Perhaps nothing could be more distressful and disheartening than the raid on the Abuja residence of 91-year-old frontline statesman and South-South leader, Chief Edwin Clark, on September 4, by men of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF). At least six men from the Inspector-General of Police’s ‘Special Tactical Force’ conducted a two-hour search of Chief Clark’s residence, ransacking his bedroom, sitting room, toilet as well as those of his wife and children and purportedly acting on information that arms and ammunition had been illegally stocked in the premises.
The police action, however, turned out to be completely misplaced as it yielded nothing incriminating, prompting widespread condemnation of what was no doubt a humiliating and harrowing experience for the residents.
This incident demonstrated, once again, the penchant of the country’s security agencies to violate the very law they are supposed to uphold and defend while routinely abusing the rights of citizens and subjecting them to dehumanising and traumatising treatment. As condemnable as this invasion of a private residence for obviously frivolous reasons is, fallouts from the action offer hopeful signs that the NPF is on the path of reform from a culture of impunity and gross disregard for the dignity of the citizenry.
Hiding behind the pretext of acting in pursuit of what it perceives to be national security interest, the NPF we used to know would have defended the raid. In this case, however, the police authorities, starting from the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mr. Ibrahim Idris, not only roundly condemned the raid but insisted it was carried out by lower level officers without the knowledge or authorisation of their superiors. Of course, this sounds implausible but that is beside the point. The critical issue is that the NPF was sufficiently mortified to admit that a serious infraction had been committed by its representatives, with negative implications for its image.
Consequently, the IGP not only dispatched a delegation of top police officers to apologise to Chief Clark, the policemen who carried out the raid were subjected to internal disciplinary processes and their appointments terminated. Furthermore, the Special Tactical Force in the office of the IGP has been disbanded and its men deployed to other units of the force. And evidently to demonstrate that it acted in good faith and without ulterior motives, the police paraded the alleged informant, Mr. Ismail Yakubu, whose false alert led to the raid, before the media. This can certainly not detract from the fact that the greater blame lies with the police, which ought to have the professional acumen to thoroughly appraise the authenticity and credibility of information at its disposal, before acting on such.
We recall that widespread protests against the alleged highhandedness, corruption and abuse of human rights by officers and men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) have compelled the police to initiate far-reaching reforms in the organisation and operational procedures of the outfit. The raid on Chief Clark’s residence indicates the need for fundamental behavioural re-orientation throughout the NPF. Surely, even if the search on the statesman’s house was necessary, it could still have been carried out in a more civil and professional manner without compromising commitment to firmly detect and thwart any violation of the law.
Beyond this, the police and judicial authorities cannot afford to ignore the calls for an investigation into how the police officers involved in the raid obtained the search warrant that provided legal cover for their action. What convincing facts were presented to the court to issue the search warrant, a document which should not be cavalierly obtained and abused by security agencies?