NOT a few Nigerians were miffed by the reports of arbitrary arrests and continued harassment of essential workers by the police immediately after the recent extension by the Federal Government of the partial lockdown and curfew imposed across the country to curtail the spread of theCovid-19 global pandemic. Initially,many thought that the police operatives were at it again, acting outside their briefs for pecuniary gain, but it turned out that they had the backing of the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, who chose to override the presidential directive to exempt essential workers in the enforcement of the partial lockdown and curfew. It is yet unclear what the motivation was for the IGP to follow this despicable and dangerous path: could it be that he was unaware of the presidential instruction or the communication between the presidency and the police on the directive was not as lucid as the one in the public domain? But then, which civilised society or person does not recognise the importance of carrying out essential services even in the midst of curfew or any other security regulations?
Anyway, the stark reality is that the IGP ordered his officers and men to disregard the presidential directive exempting essential workers from the partial lockdown and curfew imposed by the Federal Government. And since then, workers who were engaged in essential services have been at the receiving end of police harassment. The case was in fact so serious that the Lagos chapter of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA)had to declare a strike over harassment by security agencies. Though the strike has now been suspended sequel to the direct intervention of the state government, the issues still remain. Apart from health officials, other categories of essential workers such as journalists, farmers and transporters involved in the haulage and distribution of food and agricultural produce and inputs across the nation were also being harassed. For instance, in Ibadan, which serves as the poultry market to farmers from different parts of the country, police recently stopped some of the farmers from transporting day-old chicks, delaying them for hours and causing them to sustain huge losses resulting from the death of many of the day-old chicks. Journalists too, were not spared; they were harassed even after the Police Public Relation Officer (PPRO) issued a clarification after the IGP’s spurious and disturbing order.
The IGP’s directive to his officers which does not seem to recognise the significance of essential services is diametrically opposed to that of Mr. President and the absence of any strong response from the presidency to an instruction that has effectively countermanded the presidential directive put a question mark not just on the quality of leadership of the police but also on that of the political leadership at the centre. Put more lucidly, the apparent indication by the IGP that he was not disposed to respecting the directive of the president for essential workers to be exempted from the lockdown and curfew provisions in the country points in the direction of total breakdown of hierarchy and due process in governance. It also amounts to a negation of accepted practice throughout the world.
Ordinarily, in any democracy, the directive of the political leadership that has yet to be set aside by a competent court of law should be the final official position on any issue. Consequently, for the IGP to have come up with his own counter directive to that of the president while urging his officers to stick to it is a dangerous aberration whether from the viewpoint of sabotage or gross insubordination or both. And it conveys an impression of a disorganised system which does not bode well for the image of the country and its leadership locally and internationally. Sadly, there was a precedent during the era of Ibrahim Kpotun Idris, the immediate predecessor of the current IGP, who flagrantly disobeyed the presidential directive to relocate to Benue State at the height of the killer herdsmen/farmers’ crisis in the State. But unfortunately, Idris got away unscathed with the egregious insubordination. Has that bad precedent, especially the impunity that attended it,offered an incentive to the incumbent IGP to borrow a leaf from his predecessor? And would the presidency again gloss over an affront on its authority?
Certainly, the IGP’s negative disposition to unhindered running of essential services during a crisis even when he has a superior directive on the matter has clearly shown that no one could trust the quality of his judgment if given the latitude to exercise discretionary powers. Even if he was not expressly directed, an official of the IGP’s calibre ought to know that it is a worldwide standard practice and in the overall interest of the system to give essential workers some leeway to operate, even in a situation of war. The IGP’s alleged action is really very unfortunate and unacceptable and it is hoped that the relevant authority will hold him to account. Meanwhile, the IGP should immediately ensure that his officers do not henceforth harass or disturb workers on essential services who are helping to perform important and grave duties for the society, sometimes at the risk of their wellbeing or even their lives. Indeed, what the essential workers deserve is respect and appreciation, as is the case everywhere in the world, not harassment by ill-informed and ill-directed police operatives.
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