There is a dearth of community policing in our communalities. There is a dearth of intelligence – a dearth of intelligent information. Nobody would give you information when they suspect you might mess around with their rights and the information they share. The Police have been doing a bad job in this. It is common place in this part of the world that people who volunteer information to the Police are usually the first to be arrested and detained by the Police, contrary to the law- that mentality of ‘thief knowing thief’. In Paris, Nice, Saint Etienne and Brussels, people freely came forward to share information but that’s because they trust the system. That is a lesson to be learnt. I believe people will only share information and aid the law enforcement agents in Nigeria when they trust that the system will protect them and they would not lose their rights by reason of providing information.
On Friday 13 November 2015, terrorists suspected to be members of the terrorist organization ISIS (or ISIL) carried out gruesome attacks at several locations in Paris leading to the death of 130 people and injuries to over 350 people. These attacks have gained frightening notoriety around the world for several reasons. It was an attack at the heart of Europe. It was carried out close to a football stadium, in restaurants, theatres, etc. – places termed ‘soft targets’. For these reasons, somehow, the Western world has been touched. But not just the western world has been touched; Africa has been touched too. Due to the huge number of Africans that have dealings with France and the massive media coverage the attacks received. President Obama of the United States even termed it “an attack on the world”.
Rule of Media
But one thing is striking; terrorist groups in Africa, like Al-Shabaab in Somalia and Boko Haram in Nigeria, have carried out worse attacks. Nigeria, for example, lost more lives to terror attacks last year (2014) than the entire Europe (including the Charlie Hebdo and the latest Paris attacks this year). But in the case of Africa and Nigeria, in particular, there is usually no widespread outrage for the gruesome murder of human lives.This should be the first lesson for Nigeria to learn from the international space- why do the horrifying attacks carried out by Boko Haram in Northeastern Nigeria not carry the same outrage internationally as the attacks in Paris or the botched attempted attacks in Brussels? No doubt, the powers of internationally well-funded media houses play a key role. Powerful media houses in the West (like CNN, Fox, AJ, France24) lavishly cover these incidents as they are of more concern to audiences all around the world who definitely have interests in Europe and these in turn impact on advertising revenues of these media ‘giants’. The average American tourist, for example, would be more interested in the happenings in Paris or Brussels than ocurrences in, say, Jimeata, Adamawa State or Dombazzu, Borno State or even Abuja, (all in Nigeria). The international media houses have extensive reach through every medium available you can imagine. What’s more, the big media houses have access to more information than a local outlet like Channels TV does. They can pay to have reporters all around the globe because of their wide network, sniffing for any available information. They have access to the government, the Police, private people, and businesses. This brings me to the next issue.
Rule of Law
In plain terms, Nigerian media houses don’t have access to the kind of information their foreign counterparts have because this is Nigeria. I don’t think they are to blame though because they have in times past paid the ultimate sacrifices to achieve the result.
There is a dearth of community policing in our communalities. There is a dearth of intelligence – a dearth of intelligent information. Nobody would give you information when they suspect you might mess around with their rights and the information they share. The Police have been doing a bad job in this. It is common place in this part of the world that people who volunteer information to the Police are usually the first to be arrested and detained by the Police, contrary to the law- that mentality of ‘thief knowing thief’. In Paris, people freely came forward to share information but that’s because they trust the system. That is a lesson to be learnt. I believe people will only share information and aid the law enforcement agents in Nigeria when they trust that the system will protect them and they would not lose their rights by reason of providing information.
At every point in time, in every situation and concerning everybody, the law must be followed – this is what is termed the rule of law. This is the fabric of civilization.
During investigations after the Paris incident, the brother of one of the masterminds swiftly came forward and gave information and statements to the French authorities and in a few hours, he was released. The Nigerian Police would have rather detained him as the first suspect of the crime. If for anything, to score cheap publicity of ‘’bringing the suspects to book’. By the way, that’s the usual rhetoric from the Police in this country. You might want to add this; the culprits will face the full wrath of the law.
By the way, Section 7 of the new Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 has outlawed the prevalent practice of arresting a sibling or spouse in place of an absconder. So where the person to be arrested cannot be found, the Police can no longer arrest a sibling, spouse, or relative in place of the person to be arrested.
French law, I understand, did not allow for raids and arrests beyond certain points in time. The French law enforcement apparatus abided by this, in the face of grave terror, until there was a declaration of a State of Emergency and a subsequent legislative enablement to change the law in such a circumstance. . These ‘legalisations’ gave way for the massive overnight raids and the 4.00am raid in the Parisian suburb of Saint Denis that provided vital intelligence on the possibility of further planned attacks.
The Nigerian Police would have arrested anyone that they came across in such a situation and at any time. But Nigerian law only allows for arrest without warrant where the Police has reasonably suspicion of the commission of a crime by the person being arrested. The argument by the Police is usually that at the scene of the crime anybody can be a suspect. How could this be? Who commits a crime and remains at that scene, except the mentally deranged? There is very little chance that the Police comes to the scene of a crime some 10 to 20 minutes later and finds the assailant there. The mass arrests usually carried out by the Nigerian police some hours (and in some cases days) after the crime at the scene of the crime is therefore legally unjustifiable. I am not saying it is not possible to apprehend a suspect at the scene of the crime. In some cases, it is very possible. But my point is that arrests should be products of intelligence gathering and ‘reasonable’ suspicion, not a wild goose chase.
I also understand that a number of the people who were detained by the French Police but did not have any cases to answer or were not implicated have been released. This is another lesson. In Nigeria, the Constitution only allows for detention by the Police and law-enforcement agents for a maximum of 2 days before charging a suspect to court. Where there is no charge against the person, the person should be released immediately until there is available evidence in proof of any charge. Our law-enforcement agencies must grow beyond the lame excuses of ‘we are still conducting investigations’ and ‘we will surely bring the suspects to book’. Five months after, if the Police is still conducting investigations and there is no credible evidence, it clearly shows that such person was not arrested on a reasonable suspicion. When I refer to evidence, I am not talking about confessional statements made after threats or statements by some ‘well connected individuals’ who are bent on ‘showing the suspect the other side’. I can’t define what a credible evidence is, but I know one when I see it. But credible evidence is not far from; a reliable, cogent, and verifiable evidence linking the suspect to the commission of the crime. All these come in the midst of reports by Amnesty International of how our military abuse human rights in their fight against terrorism. Whether justifiable or not, these are dents on the rule of law in this country.
Another important area to address is intelligence sharing amongst security agencies and officers. One of the bitter taste of the Paris investigations on the weekend of the incident was the discovery that one of the masterminds of the attacks had been stopped by Police at the border between France and Belgium but released because at the time the Police at the border didn’t have information he was the mastermind even though he had been on Police watch list. Also there was a discovery that another mastermind of the Paris attacks who the French authorities thought had planned the attacks from Syria, was actually in France during the attacks. These kinds of lapses in information was reminiscent of the lapse in intelligence management and sharing that was unearthed after the kidnap of over 200 school girls in Chibok, Borno State early last year. I learnt that there was information from the authorities that the West African Examinations should not be conducted in the Chibok School due to the heightened security situation. However, the Government of Borno State and the Police gave the go-ahead for the conduct of the examinations leading to the kidnap of the girls. Most embarrassingly, the media even reported that the Nigerian President at the time was told by military advisers that the reports of the girls’ mass kidnap was a media rumour, not to be believed – resulting in catastrophic delay in executive action. That also tells a thing or two about the way our leaders and security agencies have reacted to terror attacks in this country.
The spate of terrorists’ attacks around the world poses great challenges to security agencies and the rule law. In the face of this, it is apparent that there are clear examples of how the rule of law is being and can be respected by governments. These lessons are instructive for Nigeria in our fight against crime and terrorism. We must learn to uphold the rule of law and protect the constitutional rights of citizens while also waging a decisive war on crime and terrorism.
A disregard of the rule of law has never and will never bode well for posterity.
David Yibakuo Amakiri