Friday, January 02, 2009

Why police promises don't count anymore

Nigerians must have lost count of the number of times the police promised to arrest suspected assassins and other criminals who commit heinous crimes in the society. On Sunday, 21 December 2008, suspected assassins struck at the residence of Iyalode of Yorubaland, Alaba Lawson, and killed her guard in Abeokuta, Ogun State. When the state Commissioner of Police visited Lawson's home the same day, he promised: "... I can assure you that we will work tirelessly to get to the roots of the matter".

Two weeks since the incident occurred, nothing has been heard to suggest that the suspects have been apprehended. No positive news has come from the police to lift the spirits of Lawson and the victim's family in regard to the possible arrest of the executors.

In Delta State three weeks ago, 82-year-old Jacob Odivwri Edjesa was plucked from his sleep in the early hours of the morning. He was the father of Eddy Odivwri, a member of ThisDay editorial board. According to news reports, the abductors left a note in which they demanded N10 million naira as precondition for the release of the old man. But the abductors were so callous they did not even exercise patience enough to facilitate negotiation with the old man's family members.

Two Sundays ago, the body of Pa Jacob was found close to his home. Why would any sane person abduct an 82-year-old man? Already, the police in Delta State are trading words with the man's family members as to the true account of what happened and how long it took for the police to respond to the official report.

The murder of Lawson's guard in Abeokuta and the abduction and brutal killing of Pa Jacob in Delta State illustrate graphically the inability of the police at federal and state levels to tackle the growing incidence of assassinations across the country. For reasons ranging from professional pride to fear of public outrage, the police hierarchy has refused to admit in public that assassinations and violent robberies have overwhelmed the force and the resources it has to detect and combat crime.

Of course the police cannot acknowledge publicly the superior firepower of criminals and the solid nature of the oath of secrecy between assassins and their sponsors. To do so is to suggest that criminals have gained the upper hand in the battle to cleanse the streets of all forms of criminal activities. It is perhaps in this context that the police continue to make promises that are at odds with available evidence. The key words in the litany of unfulfilled promises made by the police are: "I can assure you". Here are some disturbing facts to underline the inability of the police to tackle criminals.

When Bola Ige, former Justice Minister and Attorney-General of the Federation, was brutally murdered in his home on December 23, 2001, the then Inspector-General of Police and President Olusegun Obasanjo promised the nation that the suspects would be arrested and prosecuted within a short time. Seven years since Ige was killed, there has been no major breakthrough in the case. The murder of Ige and the failure of the police to apprehend the killers remain the two most embarrassing criminal cases that continue to stare the country's law enforcement officers in the face.

When Funsho Williams, a leading governorship candidate in Lagos State, was cut down by assassins' bullets in July 2006, the police and political leaders shouted and promised to solve the murder mystery within days. In fact, when President Olusegun Obasanjo visited the family of Williams, he wept more than the bereaved. He promised the family of Funsho Williams: "This time around, we are determined to get and bring to book those who killed Funso Williams. I believe that if this killing is left unresolved, the killing may continue. We can't allow such to happen. That is why experts are brought in from England to complement the effort of the police in resolving this killing."

Eighteen days after the murder of Williams, a governorship candidate in Ekiti State, Ayodeji Daramola, was stabbed and shot to death in his home in mid-August 2006. The two events led to national outcry over the ease with which criminals were eliminating political candidates.

As Inspector-General of Police at the time, Sunday Ehindero appeared to be reading from the same script as Obasanjo when he visited the Ijan-Ekiti home of Daramola and told the audience that the killers of Daramola would be caught. He said: "I want to assure you that police would get to the root of this incident, it would not be a case of undetected murder."

Well, neither Obasanjo's promises to find the killers of Funsho Williams nor Ehindero's robust pledge to apprehend the murderers of Ayodeji Daramola were fulfilled. Incidentally, both men have left their positions of authority and cannot now be compelled to account for their promises. Two years on, the killers of Williams and Daramola have not yet been arrested or tried and convicted.

The failure of the police to crack the riddle over high-profile assassinations in Nigeria casts a major slur on the integrity and crime fighting skills of the police.

Beyond the murders of Funsho Williams and Ayodeji Daramola, quite a number of other unsolved murders have been noted by police investigators. They include Kala Dikibo, the vice-chairman of the zonal branch of the PDP, who was murdered in his car; Harry Marshal, an opposition party politician, was killed in his house. As The Guardian chronicled in an editorial on unsolved murders in Nigeria, other cases yet to be resolved by the police include the murder of Victor Nwankwo, former boss of Fourth Dimension publishers, and Sheikh Jaafar Adam, a leading Moslem preacher in Kano who was killed while praying in the mosque.

Of course, these are by no means the complete list of unsolved murders in Nigeria but they indicate a growing trend of insecurity and inability of police to end the horrendous situation. During his time as acting Inspector-General of Police, Sunday Ehindero told a group of police men and women in Kano in February 2005: "Our image is at its lowest ebb and it is our responsibility to improve the image. We must change the way we police people." Unfortunately, that image has not improved and there is no evidence to suggest that the police have introduced a more effective mechanism to check violent crime.

Current Inspector-General of Police Mike Okiro has a completely different idea about the role of the police in society. He believes that the first loyalty of the police is to President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, not necessarily because he is occupying the presidency but because, according to Okiro: "If someone pays you good wages and takes care of your welfare, you must be ready to die for that person. Now policemen should stop collecting N20 on the road because the president is doing his best for us and we must also be at our best."

With this revolutionary idea about modern day policing, does anyone have any right to complain about police inability to protect the public? The implied message is that if you need police protection, you must be prepared to pay for it.

As I noted in this column some months back, failure to protect the lives and property of the public remains one of the greatest challenges facing the police. Something has cracked in the crime detection unit of the police. Police values have changed. And the level of commitment among junior and senior officers has dropped dramatically. Morale is low among policemen and women. Worse still, the police lack basic equipment to facilitate effective policing.

The Presidency and the police hierarchy understand very well what is required to convert men and women of the police into a more effective force in crime detection and prevention. But the Presidency lacks the will and the determination to make a difference. The police authorities also seem to be incapacitated by the debilitating effects of federal and state politics. Mike Okiro has been hit by the same bug that made his predecessors to talk too much with little evidence to show how the police are winning or losing the war against violent crime.