The attention of the Force leadership has been drawn to an editorial on the above title as published in the Punch Newspaper of November 24, 2015. Much as it is acknowledged that the Editorial Board of the Punch Newspaper remains at legal liberty to express its opinion, concerns on the integrity, motivation and intent of the personalities behind such freely expressed opinion will naturally be called to question when the pieces of information they relayed to the citizens were products of misinformation, cheap blackmail and utterly biased reportage.
In the case of the Punch Newspaper, the consistency with which the Editorial Board and some of the outfit’s correspondents muddle up the facts which they feed undiscerning members of the public about the Force leadership coupled with the manner they consistently personalise their arguments, is beginning to lend credence to the concerns being increasingly raised by other informed segments of the society on the strong suspicion that an otherwise respected Punch Newspaper might have wittingly or unwittingly submit its public opinion moulding platform to fifth columnists who are currently manipulating the opportunity to run down the leadership of the Force.
The strategy appears simple – Remain blind to all the novel policy, legal, and practical steps the current Force leadership of IGP Solomon Arase has initiated to address the challenges of misuse of firearms and criminal justice delivery, and portray the Person of Inspector-General of Police as an accomplice in such incidents with a view to taint the professional personality and credibility of IGP Arase towards achieving a predetermined but deeply misguided outcome. In the desperation to give effect to this strategy, it is disheartening that the Editorial Opinion under reference went far back into history and alluded to several alleged cases of extra-judicial killings that preceded IGP Solomon Arase’s tenure as Chief of the Nigeria Police and turned round to hold him responsible for such violations!
For instance, the Punch Editorial Board in Paragraph 6 made reference to an alleged extra-judicial killing of one Ugochukwu Ozua, 36, in September 2012. In the same paragraph, allusion was also made to a similar incident which in the admission of the authors of the intriguing Editorial, occurred in October, 2011and involved an alleged extra-judicial killing of one Emmanuel Victor. Furthermore, Paragraph 8 of the Editorial also made reference to an Amnesty International report of September 2014 which allegedly dealt on torture at police stations. While all these classical references occurred long before the appointment of IGP Solomon Arase, the motive of alluding to these instances to taint the current leadership of the Force raises suspicion, just as the feeble and wild allegations touching on unproven cases raised in the Editorial and which the author laboured to ascribe to the person of the current Force leadership also calls for concerns on what the Editorial Board intends to achieve by misrepresenting facts, and crafting arguments based on muddled-up facts all in an attempt to turn public opinion against an otherwise reform-oriented and thoroughly professional Force leadership.
Facts, it is said, are sacred, and no matter how much labour is invested in falsehood or how deeply and widely deceit is orchestrated and disseminated, the truth, which remains eternally static, cannot not be altered. It is on this basis that the Force leadership wishes to rely on the same set of logic that the Editorial Board adopted in concluding its faulty argument to also set the record straight.
In this regard, it is noted that the Punch Newspaper Editorial Board admitted that extra-judicial police actions are not peculiar to Nigeria, but that it is a major police management challenge that is present even in advanced policing climes. Having castigated the Nigeria Police Force leadership with clear intent to suggest that it is the only Force in the world that grapples with this challenge, and having laboured illogically (albeit in vain) to allude all cases of extra –judicial killings in the Nigeria Police recent history to the incumbent Force leadership, the Editorial board, instructively, turned round to admit that similar incidents have been recorded in Germany and England which are two countries that pride themselves as having advance policing systems and human rights standards. The calculated silence by the Punch Editorial Team on experiences from the United States which nearly on daily basis grapples with the challenge of similar extra-judicial actions involving an otherwise highly trained, highly regulated and perhaps, the most advanced Police system in the world is also intriguing.
Nonetheless, the lesson to be deduced from the experiences in Germany and England (which the Editorial Board referenced), and the United States (which they found convenient to overlook for inexplicable but suspicious reasons) is clear. Extra-judicial actions of Police Officers in the line of duty is a global challenge. It is not peculiar to Nigerian Policing Space neither is it peculiar to Specific Police leadership. Rather, it is as noticeable in Nigeria (an underdeveloped country) as it is in England, Germany, United States and other developed countries. One then wonders why the Editorial Team of Punch Newspaper having admitted that such extra-judicial incidents do occur in other policing climes, failed to ascribe these challenges to the persons of the Heads of the Police Agencies in England and Germany (which they referenced) as they attempted to do in the case of Nigeria.
Perhaps out of limited intellectual knowledge or sheer mischievousness, the actors behind the Editorial Opinion in question, also failed to acknowledge that the informed debates on extra-judicial actions of police officers in the line of duty have always beenon what could be done to regulate the exercise of police powers as a strategy towards preventing abuses of fatal outcomes and what effective machineries could be emplaced to hold any erring officer individually accountable for his or her professional misconduct. This is what civilised societies engage and this is what professional journalists, intellectuals, human rights bodies, police managers and policy makers always collaborate to advance in security spaces where national interest override primordial considerations of misinformation, bigotry, and pull-down syndrome which the actors in the Punch Editorial Team appear to be manifesting.
It is therefore, of little wonder that while the Punch Editorial Board opted to commend the Police leadership of England and Germany for according to them, initiating actions to bring the individual officer that perpetrated such extra-judicial acts to justice, they, unfortunately, chose to remain intellectually blind to similar actions that IGP Solomon Arase has initiated within the Nigerian Policing space both to prevent abuse of police powers and to bring erring officer to deserved justice in the most transparent and prompt manner since his assumption of duty as Inspector-General of Police. Indeed, in a twist of logic, they chose to vilify, rather than commend IGP Arase for his courageous and transparent approach to addressing the challenge of extra-judicial killings and other abuses involving officers of the Nigeria Police Force.
These initiatives which have been widely reported and which IGP Arase has enunciated at various public fora include the evolution of a Force Policy which clearly directs all Commissioners of Police across all State Commands to arrest any officer involved in extra-judicial killing or any form of gross abuse of power, process such officer through the internal disciplinary process and charge him or her to court within 48 hours of the occurrence of such an incident.Similarly, the senior officers in whose immediate jurisdiction and under whose direct watch such infractions occurred have in furtherance to this Force Policy, been queried and dealt with in line with extant Force Disciplinary Procedures.
The Force leadership makes bold to state that the Policy framework has been complied with to the letters across all State Commands and the Force challenges the Editorial Board of Punch Newspaper that orchestrated the utterly misleading Editorial Opinion to point to any incident of extra-judicial killing in which the concerned officers have not been charged to court for murder since 22nd April 2015 when IGP Arase was appointed. This is of course, unless they are claiming by their own twisted logic, that it is leadership per excellence for British and German Police leadership to discipline and charge erring officers to court for abuse of powers, but it is leadership failure for the Nigeria Police to do same in respect of its officers involved in similar abuses. This can best define the depth of the prejudicial orientation of the authors of the editorial opinion.
Even beyond this, it is to be stated that IGP Solomon Arase is a lawyer and a police leader that has participated in several local and international fora where issues touching on safeguards of abuse of police powers were subjects of discourse. He has since his appointment, drew on lessons from these engagements to re-define the approaches of Force leadership in relation to abuse of Powers. It might indeed interest the Punch Editorial Board to know that IGP Arase has hosted the Amnesty International in his Office in the course of which valuable partnership to strengthen Force Policy and machineries for preventing extra-judicial police actions were discussed and opportunities for sustained collaboration evolved.
Similarly, it might also interest the brains behind this misinformation to note that under the current Force leadership, a Complaint Response Unit (CRU) to provide a 24/7 online and telephony interface with members of the public and to provide a real-time opportunity for citizens to monitor and report police conduct and receive feedbacks on actions initiated in respect of such complaints has been established at the Force Headquarters. This is a novel initiative that defines the character of the Force leadership (that is being constantly vilified by Punch in a manner that suggest that come actors in the outfit are carrying out a hatchet job) as one that is committed to giving meaning to the concept of police-citizen accountability as well as strengthening oversight machineries that could prevent abuse of powers by police officers.
Contrary to the assertion that the Force leadership has not been proactive in addressing issues raised in the tainted Editorial, feedback from members of the public indicate a huge commendation for this police accountability and performance monitoring initiative which was emplaced with the support of the British Government (Justice For All Programme – J4A). Based on reports processed through this platform, appropriate punitive or corrective actions have been initiated against several officers against whom complaints of gross professional misconducts were made.
In addition, just few weeks ago, the Force leadership initiated actions towards rebranding, retraining and re-kitting operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). This action was in response to public concerns on the mode of operation and excesses ascribed to the Squad by the citizens. Foreign experts have been brought in to expose the operatives to specialised training while their mode of dressing has been standardised with a view to giving them a professional outlook and orientation. The first sets of trainees have passed out and others are being processed through the orientation scheme. If Punch Editorial Members were to clear their mentality of prejudice, they would admit seeing the branded SARS Team with a new set of branded kits whenever they are on operation across Lagos and other parts of the country.
Furthermore, IGP Arase, as part of his well-publicised 6-Point Strategic Police Plan identified the ‘exploration of possibility of engagement of less lethal technologies/weapon system such as electro-muscular disruption technology (Taser or Stun Guns) by police on routine patrol functions to reduce incidents of fatalities associated with misapplication of lethal weapons by the police’. The import is that even at the point of assumption of duty as the Inspector-General of Police, IGP Arase had a clear vision and positive intention to address the issue of extra-judicial killings on a sustainable basis by adopting global best practices and policing technology. Again, the actors within the Punch Editorial Board that are engaging the platform for falsehood and misinformation may wish to note that the Force leadership is currently in the process of acquiring these Taser/Stun Guns and once delivered, the Force will systematically migrate from the current practice where AK47 is the first line of response to any level of threat, to adoption of the Taser/Stun Guns technology. This is a revolutionary and unprecedented initiative in the history of policing in Nigeria which will in the long-run effectively reduce fatalities associated with police actions.
Beyond this, part of the strategic policing plan of the Force leadership is Human Rights-Driven and Intelligence-Led policing approaches which were crafted to prevent abuse of pre-trial detention powers and other ills associated with evidence collection. Under this policing approach, detectives are being trained in the art of application of intelligence to criminal investigation in a manner that will encourage collection of evidence before arrest is effected. This system when fully integrated into policing function at all levels in the Force, will not only ensure respect for human rights, it will also reduce the time line between detention and arraignment in court, while also eliminating space for inhuman or degrading treatment of citizens within investigative or operational processes.
It is also on record that the Force leadership has re-introduced musketry (weapon handling) into all components of training and development programme of the Force, while one of the first sets of official functions IGP Arase performed on assumption of duty was the launch of a reviewed Policy Framework on Use of Firearms. An instrument that was reviewed and launched in collaboration with UNODC and other development partners with intent to address the challenge of misuse of lethal weapons by field officers. It is strange that the Punch Editorial Board as informed, professional, and intellectually-inclined as one would have expected them to be never referenced any of these initiatives neither did they attempt to research by contacting the Force leadership to verify and obtain facts that could have aided them in balancing their editorial as expected of seasoned journalists of the repute of an Editorial Board Members of a leading National Newspaper like The Punch.
It is to be added the Force leadership has never and will never give official leverage to any personnel that engages in any act leading to the deprivation of lives of citizens. IGP Arase has consistently and publicly swore that ‘no Nigerian citizen will suffer injustice through his actions or inactions’. Such a statement can only come from a Police manager that is determined and confident of his professional ability to provide quality leadership for the Police to protect and serve the citizens.
In the process involving deployment of over 300,000 personnel across 12 Zonal Commands, 36 States/FCT, 127 Area Commands, 1, 329 Division, 1,579 Police Stations and 3, 756 Police Posts in a Police Force reputed to be the largest in Africa and one with the broadest Area of Responsibility, professional errors involving some officers cannot be ruled out. It behoves the Force leadership to increasingly emplace policies and strategies to safeguard against such errors and bring the erring officers to justice, where and when they occur.
Furthermore, contrary to the assertions of the authors of the misleading editorial, the Force leadership has in all the instances of extra-judicial incidents recently recorded, shown concerns for the victims and their families. Indeed, it is on record that IGP Arase has, in clear demonstration of his empathetic leadership orientation, personally met and engaged some of the victims, undertook the payment of their medical bills, extended consideration for scholarship to their dependants and also initiated some empowerment programme to support them. This is the known best global practice. This is what the Force leadership is on record to have been doing and will keep doing.
The Force leadership is not disinclined to public criticisms. Indeed to IGP Arase, that is a unique tonic that oils public accountability and in most instances through such informed criticisms, the Force leadership draws knowledge and inspiration which are often engaged as vital public feedbacks for policy and strategy re-evaluation. However as critical societal watchdogs, where the Punch Newspaper consistently misinforms (especially through its editorials which is expected to be a product of facts, credibility and authenticity) in a manner that suggests that the platform is playing out a well-crafted script, such intention will be strongly condemned. The current Force leadership is enlightened and accessible enough to be engaged and journalists guided by professional integrity, practice ethics and national interest have been engaging IGP Arase and contributing to his Vision for a reformed Police Force. The Punch has remained an isolated voice in this process.
It has, therefore, become expedient to set the records straight and draw the attention of the Punch Authorities to this sustained pattern with the expectation that the actors that have made themselves available to orchestrate this misinformation using their vantage position within the Punch’s credible platform could be advised to restore professionalism to his or her practice in the interest of the age-long, hard earned credibility of the Newspaper. This will entail the courage to criticize based on knowledge and verified facts, practice with integrity, and information without bias. As for every lie told, corporate integrity is eroded and it serves neither the Editorial Board nor the Punch Newspaper any good to continually distinguish itself as a platform to blackmail and run down a well-meaning, focused and innovative leader of a strategic institution as the Police Force for inexplicable reason. National security interest and not personal interests should define the conduct of the Editorial Board Members of The Punch Newspaper and there is absolutely no positive reward either to the corporate interest of the Punch or the Editorial Board of the Outfit, in continually turning the citizens against their police. The Punch will do well, henceforth, to be part of the Change Mantra by opting to support the Force leadership in addressing the challenge of national security rather than continue to be isolated in the journalism world as they labour to keep blind eyes on positive approaches to policing as being emplaced by the Force leadership in what is being defined within the Nigerian public space as an ill-motivated attempt to run down the Nigerian policing system and its leadership.
Ag. ACP OLABISI KOLAWOLE
FORCE PUBLIC RELATIONS OFFICER,