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Policing without politics

April 28, 2015 By Gabriel Benjamin

Inspector General of Sierra Leone Police, Francis Munu

Inspector General of Sierra Leone Police, Francis Munu

The police are there to protect victims and potential victims by consistently enforcing laws and procedures so that all crimes are investigated and offenders punished. The police can, among other duties, arrest and confiscate weapons or dangerous substances.

Surely, the Sierra Leone Police has played a key role in maintaining public peace, law and order and in the fight against Ebola. However, it is not all the time that police officers act in manners befitting their uniforms. Take Ghana for example. In January 2001, the Ghanaian government sacked Peter Nanfuri, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), for failing to end serial killings of women.

In like manner, the Cote d’Ivoire government sacked its chief of police, Gen. Adolphe Baby, in October 2003, following the cold-blooded murder of French radio journalist Jean Helene, who was shot at point blank range outside the police headquarters in Abidjan, by a uniformed policeman, Sgt. Theodore Sery Dagoin. The journalist was waiting to interview a group of opposition political activists who were about to be released after several days in detention.

In January 2012, Nigeria’s outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan unceremoniously relieved IGP Hafiz Ringim of his duty following his inability to curtail the 2011 post-elections crises that swept across the northern region of the country (which snuffed lives out of many citizens, including several serving youth corps members), multiple attacks by the dreaded Islamic sect Boko Haram, and the controversial escape of Boko Haram’s kingpin, gun runner and mastermind of Christmas Day bombing of St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Madalla, Niger State, Kabiru Umar alias Sokoto.

In neighbouring Liberia, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in November 2011, dismissed IGP Marc Amblard after a Special Independent Commission of Inquiry indicted him for his lapses in a bloody riot in Monrovia, which left at least one person dead, several injured and properties worth millions of dollars destroyed.

While police all over the world are supposed to be apolitical and professional in discharging their duties, this cannot be said of police in most African countries. African police officers often do the bidding of the government of the day.

In a desperate bid to please the Nigeria presidency, the ruling party and their agents, the recently sacked Nigeria police boss, Suleiman Abba, became actively involved in partisan politics. Despite turning the police into the security wing of the ruling party PDP, he was shown the red card by outgoing President Jonathan last week. In a way, his fall from grace to grass can best be described as ignominious.

What were Mr. Abba’s crimes? Following the defection from the ruling PDP to the All Progressives Congress (APC) of the Nigeria House of Representatives Speaker, Rt. (Hon.) Aminu Tambuwal in October 2014, Mr. Abba, in a rare act of classlessness, ordered the withdrawal of police aides attached to the Speaker’s Office. Abba usurped powers that are exclusively vested in the courts when he claimed that the Speaker had lost his office and seat as a federal legislator, having contravened certain sections of the Constitution. Abba became the accuser, the judge and the jury.

But Abba provided enough security aides for Hon. Jumoke Akindele, the Speaker of Ondo State House of Assembly who led her colleagues to dump the Labour Party (LP) and joined the PDP last October, the same month that the Speaker defected.

In the same vein, Hon. Ahmadu Fintiri, the Speaker of the Adamawa State House of Assembly and his colleagues who decamped from the PDP to the APC and have since returned to the PDP, did not have their security aides withdrawn by Mr. Abba in March 2014. While the security aides of top officials who decamped from other parties to the PDP were not being withdrawn, those who decamped from the PDP to the APC, such as Rt. (Hon.) Tambuwal, were withdrawn with speed of light. Simply, Mr. Abba was subjecting members of the opposition to selective intimidation.

In November 2014, one of the darkest days in the history of Nigeria’s National Assembly (NASS), police blocked, tear gassed and stopped elected lawmakers from gaining access to the Assembly chambers. The spectacle of well-fed legislators climbing walls in an attempt to enter their chambers became a YouTube sensation.

It appears that the police’s narrow interpretation of what is lawful is not restricted to Nigeria, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia alone, as last November in Sierra Leone, Mr. Adamu Eze and eight others were arrested in Kono by the police for allegedly breaching public emergency regulations declared by President Koroma in August 2014 as part of measures to contain the Ebola virus.

Also, for purportedly violating emergency regulations in March 2015, Sierra Leone’s senior members of the Bar Association were rounded-up by armed security men at a meeting within the court premises. Their crime was that they were discussing the constitutionality of relieving VP Chief Sam-Sumana of his post and the manner in which it was done.

Just a little over two weeks ago, the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) Western Area Chairman, Manso Dumbuya, and 19 others were arrested by the police at the residence of Manso Dumbuya for “unlawful gathering”.

Again, for demonstrating in front of the U.S. Embassy last week, the Director of Criminal Investigation Department (CID), Chief Superintendent Ibrahim ‘Size-Man’ Koroma, confirmed the arrest and detention of nine persons.

Yet, senior APC members who have been holding gatherings in their houses and party offices have not been arrested. For example, Mr. John Bonoh Sisay organized a political meeting where he declared his ambition to lead the APC in 2018. No arrest was made by the police. Also, the National Commission for Social Action (NACSA) boss, Alie Badara Mansaray, had organized a gathering at his residence and he’s a free man.

In March 2015, the APC party held a political rally at its Freetown headquarters in Brookfield to celebrate the appointment of Mr. Victor Foh as Vice President. Dozens of jubilating party faithful attended the rally. Not a single arrest was made. In the same March, dozens of Kono residents, the home turf of Chief Sumana, came to Freetown to show solidarity with President Koroma in support of the decision to sack the VP. They were not arrested either.

Similarly, several groups within the ruling party have organized street protests in support of several decisions taken by the government. They have always enjoyed full protection of the police.

Recently, Ambassador Osman Foday Yansaneh, the APC National Secretary General, summoned supporters to an emergency National Delegates Conference for 30th April, 2015. Could we expect the police to swing into action on that day following the rule that more than 10 persons should not gather?

Timely admonition for the Sierra Leone Police

The police should not allow itself to be used to thwart the will of the people. The police needn’t pander to the government in power; governments will change but the police will always remain. Rather, the police can make concerted efforts to improve its image of being a biased force that was used by the SLPP to promote narrow political agenda and is being currently used by the APC.

The police ought to be fair and impartial and must not be succumbing to the whims and caprices of politicians. IGP Francis Munu is a smart guy. I am sure he understands my point.