By Aliu Hassan
Six weeks after President Muhammed Buhari appointed the new acting Inspector General of Police (IGP), Usman Alkali Baba as announced by Muhammad Maigari Dingyadi, the Minister of Police Affairs, the dust is yet to settle on the matter.
Though Usman Alkali Baba has since April 6, 2021 replaced Mohammed Abubakar Adamu whose tenure had ended in February but got extended for 3 months, Nigerians especially the human rights community including activists, lawyers and other stakeholders continue to query the appointment for many reasons.
First, many Nigerians had criticised the appointment immediately after it was announced on the ground that it was yet another sensitive appointment given to a Northerner, further fueling apprehensions about alleged nepotistic imbalance in the split of security chief appointments in Nigeria between the South and the North regions.
As at May 21, 2021, available data shows that from a regional analysis of Nigeria’s security agency chiefs, including paramilitary and anti-graft, the North has 12 out of 16 (75%) while only 4 (25%) are headed by a Southerner. A closer look reveals that the following 12 agencies are headed by a Northerner – NDLEA (Adamawa), EFCC (Kebbi), Federal Fire Service (Niger), Army (Kaduna), Navy (Kano), DSS (Kano), NIA (Katsina), Immigration (Jigawa), Customs (Bauchi), FRSC (Kwara), Civil Defence (Nassarawa), and Police (Yobe). Agencies headed by Southerners are ICPC (Ondo), Correctional Services (Delta), Air Force (Osun) and Defence (Delta). This obvious slant continues to fuel agitations against perceived marginalization and domination of the security architecture in favour of one region of the nation against the other.
In the same vein, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), a prominent civil rights advocacy group, in a recent statement was very explicit and blunt in flagging the inherent but avoidable national quagmire posed by the new IGP appointment. HURIWA said President Buhari’s failure to appoint Deputy Inspector General of Police Moses A Jitoboh from Bayelsa, the crude oil rich Niger Delta region in preference for the then Deputy Inspector General of Police Usman Alkali Baba, a Moslem Northerner was an opportunity missed to try to balance the representation of Southerners and Christians in the internal security architectures of Nigeria which is now dominated by Northern Moslems.
HURIWA argued further that the anticipatory tenure extension of the current Acting IGP Usman Alkali Baba could face legal storms if he is confirmed since the relevant law governing the operation of the policing institution in the Country clearly stipulates that a substantive Inspector General of Police ought to spend 4 years.
The rights group’s reasoning aligns with the background of the Nigerian Civil Service Rule which states that every civil servant must statutorily retire after 35 years of service or attaining 60 years of age as well as the new Nigeria Police Act 2020 signed by President Buhari himself last September which prescribes a four (4) year tenure for an IG of Police.
So, stakeholders are curious to know why the President appointed a DIG who has just two more years in service for a 4 year task if there aren’t any ulterior agenda. Besides, there are other senior Police officers in the rank of DIG and AIG with years for service. DIGs Ibrahim Lamorde of the Force Intelligence Bureau (FIB), David Folawiyo, Information Communication and Technology (ICT) Department, Joseph Egbunike, Finance and Administration Department, Sanusi Lemu, Operations Department and Dan-Mallam Mohammed, Training and Development Department are just to mention some.
According to the statement, HURIWA reasoned that, “Such legal controversies and pitfalls could be avoided …and the current administration would have minimally mitigated the obvious unconstitutional practices of dominating the heads of internal security architectures with persons from one section and one religious affiliation which violates the Federal character principle of the Constitution in section 14(3).
“Part 111 Section 7 (6) of the Act prescribes a four-year single tenure for a person appointed to the office of the IGP and “We think any senior police officer who has less than four years to retirement like the case of Usman Alkali Baba cannot become an IGP.”
“We have nothing against the current Acting IGP…but as committed patriots and Democrats, we are urging the President not to take any action that could be termed an illegality going by the fact that confirming Usman Alkali Baba as IGP will automatically means ANTICIPATORY TENURE EXTENSION which is not envisaged in the extant Police Act”.
“We know from evidence that Usman Alkali Baba joined the NPF in 1988…But it is unacceptable to see the President make a choice of an officer who has less number of years to be in the police as Acting Inspector-General of Police whereas the law says the holder of the office of IGP should serve for 4 years.”
“This means that President Muhammadu Buhari has granted anticipatory tenure extension to Usman Alkali Baba should the Nigerian Police Council to be chaired by President Muhammadu Buhari goes ahead to confirm him as the substantive Chief of police of Nigeria. This is unconstitutional. Section 18(8) of the 2020 Nigerian Police Act says retirement age for a police officer is 60 years of age or 35 years of public service whichever comes first. So proceeding with the confirmation of the appointment of the Acting IGP as substantive IGP will undermine both the Nigerian Constitution and the Nigerian police Act of year 2020 which was signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari”.
In another brilliant article titled “On the IGP’s initial ‘overzealousness’” on April 26, Emmanuel Onwubiko, a former Federal Commissioner at the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria also highlighted public concerns and issues raised by IGP Usman Alkali Baba’s recent appointment as well as the dangerous impacts of mediocrity and political interests on the Nigeria Police hierarchy and institutional efficiency.
“To retire a Christian officer…and then promote Usman Alkali Baba…is certainly not a way to rebuild a police force that is rapidly declining and collapsing by the day. A clear sign that the police have virtually collapsed are the cases of kidnappings and targeted killings by armed non state actors whereas the policing institution seems overwhelmed and defeated.”
Just last week, another stakeholder, an Abuja based legal practitioner, Barrister Maxwell Okpara wrote an open letter to President Buhari, calling for the sack of the Acting Inspector-General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba. Opara urged the President to “avoid being misled into the destruction of State Institutions with unnecessary politics and influence peddling.”
The letter dated May 10, 2021 pointed out that “Nigeria is currently going back to the same scenario of unnecessary distractions of lobbying and attempts to subverts the clear provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Nigeria Police Act, 2020 by desperate politicians who are only interested in 2023 elections and are out to impose an unqualified IGP who they believe will do their bidding.
Continuing, Opara said, “The subject matter of appointing a new Inspector-General for the Nigeria Police Force has been one that I saw as an opportunity for this great nation to rise above primordial cleavages and, for once, abide by the letters and spirit of our laws devoid of politics, nepotism and or religious and tribal sentiment.
“Mr. President will agree with me that the wrongful extension of the tenure of the former IGP led to an unnecessary distraction in the core responsibility of the police as the then IGP became pre-occupied with lobbying to secure his office rather than securing the lives and properties of Nigerians.
“One wonders why the President of the Nigerian Senate whose chamber was involved in the enactment of the Police Act, 2020 will be silent when a clearly unqualified person is appointed as the IGP of Police at a time that our nation is in need of 100% lawful actions required for legitimacy in the security sector of our nation.
“Also, it is greatly depressing to imagine that the Attorney-General of the federation might have advised in support of such an unlawful appointment as he has remained silent after openly defending the most illegal tenure extension of the former IGP.
However, Barrister Ayodeji Odukale of Ayodeji Odukale & Co Chambers in Lagos disagreed with the calls. From his learned opinion, “There is no controversy. The Police Act prescribes maximum number of years being 4 years. The Act also prescribes number of years of service to be 60 years or 35 years in service. What this means is the present Police IG will retire once he completes 35 years in service by 2023, or attains age 60 by 2023, whichever comes first, simple.”
Stakeholders and Nigerians generally who are worried about the heightened security challenges of the nation, including high rate of kidnapping, banditry, murderous herdsmen, extra judicial killing by security personnel, armed robbery and ritual killings are waiting to see how the appointment of ag. IGP Usman which will terminate in 2023, a general elections year, will assure a stable and more effective Nigeria Police Force.
Aliu Hassan is a rights activist and civil engineer based in Abuja