By Kayode Idowu
When he set about his official tasks on Tuesday, last week, former Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Mohammed Adamu couldn’t have guessed he was headed for status duality within the span of the day. He began the day as Nigeria’s police supremo and travelled from the Force Headquarters in Abuja to Owerri, the Imo State capital, to assess the damage done by gunmen and arsonists who had stormed the Imo police command headquarters and the Owerri facility of the National Correctional Service early on Monday and set those places on fire. Also at the correctional facility, 1,844 prisoners were sprung free by the assailants who got away after the savage attacks without been apprehended.
Expectedly, Adamu felt rudely affronted by the attacks as then chief internal security minder of this country and must have thought it helped the narrative to name culprits, even though no suspect had been arrested by security operatives. Upon his arrival in the Imo capital, he fingered members of the outlawed Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) and its military wing, the Eastern Security Network (ESN), ordering police personnel to launch a brutal war against the outfits. IPOB promptly issued a statement dissociating itself from the twin attacks, but Adamu insisted it was culpable and directed the police to be ruthless with its members. “Bandits will never succeed, never spare them. Deal with them ruthlessly. Unleash your full arsenal on them, the law is behind you. We must work together with all stakeholders to fish out criminals and their hideouts,” he told his men. Host Imo State Governor Hope Uzodinma was later to say disgruntled politicians rather than activist were likely suspects behind the criminal attacks, but that was after the fact of Adamu’s preemptive diagnosis.
While the former police boss, whose official tenure earlier expired and was on a controversial three-month extension, was stomping in the Imo capital as the IGP, however, the presidency back in Abuja announced his sack and named an instant replacement in acting capacity. Police Affairs Minister Maigari Dingyadi made known President Muhammadu Buhari’s appointment of Usman Alkali Baba, a former Deputy Inspector-General of Police (DIG), as Acting Inspector-General “with immediate effect.” In other words, whereas Adamu left Abuja that morning as substantive Police Inspector-General, he returned to base later same day shorn of the office. Actually, while he talked tough at the attack sites in Owerri in company with Governor Uzodinma and other top officials, the powers on which basis he was speaking was being stripped off him in Abuja without prior notice.
When Adamu’s conventional tenure expired at the end of January and the President gave him a three-month extension, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) had gone to court to challenge the move and government, in its statement of defence, argued that he could indeed be kept in office legitimately until 2013. Now he had spent two months and three days into his extended tenure, and the same government couldn’t wait for him to return to base before peremptorily pulling the rug. Asked about the sudden change of heart, Dingyadi said Adamu was terminated before serving out his extended tenure owing to the conclusion of the process of selecting a new Inspector-General. “The President is aware (that the extended tenure was not served out) and you cannot take away the responsibility from him. He’s the one who is in charge of appointing or extending tenures, he has now decided to appoint a new person. So, please, allow him that responsibility and we cannot do anything about it,” the minister told journalists at the State House. He acknowledged, though, that the security situation had much to do with the change of guard, saying: “These changes are in line with the determination of the President to rejig the security architecture and to ensure that the security challenges bedeviling the nation are brought to an end. The President has, therefore, charged the new appointee to rise to the challenge to ensure the policing reform policy of this administration is fully prioritised and implemented to enable the police to perform most effectively for the peace and security of lives and property of all Nigerians.”
The former police chief inevitably had the hammer coming when, in the early hours of Monday, gunmen rampaged with impunity in the Imo capital – torching vehicles and buildings at the police command and correctional service premises and setting remanded persons loose. Reports said the gunmen sang solidarity songs at Imo State Government House Roundabout for about 30 minutes before attacking the facilities; then, they used dynamites, heavy explosives, and AK-47 rifles in their operation which lasted for close to three hours – unchallenged by security agents. When they were done, they roved off unintercepted. It was by all accounts a brazen affront on the Nigerian state, whereby the attackers had a field day while the security machinery gawped in docile irresponsiveness. By virtue of the office he held, Adamu was due to carry the can, but there were ample indications the challenge went beyond his personal incompetence or ineffectiveness with police leadership. What we saw happen in Owerri was that the Nigerian state, symbolised by the police command headquarters and correctional service facility, could not defend itself against rampaging bandits; it is dreadful to contemplate what fate awaits non-state civilian victims if faced with such emergencies. In other words, if the Nigerian state could not defend itself against ragtag assailants, how could it be expected to protect unarmed citizens against similar assaults?
So, we should interrogate whether Adamu was solely the problem and if his removal portended far-reaching solution to the security challenge facing this country. It is arguable, in my view, that the former I-G’s sack by President Buhari was another knee jerk over the embarrassing ineptitude of the Nigerian security establishment; and that is to say, it wasn’t a sufficient response to the fundamental lapses in that establishment. Heavy weather is often made, for instance, about rejigging the security architecture, and this is tacitly equated with displacing and replacing helmsmen of the security services. But consider the reality we are saddled with: all the military service chiefs were replaced late in January, this year, and it is doubtful much positive difference has been made as of today in the security situation across the country; bandits, kidnappers and terrorists carry on as before. Meanwhile, questions about intelligence failure that allows criminals to strike unanticipated and operate for hours unintercepted remain unanswered.
It cannot be denied, however, that leadership could make a profound difference in the performance of the security establishment. And so, the new Police Inspector-General has his job cut out. While decorating Usman Baba as the new sheriff on Wednesday, last week, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, outlined the challenges we face and societal expectations from him. “You are assuming office at a very turbulent time in the life of our people. There are multiple threats to law, order and public safety. The role of law enforcement and particularly that of the police force as primary agency charged with maintaining law and order has never been more important. The police is our institution of first resort, the first line of defence against crime and anarchy and the first sign of the strength of the state,” the Vice President said, advising the new police chief, among other things, to use his position to rebuild broken bridges of public trust and regain the citizenry’s confidence. “One of the ways you can do this is by implementing the community policing policy which had already taken off, and reconceptualising policing as a task carried out in partnership with local communities and by officers who are members of these localities,” he added.
Adamu missed the opportunity to reposition the police for effective security service delivery perhaps because predisposing factors were not exactly there. The new Inspector-General has a chance to work for such factors being put in place – for the good of the police and for better security provisioning for the citizenry. Time will tell if he makes the desired difference.
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