By Onikepo Braithwaite
The Offa Bank Robbery
Everyday, we wake up and we become more convinced that we have a government that does not give one hoot about the rule of law, and that law and order in our society, seems to be breaking down. If the President, or the Attorney-General of the Federation, or any of the heads of the law enforcement agencies could speak the Yoruba language, at their security meetings, they would probably laugh with derision and sarcasm, about the constant cry by many, for them to respect the rule of law, and respond – “Rule of law ke? Ki lon je be? Ko ni da fun rule of law” (rule of law? What does that mean or what is that? Let the rule of law go to hell); and end it with my favourite Hausa proverb, “ina rua angulu da kitso” (what concerns the vulture with plaiting of hair)! Vultures have bald heads, so obviously, they have no hair which can be plaited. The proverb is used to signify, a total unconcern for something; in our everyday parlance, “what’s my business with that?”. It’s the same thing, with our Executive. They are absolutely unconcerned, about the rule of law.
Was I shocked when the news broke out last week, that Michael Adikwu, the Offa robbery kingpin, had died in Police custody? Not really. Remember that sometime in July (on this page), I had mentioned the fact that, when some of the robbery suspects were paraded on television, they seemed to be limping (not as a result of shackles on their feet); I think one of them, even had a bandage wrapped around his foot. In the video footage of the robbery which made the rounds on social media, the robbers who were seen prancing around like ‘Rambo’ during their operation, all of a sudden, after a stint in police custody, were seen to be limping. Why?
Had they been tortured in the Police cell? No need to pretend that torture does not happen within the confines of our law enforcement agencies. We all know that torture is the Nigeria Police’s favourite method of extracting confessions from suspects, since their investigative skills leave a lot to be desired. So much so, that, an Anti-Torture legislation was enacted last year, to deter this habit.
I am glad that the Senate President has, however, called for an inquiry into Adikwu’s death, though we all know that such inquiries and investigations in Nigeria, usually lead to a dead end. People already smelt a rat, when Adikwu (a dismissed Police Corporal) and another one of his colleagues, Kayode Opadokun, were not paraded on television with their group, sometime in June. I wondered, like many, whether they may have been in such a bad physical condition after being dealt with by the Police, that they were not fit to be seen by members of the public; that their condition, would certainly raise many questions about Police brutality, so it was best that they were kept away from the public glare.
Undoubtedly, anybody who was part of murdering over 30 innocent people in cold blood, deserves to be punished to the fullest extent of the law, that is, they could possibly be given the death sentence, if they are found guilty. But, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I say unequivocally, that, it is only a court of competent jurisdiction, and nobody else, that can pass judgement and sentence on them.
There is ample provision in the law for the crimes which the Offa robbery suspects have been charged for, including Section 1(1), 1(2)(a), 1(2)(b) and 1(3) of the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Act 1990, which provide for the crimes of robbery and armed robbery, and their punishment, ranging from 21 years imprisonment to death by hanging. Therefore, no one, including the Police, is permitted to take the law into their own hands, no matter how heinous the crime, and torture or kill any suspect, while in their custody.
I must make mention of the fact that the crop of individuals who are recruited into the Nigeria Police Force, is worrisome, and I believe that the recruitment process must be reviewed. Many members of the Force, are criminals with no scruples, who would not think twice about torturing or killing suspects extrajudicially. If not, how do you explain Adikwu, a former member of the Police Force, metamorphosing into a full fledged armed robber? Or Police Chief Superintendent George Iyamu, who was the major supplier of their weapons, and an integral member of the famous Lawrence Anini armed robbery gang of the 1980s?
I remember almost 30 years ago, some friends of mine who lived in Victoria Island, were robbed. Their cook’s wife, was also raped by the robbers. The next day when one of my friends went to report the incident at the Police Station, he said he took to his heels, when he recognised one of the Corporals on the counter, as one of the armed robbers who visited them the night before! My friend was so afraid that the Police robber would recognise him, and pay them a final visit, which they would not live to tell, that he ran out of the Police Station like a bat out of hell, and perished the thought of making any further report to the Police (‘Police is your friend’, indeed).
Separation of Powers
While Section 6 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) (the Constitution), gives the Judiciary the power to adjudicate on matters (including those involving such Defendants as the robbery suspects), Section 4 of the Police Act clearly defines the general duties of the Police, which include, prevention and detection of crime, apprehension of offenders, preservation of law and order, protection of life and property (not taking of life at will, by way of torture and other forms of extrajudicial killing), enforcement of all laws and regulations, with which they are directly charged.
The doctrine of separation of powers is “a model for the governance of a State”. Government is divided into branches, each branch independent, with separate functions and powers. For us in Nigeria, this doctrine is enshrined in Sections 4, 5 and 6 of the Constitution, which provides for three branches of government, the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary, respectively, giving each branch its own exclusive functions. This doctrine, is “an essential part of the rule of law”.
The essence of separation of powers, is to ensure that power is not concentrated in one entity, and each branch performs its own duties, to the exclusion of the others. The different branches of government, are supposed to act as checks and balances on one another. The Legislature makes laws, the Judiciary interprets laws and adjudicates on all forms of matters and disputes, while the Executive is an Administrator, enforcing the law. The Police is part of the Executive, and not the Judiciary.
However, today in Nigeria, in reality, we find that the Executive seems to have arrogated the powers of the other two branches onto itself, like in a military totalitarian, authoritarian dispensation, the very antithesis of what separation of powers is meant to guard against – tyranny. And, until this stops, we will continue to have confusion, and a general break down of law and order.
Examples of this usurpation of powers by the Executive, abound.
Take for instance, the payment of almost $500 million for the purchase of Tucano Jets, without seeking the necessary approval of the National Assembly, or the issuance of Executive Orders which seems to be not only like making laws, but in some cases, laws that are unconstitutional and null and void ab initio, or the refusal to release on bail, Defendants who have been granted bail by courts of competent jurisdiction; these actions by the Executive, amount to the usurpation of the powers of the Legislature in the first two instances, and that of the Judiciary, in the third instance.
The Bottom Line?
The bottom line is that, where there is no proper separation of powers, the rule of law, which forms an integral part of this doctrine, cannot thrive or prevail. The mindset of an Executive, which feels free to do as it pleases, without taking cognisance of separation of powers, talk less of the rule of law, gives the Police and other agencies, the impetus to also do the same, knowing that there is no accountability, no checks and balances, and no consequences.
*Braithwaite writes via: onikepo.braithwaite@thisdayl