Whatever its merits may be, the case for state police in Nigeria will remain unappealing to many, as long as state governors continue to exhibit the bad habits of intolerance and authoritarian tendencies, which expose citizens to harm. The common refrain by the governors that they are, in reality, not chief security officers in their respective states is indeed true and appalling. But then, who needs chief security officers whose words are like the laws of the Medes and Persia that can only be contradicted at a mortal cost?
Of what joy and comfort are chief security officers whose whims and idiosyncrasies can only be challenged at the peril of whoever dares? Already, Nigerians are weighed down by the yoke of leaders who, though elected democratically, quickly transform into ill-tempered and untouchable tyrants who brook no challenge. With the record of various state governors, the prospect of their having full control of the police in their domain is scary.
As is often the case, the season of political campaigns and elections brings out the worst in the governors and other elected political leaders in the country. The days and months leading up to the 2023 general election are living up to horrible expectations.
Ebonyi State, for one, is presently the theatre of a drama, which paints an uncomplimentary portrait of democracy in Nigeria in an election season. Uganda’s President Yoweri Katunga Museveni, a master of the art of intimidating political opponents and hounding prospective opponents before elections, would be impressed with the drama unfolding in Ebonyi State.
Museveni is, of course, not the progenitor of the politics of persecuting electoral opponents in Africa. Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Paul Biya of Cameroun, among other African big men, have left their ignoble mark in history. Thirty-six years down the line, Museveni is still winning elections his own way. Sadly, that is a model a number of Nigerian politicians seem alarmingly enamoured of.
On Sunday, October 16, 2022, one Linus Okorie, a politician in Ebonyi State, was abducted, according to reports, in front of his house in Abakaliki, the state capital. The initial report was that the man was abducted, possibly by kidnappers who stalk the country and pick their victims at will. It soon turned out not to be so. Okorie was indeed grabbed by operatives of Ebubeagu, the security outfit of the state government, whose very essence is as vaguely defined as its modus operandi is shady. In every state in the South East where Ebubeagu exists at the moment, they have proved themselves to be more of a terror than a source of comfort to the people. So, they grabbed Okorie.
The police in Ebonyi State soon entered the fray. Soon after the politician was reportedly abducted and taken to the headquarters of the security outfit at the old government house in Abakaliki, the police were called in and subsequently took custody of the politician. The following day, Tuesday, October 17, 2022, the police, efficient as ever, arraigned him.
The charges against the politician were interesting. Fraud. Murder. Felony. Drug-peddling. Incitement. Name them. Yet he was an honourable member of the House of Representatives yesterday and he had been walking around a free man.
The spokesperson of the police, Mr. Chris Anyanwu, who issued an initial statement on the crimes of the politician when the police took over the matter, informed the public that, apart from drug-related offenses, Mr. Okorie, through his activities and utterances, also “incited and provoked the violence that engulfed Onicha community (in the state), which led suspected gunmen to unleash mayhem in the area in 2021.” Then the police spokesman added a big one, “He (Okorie) was also guilty of spreading fake news against (Governor Dave) Umahi”. The picture got clearer at this point.
For better understanding of the scenario, it may be pertinent to also know who Mr. Linus Okorie is. He was a two-term member of the House of Representatives on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), at the time Governor Umahi was also of the same party. They were said to be close allies at that point in time. Now they have gone their separate ways, politically and otherwise. Umahi defected from the PDP and pitched his camp with the All Progressives Congress (APC). Okorie is now of the Labour Party. And, guess what? Both are gunning for the same Afikpo South senatorial seat.
It is possible that Okorie is the most dangerous criminal that has come out of Ebonyi State. It is also possible that he is responsible for all the killings and communal clashes that have occurred in Ebonyi State in recent times. It may be so that he is the biggest drug peddler in Ebonyi State. It is also possible that the police have been searching for him since 2021, until the security outfit of the state government caught up with him in his house in the heart of the state capital, driving out of his residence. All these are possible, but they are just not plausible.
The mid-day transformation of the police in Ebonyi into a drug law enforcement agency, leading to the apprehension and prompt arraignment of Okorie for drug-peddling, is not only curious but also a vexatious elevation of official busybody to a new height. The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) has, especially in recent months, proved itself far more capable of doing its job than what a meddling police formation in a state can offer. The police and sundry institutions of the state should help themselves and help the public to associate them with some integrity.
Clearly, the Okorie saga in Ebonyi state is all about the 2023 general election. That, however, is at once funny and unfortunate. First, the funny part. The configuration of political forces in Ebonyi heading towards 2023 is different from what it used to be. In the past, it used to be the ruling party, PDP, versus a motley of opposition parties who even as a collective were not up to a fight with the entrenched PDP. Now the landscape has changed, drastically.
The PDP is still a force on the ground. But then the governor left the party and joined APC. That makes APC a force too and an incumbent of sorts. In addition to these two, Labour Party has transformed into a tsunami of a popular movement, threatening to overrun the old political order across the country. Then there is the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), which is pulling its own weight in the state.
For any of the parties and their candidates, therefore, especially the governor who is seeking a senatorial seat, the challenge is multi-pronged.
Running one candidate, say that of the Labour party, out of the field does not settle anything. As things presently stand, if the Labour party candidate is put away for murder and drug peddling, it may be necessary to also put away the PDP candidate, may be for kidnapping. After that the APGA candidate may need to be removed, possibly for 419 or drunken driving. It is crazy. There has to be a better, workable strategy going into an election.
It will be extremely disappointing and strange, if the strategy for the governor to win election in the state he has governed for eight years is anchored on a Museveni tactics or Ebubeagu muscling of opponents. Anyone who has been to Ebonyi state must concede that Governor Umahi ranks in the top bracket of governors in the country who have delivered in terms of infrastructural development. His initiatives in opening up the states through solid roads is unparalleled. He also has to his credit, an airport, a brand-new impressive university, an international market, a top class conference center with adjoining business hub. Yet Ebonyi is not oil producing state.
Of course, governance and wining the heart of citizens require more than concrete infrastructure. The soft side of development is no less critical. This seems to be where Governor Umahi’s problems are. It is obviously a big problem, more so with his imperial bearing, but the problem is not unsurmountable. If only he can adjust his tendencies. He has accomplishments he can lean on in making a case for himself.
This strategy of using security outfits to grab political opponents and arraign them for murder, robbery, drug-peddling, wife-snatching, exam malpractice and whatever, cannot take anyone far. It is a crude tactics that degrades both politics and the individuals concerned. The police and the courts in Abakaliki need to respect themselves as well. Ebonyi can be better.