Not a few Nigerians have, like me, been wondering over the rationale for the rash of sacks and appointments by President Goodluck Jonathan, during these twilight days of his administration. The wonder has been accentuated by the fact that during his five years in office, the president had not been famous for his promptness in making appointments or for removing officials from their posts, even when the public was begging on their knees for him to do so. Otherwise, as many keep wondering, why would such people like Comrade Moro, the Interior Minister, still be doing in the cabinet? That is why most Nigerians are, therefore, surprised over this new, extremely belated dynamism in effecting personnel movements.
One cannot pretend to know what informed this sudden dynamism or whether the ‘tear-leather’ appointments are being made in consultation with the president-elect with whom these new officials are expected to work. The general impression is that it would not make much sense to make such appointments without considering how they would sit with the new administration coming in a matter of days now.
Just last week, I had a discussion with a member of the camp of one of the beneficiaries of the new appointments and could discern that even though the officer concerned is deemed very qualified for the position, he is dragging his feet from rushing to demand the keys to his new office, while obviously waiting for the arrival of the new kids on the block, after he would have accurately and adequately ascertained their body language.
The truth is that if these appointments were not being made with the nod of GMB, and even if they are in conformity with constitutional provisions, they are potentially doomed. Nobody would ever grudge the rights of the new president to annul them, to enable him appoint people with the type of qualities and dispositions that he would require to drive his agenda, vision and programmes.
Sacking them would be expected and quite in order. However, apart from their belated nature, some of these appointments seem to make a lot of sense, like that of Mr Solomon Arase, as the new acting Inspector General of Police. It would not be necessary to dwell on the academic and intellectual standing of the new IGP, nor even on his affable personality which has endeared him to most people that have had things to do with him before now.
The fact remains that the intellectual quality of the personnel of the uniformed cadres in the country has been on the upsurge, hence, no one expects anybody of less mental calibre to lead any of the forces anymore. Yet, it is the integrity and standing of Mr Arase that immediately spring into prominence, as well as the fact that not many people have bad stories to tell about him. Media people and other members of the public who have encountered him at his previous stations in the Force all tell a story of an officer and gentleman.
From the way he has comported himself and from his previous experience there was hardly any doubt that Arase would one day arrive at the pinnacle of his profession. What has become obvious is that his colleagues take him very seriously, judging from the way they had complied with a few changes he has ordered in the Police. The first is the order on the withdrawal of police checkpoints across the country. It is true that each of the five past IGPs had ordered the closure of such checkpoints which have not only become the fulcrum of corruption, but also as reports and studies have indicated that they have been largely ineffective as means of crime control or prevention. Each of those IGPs had merely given verbal orders to their subordinates; and while the instructions are carried out for a few weeks in some areas, it has conveniently been ignored in most other places.
The truth is that it has been impossible to stop checkpoints on our roads because it had been the fuel for corruption for police personnel. The effrontery and boldness with which some policemen at checkpoints extort ‘toll’ from members of the public give a clear credence that they are protected by many of their superiors, who benefit from the proceeds of checkpoint corruption. So, even if those at the apex of police authority had been determined to cancel the checkpoints, the connivance of the bosses right below them have made such efforts worthless. When the past immediate but last IGP, Abubakar abolished the checkpoints, abolition held for quite sometime, but soon came back with a vengeance, obviously under the guise of added security for the Boko Haram.
But I am yet to hear that any terrorist suspects had been ever apprehended at police checkpoints. Only a foolish criminal would allow him or herself to be caught at a stationery checkpoint which could easily be detoured or evaded by any criminal with any iota of brains. Mr Solomon Arase has re-enacted those proscription orders with a novel approach in that he has set up a committee to monitor compliance nationwide and a pledge to punish the senior officers under whose jurisdiction the illegal checkpoints are found. The result is that if you had driven through major Nigerian roads in the last three weeks, it has been a jolly ride devoid of the terrible checkpoints manned with police personnel that are determined to ‘find faults’ with you, no matter how clean you are. Just before Arase struck, a police officer had detained me and my driver for hours because my papers did not have ‘Engine Number’ of my car on them, and would not budge even when I called his attention that car registration requires the Chasis number these days. You can imagine what less informed and connected Nigerians underwent everyday at checkpoints.
Mr Arase has continued to repeat that he has a zero tolerance for corruption; his colleagues largely second this claim. So, it is not likely that the new IGP would be swayed by his corrupt colleagues to overlook what happens between Nigerians and the Police on the roads.
It is also likely that having got the stationery checkpoints out of the way, he would find ways to regulate the operation of the motorized patrols which are quietly creeping in to become checkpoints by extension. It would be foolish to ask the Police not to check commuters on the roads at all, but a situation whereby police personnel just block roads to collect money from drivers, without as much as a cursory look at the occupants of the vehicles, is not it. That is where Arase’s new and creative drive comes in. His command also needs to publish phone numbers with which members of the public could instantly report police offenders. With the determination of the incoming administration to fight corruption and bring about a remarkable change from the evil ways of the past, a committed and transparent police leadership should be its greatest asset. The new Buhari administration should consider itself lucky for finding in place a pristine platform in the Police from where and with which to drive this anti-corruption agenda.
It might well be that even in the seemingly incongruent last minute appointments of President Jonathan; the appointment of the current IGP would turn out to be a great blessing and big gift to President Buhari. Beyond that there are many things going for Arase, even now. From his credentials, many inside sources in government and in the Police claim that the only reason President Jonathan was advised against appointing Arase earlier was because the president’s main men were certain that he would never compromise on the elections.
His ramrod and principled stand against corruption is very well known within and without the police force, especially by his bosses. Arase is the first man to have served three IGPs as their principal staff officer (PSO) and was the first Intelligence Officer to become an IGP. Even at the level of realpolitik, it would not be politically savvy of President Buhari, who would have a lot of explaining to do to the polity, as to why he would not want to keep such an officer of proven integrity from the South South zone, when President Jonathan had appointed three North West IGPS – Ringim, Abubakar and Abba – in a row. Even more politically important is the fact that Mr Solomon Arase comes from Edo State, the only APC state in the South South. Buhari owes the zone much more than an IGP. At the end of the day, Mr Solomon Arase might turn out to become a very valuable parting gift from President Goodluck Jonathan to President Muhammadu Buhari. He might also become the plaster that would hold together the yesterday’s politicians who the new APC government is cobbling together to drive the wistful agenda of change.