IG Suleiman Abba, remember What You Said! – Mahmud Jega

(By Mahmud Jega)

My friends and I were so impressed by what Abba said that we cornered him just outside the Congress Hall of Transcorp Hilton when the dialogue ended. He was very warm and friendly. While his official car waited with the door open, he talked to us for another 15 minutes and expatiated on what he earlier said. Even though he was choosing his words carefully, the total impression we got was that this is an unusual policeman, very well educated and imbued with the desire to do things properly. I personally wished that such a man would one day become the IG. My prayers were answered sooner than I thought.

A policeman sat in the row in front of me during the last Daily Trust Annual Dialogue in January this year.

I could see that he was a senior officer but since he had his back to me I could not see the name tag on his chest. I could see the badge of his rank pinned to his shoulder but since I cannot read police badge ranks, I could not tell what his rank was. In the course of the program however the master of ceremony solved the riddle when he announced that Assistant Inspector General Sulaiman Abba, in charge of Zone 7 Police Command, was there to represent Inspector General Mohamed Abubakar.

In the course of the dialogue a speaker made reference to an event then still fresh in Nigerians’ minds. It was the episode when the Divisional Police Officer [DPO] in charge of Asokoro invaded an event at the Kano Governors’ Lodge where Governor Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso was hosting an nPDP meeting. Several governors were present but the DPO ignored their constitutional immunity and said he had “orders from above” to stop the meeting. That affair shocked all Nigerians and it eroded public confidence in IG Abubakar, who was likened to Rivers State Police Commissioner Mbu Joseph Mbu.

When it was time for contributions from the floor, AIG Abba raised his hand. He struggled to get the chairman to notice him; he even stood up so that his raised hand could be seen. Sitting directly behind him, I wondered what he wanted to say and I thought that he wanted to do the impossible by defending the DPO’s action. The chairman finally noticed Abba’s hand and allowed him to speak. Many people in the audience were murmuring, believing as I did that we were about to hear a defence of the indefensible that would rub salt into injury.

When Abba finally spoke, what he said so much impressed the audience that he got a very loud ovation. His body language indicated that he [and, we assumed, the police high command] was embarrassed by the Asokoro DPO’s action. Abba said there is something that Nigerians generally don’t know, which is that there is a difference between soldiers and policemen with respect to responsibility for obeying an illegal order. Soldiers, he said, tend to obey orders unquestioningly and a soldier can justify whatever action he takes, however illegal, by saying he was obeying orders. In the police it is different, Abba said. He said every policeman is trained to know what is legal and proper and any policeman who does anything illegal or improper must personally answer for it and cannot hide behind the claim that he obeyed orders.

My friends and I were so impressed by what Abba said that we cornered him just outside the Congress Hall of Transcorp Hilton when the dialogue ended. He was very warm and friendly. While his official car waited with the door open, he talked to us for another 15 minutes and expatiated on what he earlier said. Even though he was choosing his words carefully, the total impression we got was that this is an unusual policeman, very well educated and imbued with the desire to do things properly. I personally wished that such a man would one day become the IG. My prayers were answered sooner than I thought.

Now I am thinking; what is the difference between what the DPO did at Asokoro and what the Police Commissioner who led last Thursday’s operation at the National Assembly did? The Asokoro meeting that the DPO tried to disrupt did not violate the law in any way. It was covered by the constitutional freedoms of association and assembly, plus the participants’ constitutional immunity from arrest even if they perpetrate a crime. The only problem with that meeting was that the Presidency and PDP leaders did not like it because their party members were rebelling. In trying to stop it therefore, the DPO was doing a hatchet political job totally unknown to police rules and code of conduct, an action for which then AIG Abba said he should be liable.

In the case of the House of Representatives, it is even more serious than that. Unlike governors, Speaker Aminu Tambuwal and his House colleagues have no immunity from arrest and prosecution. However, they constitute an independent arm of the Federal Government with total freedom to carry out its duties and regulate its own affairs, subject only to court interpretations of the constitution. When they went to the Assembly Complex last Thursday morning, it was completely legal and in fact very dutiful because the Speaker had cut short their recess and ordered the House to reconvene. For that matter, they were doing so because President Jonathan transmitted a letter asking the National Assembly to extend the state of emergency in three North Eastern states, a very solemn state duty. However, a large number of policemen, DSS agents, Civil Defence men and Federal fire-fighters blocked their way. The reason Police Headquarters gave was that it had “intelligence report” that hoodlums were planning to invade the Assembly Complex.

I wanted to excuse IG Sulaiman Abba on one account: that the inter-agency nature of the operation suggests that it was arranged by a very high political power since the IG alone cannot order the other agencies to mobilise for an operation. Most certainly the National Security Adviser or an even higher Presidency officer had a hand in it all. Yet I cannot excuse Sulaiman Abba when I remember what he said about personal responsibility. Just like he said in the case of the Asokoro DPO, even if anyone in the Presidency called the IG and ordered him to stop Speaker Aminu Tambuwal from entering his office, he should have told that official that it was illegal to do so under police regulations.

That the IG could not say so was because he completely lost his moral authority two weeks earlier when he ordered the withdrawal of Tambuwal’s security details a day after the Speaker defected from PDP to APC. And what was the reason? The police declared that under provisions of the Constitution, Tambuwal was no longer a House member because he defected when there was no crisis in his political party. It was the first time ever in the history of Nigeria that the police took it upon itself to interpret the constitution with respect to a provision that did not directly affect it. Since 1999, alot of Federal and state legislators as well as governors in this country have defected from the parties that got them elected. In many cases their former political parties went to court and asked for a ruling; many of the recent cases are still pending in court. ‘What is the police’s own,’ to use a Nigerian street phrase, if a man defects from one party to another? Why can’t it wait for a court to say he has lost his seat before it withdraws his security details?

Even if a court declares that a person has lost his seat in the House, the IG does not have to worry himself about stopping him from entering the House. That is the work of the Sergeant-at-Arms. It is only if the Sergeant has trouble stopping the person that he will seek the IG’s help.  You see, since I like IG Sulaiman Abba stemming from my meeting with him in the Congress Hall car park and the way he impressed me with his intellect, I want to offer him an advice. When someone in the Presidency said he didn’t want Tambuwal to remain in the House, you should have asked him to arrange for Attorney General and Minister of Justice Mohamed Bello Adoke, rather than the police, to make the public declaration. This way, you risk going the path of old Borno State Police Commissioner Tahiru Jidda who stopped NPP presidential candidate Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe from entering Maiduguri in 1983. Jidda’s men even fired tear gas at the Father of Nigeria. Tambuwal is small fry in comparison, but you could soon get there.

Source: Mahmud Jega/Daily Trust

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