Nigeria: Governors’ misuse of federal police undermines case for state police

By Eniola Akinkuotu

Posted on Thursday, 25 August 2022 16:59
Police officers on horses lead members of the Nigeria Labour Congress during a protest rally on closure of Nigerian Universities at the National Assembly complex in Abuja, Nigeria July 27, 2022. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Ahead of the presidential elections in Nigeria, the three frontline hopefuls – Bola Tinubu, Peter Obi and Atiku Abubakar – have promised to restructure the country and ensure that the policing system is decentralised. However, the misuse of the federal police by governors is beginning to undermine the campaign for state police.

Nigerian journalist and activist, Agba Jalingo, recently took to social media to raise the alarm about the presence of armed men in his Lagos home who he later discovered were policemen. “They have held my wife and my daughter hostage downstairs. I don’t feel safe,” he said.

“I have information that the police were sent from Abuja… I don’t know what I have done again, but I am afraid for my life. They were sent by Franko Ayade. They are trying to force their way in right now,” the frantic publisher of Cross River Watch said on Facebook.

Jalingo was subsequently detained for two days and taken to Abuja, but then released after public outrage. It was later revealed that the journalist was arrested following a petition sent to the police by the sister-in-law of Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State who was upset over a story that had been published on Cross River Watch accusing her of examination malpractice.

Femi Falana, a human rights activist who is also a senior advocate, said “the harassment of Jalingo based on the allegation that he defamed the wife of the brother of a serving governor is the height of official impunity in a democratic society”.

The abuse of state police will be worse in the hands of some governors who already have a bad human rights record

Falana added that since defamation is not a criminal offence, the action of the police was a flagrant breach of Section 8(2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 and Section 32(2) of the Police Establishment Act 2020, which have banned the police from arresting any person in Nigeria for civil wrong or breach of contract.

Earlier, on 22 August 2019, Jalingo was arrested over an article wherein he demanded the whereabouts of the N500m ($1.19m) approved and released for the floating of the Cross River State Microfinance Bank by Governor Ayade. After spending 34 days in police custody, he was arraigned for alleged acts of terrorism, cultism, treasonable felony and attempting to overthrow the state government. He spent 179 days in detention as his bail application was frustrated.

Global rights group, Amnesty International, condemned the development saying: “While Agba Jalingo is detained for his critical opinions, both Cross River and Federal governments are collaborating, through the manipulation of the criminal justice system to keep him behind bars.” The charges were eventually dropped by the Ayade administration.

Umahi vs journalists

In April 2020, Ebonyi State Governor Dave Umahi drew the ire of the union of journalists after ordering the police to detain indefinitely a correspondent from The Sun Nigeria, Chijioke Agwu, over a story on rising cases of Lassa fever, a report which the state government found embarrassing. Umahi banned Agwu and another journalist, Peter Okutu, from covering the Government House and any other government-owned facility in the state.

The governor added that his government could not guarantee the safety of other journalists “who will continue to write negative reports against his government and the state”.

El-Rufai, Wike too

Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State has also come under fire from rights groups for human rights violations and misuse of the federal police.

In 2017, Audu Maikori, an influential music executive who produced popular acts like rapper M.I Abaga, Brymo and Ice Prince, was arrested on the orders of El-Rufai for posting “inciting” tweets alleging the killing of some southern Kaduna students by Fulani herdsmen. Despite deleting and apologising for the tweets, he was arrested in Lagos and then transported to Abuja, even though he was very ill.

Maikori sued the Kaduna State government and the police for the abuse of his fundamental human rights and was awarded a compensation of N40m ($95,238) by the court. Governor El-Rufai appealed the judgement, but the appellate court upheld it and then reduced the compensation.

In Rivers State, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State has also battled allegations of misuse of the federal police. In April 2022, the police arrested federal lawmaker Farah Dagogo who had been declared wanted by Wike for alleged cultism. Dagogo said he was being punished for running for governor on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party against the wishes of Wike. The governor’s preferred candidate, Siminaliayi Fubara, eventually won the primary.

The rights group Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) frowned on the governor for approving such action, describing it as an arbitrary behaviour that should be reversed.

State police is a good idea but will the governors allow the state police to do their job without undue interference?

Most recently, Wike has gone after some politicians loyal to Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the PDP and Uche Secondus, a former chairman of the party. “All of you going to Abuja to hold meetings with our enemies in the state, I’m going to finish you to the last,” said Wike at the inauguration of the Orochiri-Worukwo Flyover.

Policemen have since been occupying properties belonging to some of his political foes. For instance, policemen sealed off Mega Tools Filling Station owned by Atiku supporter and federal lawmaker, Chinyere Igwe, accusing him of oil theft.

The policemen also occupied Priscy’s Lounge, a relaxation spot owned by Jones Ogbonda, a former state lawmaker. What’s more, the officers stormed Preray Hotel, Eagle Island, owned by Atiku supporter, Ikechi Chinda, arresting some staff and guests in the process. Wike claimed that the properties in question were being used for nefarious political activities.

Demand for state police

Currently, Nigeria’s police structure is headed by an Inspector-General of Police (IGP) who reports only to the president. The IGP is the one who deploys commissioners of police to all 36 states and they, in turn, report to him. However, these police commissioners work closely with governors, but are not under compulsion to take orders from a governor. This means that should a governor give an order to a police commissioner, this could be overruled by the IGP.

The demand for state police is part of a campaign for some far-reaching constitutional reforms usually called “restructuring” in Nigeria’s political space. The proponents argue that since Nigeria is a federation patterned after the US, it ought to have police at every layer of society.

They argue that the current structure, wherein all policemen in the country report to the IGP in Abuja, slows down the response time to critical issues. They argue that since Nigeria’s constitution says that the governor will be the chief security officer in every state, it follows that the governor must have the police under his authority.

The supporters of the idea of state police believe that its introduction could be the silver bullet for the problem of Nigeria’s rising insecurity. This, in part, informed the creation of the state-backed regional vigilante outfit, Amotekun, in the six southwest states and its counterpart known as Ebube agu in the southeast. Benue State also recently created its own Community Volunteer Guard, which it seeks to arm.

However, there have been allegations that these state outfits are already being abused by governors. Also, reports say operatives of these vigilante groups usually engage in ethnic profiling.

Obi, Tinubu, Atiku back state police

There are also indications that regardless of who emerges as president among the three frontline candidates, Nigeria stands a high chance of creating state police. Obi, Atiku and Tinubu have all spoken favourably of state police, but none has been able to explain how it would be run and how it would be funded, since 80% of Nigerian states are not economically viable and many do not pay salaries regularly.

Additionally, the creation of a state police would require a constitutional amendment that must be approved by at least 24 state assemblies and the federal parliament before it can even see the light of day.

Femi Falana, a human rights lawyer, tells The Africa Report that the creation of state police will definitely be subject to abuse by governors. “The abuse of state police will be worse in the hands of some governors who already have a bad human rights record,” he says.

If there is a state police, then it must be headed by a police council that will have representatives of civil society organisation[s]…

However, the activist argues that state police would not be a bad idea as long as there are checks and balances.

“If there is a state police, then it must be headed by a police council that will have representatives of civil society organisation[s], including the Nigerian Bar Association. All the state government will do is fund it. The governor will only have a representative on that board so that he will not be able to unilaterally arrest his political opponent,” Falana says.

Frank Odita, a retired commissioner of police, tells The Africa Report that state police could be a good idea as long as there is a standard that all states will meet.

“State police is a good idea but will the governors allow the state police to do their job without undue interference? Also, the main problem is the standard. If you go to the United States or the UK you wouldn’t know the difference between the state and federal police because there is a standard,” he says.

Auwal Rafsanjani, an activist who is the executive director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, which is Transparency International’s chapter in Nigeria, says decentralisation of the police has more merits than demerits.

He argues that it is better to have a civilised state police than allow governors to keep setting up local vigilantes.

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