Do Nigerian law enforcement agencies cherish promptings?

By Tonnie Iredia

The unveiling of Senator Kashim Shettima as the vice presidential candidate of the All Progressive Congress APC for the 2023 presidential election was no doubt a major political event in the country last week. For several reasons, it made more news than the unveiling of the vice presidential candidates of the other political parties that are contesting the same election. One of the reasons had to do with the controversy over the decision of the APC to present a same faith team. As critical as the subject appears to be, it is not the only subject that the party’s presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is compelled to worry about.
Another silent but tricky subject which emerged three days ago was the decision of an Abuja High Court to grant the request of a group seeking to compel the Inspector General of Police to investigate certain allegations against Tinubu.

The group, a non-governmental organization known as the Incorporated Trustees of Center for Reform and Public Advocacy, said the legal action against the police and their boss, the IGP was necessitated by their refusal to take action on its petition against Tinubu over an offence of perjury which dates back to 1999. According to the group, an ad hoc committee of the Lagos State House of Assembly had indicted Tinubu for making false claims on oath about his eligibility for public office in Nigeria. It is this case that the group has now taken up to demand the disqualification of Tinubu. For the allegations to be conclusively investigated to the point of prosecution, the group presented its demand to the IGP in two letters dated June 16 and 27, 2022 respectively. With a feeling that the police were probably trying to ignore the demand, the group proceeded to court to compel the IGP to act.

Ruling on an ex parte application last Thursday, an Abuja High Court presided over by Justice Inyang Ekwo reportedly granted permission to the group to apply for an order of mandamus to compel the IGP to prefer charges against Tinubu for having allegedly lied on oath. Considering that Nigerian politicians are notorious for always placing legal impediments ahead of their rivals well before voting, it is difficult to distance the resurrection of this 23-year old case from politics especially now that the accused is aspiring to be President. But because it is not illegal to find ways and means of using the judiciary to get a rival off the way in an election, the present case is not unusual. However, that is not the interest of this column. What is of interest is that Nigerian law enforcement agencies have a habit of selective prosecution by ignoring certain allegations while using more force than is necessary to handle others.

Cases against the elite especially high profile personalities are more often than not ignored in the hope that events would overtake them. The immediate implication is that Nigeria’s democracy is not premised on the rule of law in which every citizen is equal before the law. If the case in question concerned an ordinary citizen especially a media professional, the accused would have been bundled in the night to be detained hundreds of miles away from his normal abode while efforts would be made to keep the accused in detention beyond the duration approved by law. In other cases, a request would be made to the court to approve a longer period of detention to enable the law enforcement agency enough time to do its investigation. But when the case concerns politically exposed individuals, the allegations are ignored.

It therefore becomes necessary to interrogate the culture of law enforcement in Nigeria in which allegations made against certain persons would not be investigated until the agency concerned is legally prompted to do its job. If the police cannot immediately remember the sections of the nation’s constitution which make it mandatory for them to “prevent, detect and investigate criminal allegations brought to their notice by individuals, corporate bodies and institutions, they can hardly claim to be unaware of Section 4 of the Nigerian Police Act, 2020, which restates the same obligation. Indeed, the police cannot claim ignorance of Sections 31 and 32 of their own Act and Section 3 of the Criminal Justice Act, 2015 in respect of alleged crime laid out in complaint to them as captured by the Incorporated Trustees of the Center for Reform and Public Advocacy in their letter of June 16, 2022 demanding Criminal Prosecution of Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

To pretend as though the petition was not received is patently unwise especially as the case concerns the leadership of the ruling party which no societal institution can afford to unsettle. If the intention was to assist Tinubu and his ruling party, the effort was virtually fruitless as the message which the handling of the case has produced is negative. A prompt investigation on the other hand, would have created a different scenario which would have made it easier for the public to appreciate a police finding that is same as the conclusion drawn in 1999 by the Ad Hoc committee of the Lagos State House of Assembly that the errors in Tinubu’s declaration were not intended. Now that police investigation into the matter would only commence after a court has so directed, only a negative finding will satisfy Nigeria’s cynical public and APC’s fault-finding political rivals.

It will certainly take a while for the ‘small men’ in the corridors of power in Nigeria to appreciate why democracy is the preferred system of government in progressive societies. Many Nigeria politicians only corrupt the system and bully institutions to favour them. They only imbibe western privileges but ignore the discipline which for example emboldened the police to investigate and indict the outgoing British Prime Minister for misdemeanor.

The point to be made is that the undue protection which Nigeria’s political class in general appropriate are neither restricted to the police nor the current ruling party. The other time, it was the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission EFCC that was reluctant to investigate gross allegations made against a former Edo state governor, Adams Oshiomhole who at the point of the petition against him had become the national chairman of the ruling party. Although the court refused to compel the EFCC to do the needful, the defence of the anti-grant agency made little sense to anybody. One of her points was that no one can dictate how she should do her job. Of course, it was a weak point because if the agency picked up former governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti state on the very day he left office, how come the radar of the agency could not locate or catch-up with another governor whose alleged offences had earlier been highlighted for more than a year? The basic truth is that the EFCC wanted to prosecute one former governor and protect the other contrary to Section 15(5) of the 1999 Constitution which enjoined the State to abolish ALL corrupt practices. Luckily, from recent events, it appears that it is not in the character of the current EFCC to so discredit herself

Our police must quickly depart from the old order where they help those in authority to oppress ordinary citizens. Let’s recall the case of journalist Agba Jalingo who raised a weighty allegation of the diversion of huge sums by the governor of Cross River State. Rather than bring Jalingo to court to prove his allegation or be found guilty, the police detained him for several months. Later during prosecution, the charge stated that the journalist intended to “cause alarm, hatred and disturb public peace in Calabar, for the purpose of bringing down the reputation of the Executive Governor of Cross River State, His Excellency, Senator Professor Ben Ayade.” Jalingo’s illegal detention resonated to the embarrassment of Nigeria at the 2018 Convention of the International Press Institute (IPI). Our law enforcement agencies should therefore learn to work for the progress of society.
July 24, 2022

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