Did anybody take count of the number of lives already wasted in this New Year? I lost count. The savagery in Rivers State in the wee hours of the New Year in which some trigger-happy goons gunned down Christians returning from the cross-over church service. The sordid barbarism in Kaduna where a traditional ruler and some others were brutally murdered. Then there was the massacre in Benue State in which some herdsmen unleashed their beastly allure on a community killing people in scores. They all tell a story: the insecurity that barbs the soul of the nation.
Yet, while the armed goons maraud the cities and villages, killing and maiming innocent citizens, those who are paid from tax-payers’ money to protect the citizens, the police, are busy harassing unarmed citizens and putting them in chains.
On New Year day, in the solemnly silent hours of the morning, about 15 armed policemen invaded the Edoji Uruagu Nnewi, Anambra State country home of Daniel Elombah, the US-based lawyer and publisher of Elombah.com. The cops were from the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad, more commonly called SARS. Remember this same SARS caught a level of notoriety recently when it was accused of being behind the robberies and banditry in Port Harcourt by no less a person than the outspoken Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike. Some Nigerians even protested in the streets to push the argument that SARS has crossed the redline of reason and law-enforcement and must be scrapped. I never bought into the idea of scrapping SARS but I did argue that the special squad needs some tweaking. The police hierarchy, after vainly refuting the atrocities ascribed to SARS, bowed to reason. The Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, promised to initiate some reforms within the SARS fold to address cases of excesses, rascality and extra-judicial indulgences. I commend him for that.
But it beggars belief that the same SARS acting on ‘order from above’ and as it now appears, order from IGP Idris, showed scant regard for due process and basest respect for human dignity when it jettisoned its primary duty of fighting criminals and die-hard robbers to raid the home of an unarmed Nigerian citizen in the most banally brutal manner.
According to Daniel Elombah, the 15 SARS men scaled their fence to gain access to his home and arrested, in handcuff, six male adults they found at home. No warrant of arrest was flashed at them, no reason was immediately given for their Gestapo-style arrest. It was not until they were handed over to another set of policemen, this time, men of the Special Tactical Squad, STS, a team directly attached to the office of IGP Idris that they were told the reason for their arrest: his brother Tim Elombah who functions as editor-in-chief of the online news portal allegedly published a defamatory article against the person of the IGP. The said article was a commentary viewed to have disparaged the personality of IGP Idris.
The said article, according to the Elombahs, was not authored by any of them, neither was it published in their news portal but it was authored by a strange name and published elsewhere. This raises some questions deserving of inquisition. Why did the IGP not go for the author of the ‘offensive’ article, a certain Ebiowei Dickson? Why arrest Elombah.com publisher and editor-in-chief and trying to make them atone for the levity of another man?
Even if the Elombahs authored, published or caused to be published the ‘distasteful’ article, why not invite them for interrogation rather than invading their home in the manner the police did. The police did not adduce any shred of proof that the Elombahs were ever invited and they shunned the invitation. And why arrest and whisk away six persons when the target was actually the Editor-in-Chief, Tim Elombah?
Again, why use men of SARS to arrest unarmed citizens? Is the IGP not playing into the hands of those who campaigned vigorously for the scrapping of SARS because of cases of abuse? Does the arrest and handcuff of the Elombahs not akin to abuse by the SARS? By deploying SARS in the manner he did, has the IGP not confirmed that the special squad is being used for causes order than anti-robbery by some privileged Nigerians?
I am an apostle of responsible journalism. I believe that every editor must take responsibility for what he or she publishes or allows to be published. But I also wager that in a democracy, there must be due process in the manner the aggrieved, maligned or defamed should take action against an editor or media house. Invading their homes without prior invitation is certainly not the ideal. The court is the best arbiter in matters of this nature. Let the court determine who libeled or who was libeled or defamed.
Sending heavily armed policemen to harass unarmed journalists when those policemen should be out there in the theatre of the underworld confronting and containing criminalities is a clear abuse of office. I am a fan of IGP Idris. I was thrilled that President Buhari overlooked many top cops scheming for the plum position to appoint him. I believe he represents the new breed and younger brigade of cops. I was much more thrilled when he recently owned up that all may not be well with operations of the SARS operatives.
He even promised to reform the special squad. But what he has caused his SARS men to do in the matter of the Elombahs does not speak of any reform. Rather, it underscored a disturbing reality that nothing has changed with SARS and in SARS. If he feels that his reputation has been denigrated and ridiculed in any way, he should approach the court of law. That is the least expected of a law-enforcement officer. To act otherwise, to resort to intimidation, arm-twisting, harassment and torture, physical and emotional, is to take laws into one’s hand.
Today, Providence has thrust upon IGP Idris a great deal of responsibility. He is the number one cop. Therefore, he must not be seen to be lawless or to engage in acts that tend to subjugate a citizen or citizens. Nigerians have seen much pain, suffered much cruelty and hardship these past weeks. They don’t deserve additional trauma in the form of police brutality.
Let’s get it straight. If IGP Idris feels his reputation has been injured by the perceived noxious publication, let him head to court without hesitation. As a very experienced and senior police officer, he must learn to have confidence in the courts of law. He should lead by example. Suborning his junior officers to herd journalists and their relatives (they are not common criminals, please) in handcuffs from Anambra to Abuja in the most insufferable condition does not advertise him as a super cop. Rather, such act degrades and damages the credentials and character of the IGP. Worse yet, it will not muzzle the press either. It is a poor strategy in police-media relations and IGP Idris would do well to learn from the negative press his action has provoked. He would be remembered as the IGP who hates the media. Being anti-media does damage to any leader. If in doubt, ask President Donald Trump.