Wednesday, June 11, 2014 5:07 pm
By Eromosele Ebhomele
Police Commissioner Joseph Mbu is again in the eye of the storm for clamping down on #BringBackOurGirls campaigners
The skin of a leopard remains the skin of a leopard. Even when washed by a torrent during the rains or bashed by the fiery heat of the sun in the dry season, it remains the same, ever patched and dented. Such, many hold, is true of the character of Joseph Mbu, the controversial Commissioner of Police in the Federal Capital Command, Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria.
Just as his name was beginning to fade from the minds of his critics, Mbu, who was moved to Abuja a couple of months ago from Rivers State after he almost brought governance in the state to a halt, again updated the dossier of the police as more of an enemy than friend to those its officials are paid to protect. His declaration banning any gathering by those sympathetic to the plights of the hundreds of parents whose daughters have been missing for nearly two months courtesy of their abduction by the Boko Haram terrorist group, has not only led to a mass outcry against his activities, it has also resulted in a N200 million suit against the police, his employer.
Many days after the 14 April abduction of the girls, Nigerians increasingly became irritated by the Federal Government’s lackadaisical handling of the incident. Reports said President Goodluck Jonathan did not believe that the girls were actually abducted. Then pockets of protests sprang up around the country, starting from social media and spreading across the globe. With the tag: #BringBackOurGirls, the protests became coordinated in Nigeria with a daily gathering at the Unity Fountain, Abuja, where the protesters agitated for the safe return of the girls. The first of such protest held on 28 April and was led by Oby Ezekwesili, a former ninister of Education, and other heads of civil society groups in the country. The government soon became embarrassed and had to voice out through the Labaran Maku, minister of Information and Strategy. To Maku, the protest had become political, sponsored by government’s opposition. Latching on to Maku’s position last week, Mbu, who had been quiet since his transfer to Abuja, found his voice again, calling a press conference and reading the riot act to the protesters.
Mbu stated reasons for banning the protest to include the fear of a possible attack of the protesters by those opposed to their clamour. “Accordingly, protests on the Chibok girls are hereby banned with immediate effect. As the FCT police boss, I cannot fold my hands and watch this lawlessness. Information reaching us is that too soon, dangerous elements will join groups under the guise of protest and detonate explosives aimed at embarrassing the government. You will recall that the first peaceful protest on the ‘BRING BACK OUR GIRLS’ took place on the 28 April, 2014 which I took part in the procession until when the Senate President (David Mark) and Speaker (Aminu Tambuwal) addressed them. The protest continued and on 22 May, 2014 they were again addressed by over ten ministers, the Secretary to the Federal Government and others,” he said, lamenting that the protesters had remained unrelenting.
This excuse would have made meaning to Nigerians if Mbu had not implicated the government, derailing from the previous reason given. To Mbu, the turning of the Fountain of Unity venue of the daily gathering into a place for “cooking and selling” had become embarrassing, especially as diplomats live in that area of the territory. Then he misfired, according to the protesters, by saying: “The trend is now posing a serious security threat to those living around and citizens who drive through…People have been protesting over a month now…It is the issue of terrorism, it is not solved in one day. Then, when you continue to do it persistently [the protest], it becomes a nuisance to the government.”
Almost immediately, Nigerians began to tear him apart verbally. Many recalled how he nearly got the country’s fragile democracy thwarted with the way he tackled Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State and shut down the state House of Assembly for many months, only giving his backing to the five ‘renegade’ lawmakers led by Evans Bipi. Bipi, with the assistance of the police under Mbu, was able to take over the state Assembly on 9 July, 2013 in a coup that resulted in a deadly clash among the members of the House. The five members, who never denied the support of the presidency, impeached Otelemaba Amachree, the speaker of the House. They also sacked all principal officers of the House and then planted Bipi as the new speaker.
Though the Inspector-General of Police overruled Mbu’s action, giving credence to the argument by some that he was just being overzealous, criticisms against the police commissioner have continued to swell. Calling for Mbu’s immediate dismissal for banning the Abuja protests, Dr. Davies Ikanya, the chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in Rivers State, said he was aware that a superior order had been given against the ban, but yet condemned Mbu and his action. In a statement signed by his Senior Special Assistant on Media, Chief Chukwuemeka Eze, he said Mbu had rubbished the name of the Nigeria Police too much to remain as an officer in the institution. He expressed certainty that Mbu may not have secured the permission of the police top hierarchy before carrying out his controversial order which, he said, had shown the commissioner’s disdain for good order, decorum and constituted authority.
At a plenary last Tuesday, members of the Lagos State House of Assembly took turns to condemn Mbu for trying to replicate his infamous actions in Rivers in Abuja with the ban against the protesting group. The condemnation came under a Matter of Urgent Public Importance raised by Sanai Agunbiade, the representative of Ikorodu Constituency 1 at the House.
Ezekwesili and a group, Women for Peace and Justice, believing that the government has no such right to ban their kind of protest, headed to the Federal High Court Abuja, suing the police authority for N200 million.