IGP Usman enters at a critical season for Nigeria’s security
For an assailed country and for the Nigeria Police, whose primal duty is to ensure the security of the civil population, the season is dire. With the scandalous blitzkrieg on the Imo State Police Command Headquarters, Owerri, the moonlighting Muhammad Adamu, who ought to have retired on February 1 as Inspector-General of Police (IGP), but was granted a controversial three-month extension, was put out of his misery — for the police suffered terrible bleeding: in random attacks on its troopers on patrol duty; and in loss of men and materiel.
On the other hand, Alkali Baba Usman, Adamu’s successor and new acting IGP, is thrown into the fray, even if he is no greenhorn, being a sitting Deputy Inspector-General of Police (DIG) and a veteran of the force.
IGP Adamu’s exit has been greeted with the usual bile, by a people angry at their present state. A segment of the media claimed Adamu’s exit was announced while at an official function, inspecting the ruins of the Owerri police headquarters.
But the police authorities would later pour ice-cold water on all that, claiming Adamu was safely back at the Louis Edet Nigeria Police Headquarters, in Abuja, before his successor was announced. Either way, there was some hush-hush to it all, that didn’t exactly hallmark a glorious exit.
Exiting IGP Adamu bears personal scar for all that, though his cumulative record is no worse than the average police performance log under his predecessors, even if his extended tenure was marked with a civil security near-meltdown.
But the blame for that should squarely be with the Federal Government, his employers. That IGP Adamu was granted extension, to perfect procedures to pick his successor, holds absolutely no water, for Adamu’s retirement time was an open secret; and the authorities had all the time to ensure a prompt and smooth transition.
But then, that tardiness has become a disturbing pattern of the Muhammadu Buhari Presidency: witness the long drawn push, before the immediate past service chiefs were replaced. This is one area the president must be more nimble and less tardy.
Before the Owerri attack on the Imo State Police Command’s prime facility, security nationwide had been indifferent. In the South East/South-South corridor, there had been disturbing, if irritating, reports of attacks on — and many times — killing of police cadres on patrol.
An earlier attack by gun men, in Anambra State, saw the macabre killing of warders shepherding prisoners to court, after their bus was attacked en route. In Imo, before and after the Owerri attack, six raids had been launched on police facilities at Obowo, Aboh Mbaise, Ihitte/Uboma, Isiala Mbano and Ebime Mbano.
At Ebime Mbano, the last of the attacks on April 8, gunmen set the police station ablaze, but not before looting every phone in sight; and setting free every detainee in the facility, thus repeating the Owerri police headquarters attack, on a minor scale. The Nation quoted this chilling response, from one of the subdued police officers: “We resisted them but they overpowered us. They had more sophisticated weapons.” It’s absolutely unacceptable that prime civil agents of the Nigerian state would cow before common criminals.
Still the Owerri attack, on the police headquarters and the adjoining correctional centre, complete with wanton arson and freeing of some 1, 500 inmates, was the height of a cynical but brazen challenge to the Nigerian state. That a high security zone — sharing immediate space with the Imo a State Government House to boot — could be attacked, and there was near-zero response from the police, is well and truly tragic.
If the attack was bad enough, post-attack waffling is simply nauseating. The initial claim was that it was by Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) anarchists. That was based on an alleged earlier boast, by IPOB, to launch attacks after Lent and Easter — a talk the attackers appeared to have walked.
Besides, reported eye witness accounts claimed the attackers sang IPOB rally songs before blasting, via grenade, the police facility and the correctional centre; and freeing inmates, at the correctional centre, telling them Jesus had ransomed their crimes, with his blood!
But IPOB denied any involvement, claiming it was too busy engaging “Fulani herdsmen” in Igbo forests, to bother with attacking police facilities, which it claimed was out of its “mandate”.
Shortly after, however, Governor Hope Uzodinma, claimed the attackers only faked being IPOB but they were not, adding that the raid was politically motivated. His spokesperson would later point fingers at former Governor Rochas Okorocha, in what appears a colourful conspiracy theory, in an annoying theatre of the absurd. It’s almost as outrageous as the original outrage that such gubernatorial farce, would follow such a tragedy, which undermines the present tenuous security nationwide.
But that goes back to the root of the problem, and how best to tackle the current security challenge, from the police perspective. New IGP Usman has been talking tough, somewhat brimming with quiet confidence that he had been around for long enough to know what to do. Nigerians would love to believe that — for that’s what they would like — and wish him well.
Still, there appears nothing novel in the new IGP’s proposals. His main plank is anchored on the community policing template, which he claimed would move from theoretical framework (bar test implementations) under IGP Adamu, to full-scale execution, under his charge. That is good to hear and again, we wish the new police boss the best of luck.
But community policing, as presently conceived, appears an abnormality, since it’s still rooted in an ultra-central culture, in a supposed federal polity. That is a grievous contradiction in terms, and the operational effectiveness appears limited, from any logical perspective. But despite this conceptual doubt, the IGP should feel free to throw himself into the fray, walking the talk of his conviction. Still, he must know time is not his friend; as he and his (wo)men are in a furious sprint against time.
But while the IGP is at it, it takes no especial acuity to show that policing in Nigeria needs a complete rebirth, not a mere tweak of its present order. That calls for federalisation from the present central police system. Federalisation would entail the infusion of 36 state police forces, working in sync with the mother central police.
The mere infusion, of such massive additional manpower and the expected rigorous training, would improve the police ability to dominate the environment, against shifty felons and other nefarious non-state actors, who now appear and vanish, leaving blood and gore in their trail.
It would also be a boon for coordinated intelligence gathering, not by any stretch the greatest strength of the present police formation — otherwise these criminals wouldn’t be killing the police cadre, virtually at will, in the South East. Intel from the root (which coordination between state and federal police offers) could promise an era where most crimes are busted even before they are carried out.
IGP should throw himself at his work. But his immediate task is to go after the criminals responsible for the Owerri outrage. They should be given a bloody nose — and demonstrably so — to show such brazen attack has hefty consequences.
Let his coming re-herald the capacity of the Nigerian state to secure the people under its care. Still, this would need radical systemic tinkering (and here the National Assembly should partner with the Presidency to formalise state police), for there is a limit to personal daring against a systemic problem — even if the IGP proves a brilliant pick.