was the French philosopher, Rousseau, who warned that even the strongest is not strong enough to remain master except if they can turn force into law and obedience into duty. We live in a Nigeria where the police, the major agent of the rule of law is engaged in reckless harassment of people they perceive to be the enemies of the President. On third November, they even had the effrontery to invade the Kano State Governor’s Lodge to disrupt the discussions the G7 Governors were engaged with. They have consistently harassed the Rivers State Governor and even prevented his free movement in the state where he is supposed to be the chief security officer. In addition, the Police Commissioner of the State has made a point of being rude and abusive to the Governor and demands to remove the said Commissioner have been ignored. The police even attempted to stop former Governor Goje from entering Gombe on the grounds that he had too many supporters following him.
The police appear to be systematically impeding the process of political organisation by the opposition while aiding and abetting that of the PDP led Governments. By so doing, they are fast losing their neutrality. The fear today is that we are witnessing the dress rehearsal in the use of the police as a repressive tool to distort the 2015 elections. No wonder the G7 Governors had to describe the police as the armed wing of the PDP.
The involvement and employment of the police in conducting partisan elections will politicize the force and make them lose credibility in the eyes of Nigerians. It will destabilize the efforts to professionalise the police force. The police authorities must rise to the challenge of refusing to be used as punitive and repressive tools of the ruling political party. The impact of partisan intervention or non-intervention by the police can be destructive on our democracy.
This weekend, President Goodluck Jonathan declared in Guinea Bissau that the era of military intervention in politics in Africa is over. We live in a continent where “it is fashionable for the military to embrace the protection, preservation and total respect for constitutional order and democracy.” The President is absolutely correct. For law enforcement agencies to continue to play their constitutional role however, it is imperative that they are not used in a partisan manner. Once they are pushed into partisanship, they lose their neutrality and can easily become actors in the political game. Those in power should avoid playing with fire.
The fact of the matter is that the Nigeria police face a political and constitutional dilemma because of the constitutional provisions, which place the control of the police on the shoulders of an elected executive president who is also the leader of his political party. Section 215 of the 1999 Constitution gives powers to the president, acting on the advice of the Nigeria Police Council to appoint the Inspector General of Police (IGP). Under sub-section 3 of section 215 of the Constitution, the president is also empowered to give lawful directives with respect to the maintenance of law and order to the Inspector General of Police and he shall comply or cause them to be complied with. There is an equivalent provision in section 215 (4), which creates such relationship between a State Governor and a Commissioner of Police but this is today disregarded, at least for Governors that are in the opposition.
Our challenge is that the constitutional framework we have makes it possible, at least in practice, for the President to give an unlawful directive
to the police regarding public safety or public order and the Inspector General of
Police, who is employed him and has power to dismiss him is likely to obey. More likely, we may be witnessing the leadership of the police going out of their constitutional role to please a President to whom they feel grateful for their appointment. Whatever the situation, we cannot grow and consolidate our democracy if we do not develop a non-partisan police system.
During the First Republic, the NPC regime of Tafawa Balewa declared a State of Emergency in the Western Region to give the police full “freedom” to harass the opposition. In the North, the Native Authority Police was used as an instrument to harass and intimidate the opposition and these practices played a major role in eroding the legitimacy of the democratic order leading to regime collapse. During the Second Republic, the police were also used to intimidate the leadership of the opposition states and state police commissioners acted as if they were alternate governors posted to impose the “federal might”. This created a huge political anomaly as state governors are supposed to be in charge of peace, security, law and order in their states.
It is easy for the President to abuse his powers through using the police for partisan political interference but the result is that the whole system becomes discredited and prone to collapse. This is why Presidents must be very careful about how they deploy powers available to them in ways that are not compatible with the rule of law. The Police Act is clear that the function of the police is to maintain law and order in a non-partisan manner.
We all have an interest in deepening democracy and consolidating the Fourth Republic. Using the police correctly is a key element in this regard. The relationship between the police and elected public officers must be clearly in conformity with the principles of the rule of law. The loyalty of the police must be to the country and not to the serving President. The President appoints the IGP, but the mode of appointment notwithstanding, it is imperative that the police should be loyal only to the Nigerian state and the people and not to the transient functionaries that appoint them. Regardless of the manner of appointment, the IG and his subordinates need to develop a democratic and republican attitude to their duties as officers of the law and not agents of the person that appointed them.

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