AIG Suleiman Abba has served his probationary period as acting inspector-general of police. He has earned his stripes. In him his principal is well pleased. So, on the advice of the police council, the president confirmed him in that position on November 4. Abba becomes the third inspector-general of police since Goodluck Jonathan became president in 2010. The high mortality rate in the police force ensures that in the tough business of policing this difficult country, no man is allowed to fossilize in that high office. Fresh blood, fresh faces? Check.
Abba and his friends have good reasons to celebrate his climb up the police totem police. Sadly, they would be doing so with the heavy dust of controversy in their eyes and mouths. Abba is to blame. He kicked up the dust.
I suspected this might happen sooner than later. The clue was in his zeal for the job. In his first public statement shortly after his acting appointment was announced, Abba quite unwisely, in my view, chose to truck with partisan politics. He said that the dastardly attempt on General Muhammadu Buhari’s life was not politically motivated. He provided no empirical proof of this conclusive pronouncement. What is important is that it made a good sound in the right ears. His principals did not fail to notice.
Now, the same zeal has driven the man into a huge pot of okra soup. His decision to withdraw the police aids to the speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, for defecting from the PDP to APC, was both lawless and reckless. It was motivated more by political considerations, than as he claimed, to prevent the breakdown of law and order in the country. If the defections of governors with the entire members of the state houses of assembly (Zamfara, Bauchi, Abia, Ondo) did not threaten law and order how could Tambuwal’s do so?
Abba’s decision was way beyond the constitutional brief of his office but it was not the first an inspector-general of police made such a wrong-headed decision to essentially please those who matter in the corridors of power. The pragmatism of political survival in a high political office imposes on everyone, bar none, the zeal that often drives overzealous men off the beaten track of rational thoughts and actions. In a country of men, not of laws, such as ours, the zeal to please is the authentic measure of loyalty. The problem is that it leads to excesses with unintended consequences.
Abba’s action raises some fundamental issues about the Nigeria Police Force and the nature of policing in the federal republic. The inspector-general of police and other senior police officers in the country believe that they have inherent powers of their office to interpret the law and act in accordance with that interpretation. In its benign sense, this is no more than the human tendency to grab power. It is nothing new among those who have the opportunity to exercise powers over their fellow men and women. But it should not be difficult to see the inherent danger in all such cases of power grab.
Under our laws, there is a check on such possible excesses. There is a clear division of labour in the government. It is the business of parliament to make laws; it is the business of the judiciary to interpret them and it is the business of the execute branch to enforce the law and its judicial interpretation through the instrumentality of the Nigeria Police Force.
This fine and important distinction is somewhat lost on our senior police officers. They believe that their right to make laws and interpret them is a given. Our police stations throughout the land are full of the stark and pathetic evidence of the warped interpretation of laws by the police that ill-serves the cause of justice.
Even if, for the sake of argument, Abba has the powers to interpret the constitution, does he have discretional powers to treat speakers who defected from other parties to PDP differently from those who defected from the PDP to other parties? Abba made a strong case against himself by showing his partisan hands in a matter that does not even invite his intervention.
We too are to blame. We have never given serious thoughts to the nature of our policing. For what the constitution thinks about the Nigeria Police Force, turn to its supplemental list where the NPF is listed with the National Population Census, the Armed Forces and political parties.
Constitutional provisions relating to the Nigeria Police Force are found in sections 214, 215 and 216 of the constitution. The first creates the force; the second creates the office of the inspector-general of police and the mode of his appointment and the third empowers the police council to delegate such responsibilities as it may deem fit to the IG subject to the approval of the president. Under section 215 sub-sections (2) and (3), the president and state governors or their ministers and commissioners so empowered can tell the IG and state commissioners of police what to do. I see nothing in these provisions that explicitly spells out the functions of the police as an important institutional pillar of democracy and the rule of law in our country.
The absence of a properly constitutional defined role of the police and the poor articulation of the nature of our policing tempt our senior police officers to want to fill what they regard as a vacuum. Over the years the powers of the NPF have been systematically chipped away to create other agencies. Its E Branch was lopped off to form first the NSO and now DSS; its power to police our highways was taken from it and given to the Road Safety Commission and its powers to bring criminals to book have been taken away and shared between EFCC and the Code of Conduct Bureau.
The unintended consequence is a police force that has been reduced to doing nothing more than what is known as regime maintenance. It is there to service and keep any government in power in power. So, the IG must be part of the government and a scourge of the opposition. You see, it does not take rocket science to see that senior police officers too know which side of their bread is buttered.