Democracy in Nigeria was once again put to the test on Tuesday, January 4, 2022, when the Executive Governor of Lagos, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, was on the streets to resolve what could be described as a ‘security breach’ in the process of executing a Supreme Court judgment on residents and property owners in Magodo Phase II Estate in Lagos.
Timescape Magazine reports that on December 21, 2021, there was an “invasion” of the estate by mean-looking, gun-wielding police officers in large numbers with directives from the Inspector General of Police, Usman Alkali, who himself was acting on the instruction of the Attorney General of the Federation and the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami. The team was charged with the execution of a Supreme Court judgment delivered on February 10, 2012, in suit no. SC/112/2002, without carrying along the Governor and the Commissioner of Police, Mr. Hakeem Odumosu. The State Governor by law is the ‘Chief Security Officer’ of the State
It was glaring that there had been a breach of peace resulting in the breakdown of law and order within the estate.
For days, policemen besieged the estate in the company with suspected land grabbers and members of a family, who had planned to demolish property in the choice estate in the execution of the judgment. The development caused a commotion at the estate as landlords and tenants worried over their fate.
Drama, however, unfolded when the Governor visited the estate. Sanwo-Olu along with members of his cabinet went out to visit the residents protesting the continued presence of armed policemen in the estate. During his engagement with the senior police officer who led the team of enforcers, one Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP) Abimbola Oyewole defied the Governor’s order to withdraw his colleagues who had invaded the estate. The Officer told Mr. Sanwo-Olu that he only answers to his superiors and had yet to get an order to leave the estate from them.
Although the matter was finally settled after Governor Sanwo-Olu invited the parties to the judgment to his office and an amicable solution was reached, sanctioned by the release of about 20 residents who were arrested by the Police officers, the video of how a CSP belittled a sitting governor has gone viral and generated mixed reactions about the incident. The episode also ignited a renewed call for the creation of state police and the need to urgently restructure the country with strict adherence to the principles of federalism as it is being practiced in western countries.
“This is another indication that Nigeria’s federation is faulty. How do we describe this? Governors are nothing but figureheads when it comes to security in their states. The title ‘Chief Security Officer’ of the states they gave them is nothing but a deception. We can all see how a CSP defied a state governor’s order, and nothing happens since he doesn’t take orders from him,” a concerned Nigerian, Sylvester Ezendu told Timescape Magazine.
Speaking on the incident, a legal practitioner, Evans Ufeli, a Policy, and Development Attorney said that what happened between Governor Sanwo-Olu and the CSP was a constitutional crisis that shows the defect in the federal system of government which Nigeria is practicing. He made this remark over African Independent Television.
“It is high time there is devolution of power, as this is the only solution to this crisis now and in the future. We have a Commissioner of Police in a state who is answering to the Inspector General of Police and not the Chief Security Officer of the state who is the Governor.
“There is a need to decentralize power in Nigeria so that we can take a second look at the creation of state police. The argument that states police will be an instrument of abuse by state governors is not tenable as we can see how people at the federal level use the police to settle scores. I must emphasize that we must decentralize everything about the Nigerian state. Our federal system is just government on paper, we are not really practicing it as it is supposed to be,” Mr. Ufeli emphasized.
Gboyega Akosile, Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to Governor Sanwo-Olu said that his principal engaging with people in a matter of public interest is part of his responsibility to maintain law and order in Lagos State.
“This is a governor who cares about the welfare of all the residents of Lagos, irrespective of their social status, age, or gender. The Magodo issue is a bit knotty as it is legal. But, regardless of the circumstances that led to the current situation, the Governor, under whose watch the seeming crisis happened, must rise to the occasion to address it frontally. After all, you inherit both assets and liabilities when one is elected to an office. This, my principal knows and understands very well and in line with the oath he swore to, that he will protect the lives and property of every citizen, he had to wade into the Magodo land issue before it degenerates into a full-blown crisis.
“We should be reminded that all security apparatus is controlled by the Federal Government in Abuja and their officers are not answerable to any state government. What we have had in Nigeria is just collaboration between the state and federal governments. The structure is weak, lopsided, and not in the best interest of the federal system of government that we practice in Nigeria,” Mr. Akosile noted.
He reiterated that “For emphasis, Governor Sanwo-Olu is not weak. He is a democrat, a gentleman, who will follow the due process in every situation, and what happened between him and the CSP at Magodo should be a good reason why well-meaning Nigerians need to increase the tempo of the call for true federalism, where all the federating units will have their security arrangements and would not need the Federal Police to carry out a lot of duties in their domains”.
Governor Sanwo-Olu’s Chief Press Secretary summarized the situation thus: “Some argued that the Governor should have worked behind the scenes and should not necessarily have visited Magodo. This line of thought is at its best funny. Do you go to sleep when your roof is on fire? I believe no one will do that. Refer to the “invasion” of Magodo by mean-looking, gun-wielding Police officers in large numbers, who laid siege to the estate on December 21, creating chaos in the area and fear among the landlords and residents. It took the intervention of the Governor for those police officers to stand down the following day. He did not have to visit Magodo before the situation was brought under control. He has continued to engage with the law enforcers in Abuja over the matter up till Tuesday morning when another round of crisis occurred. This time, the Governor could not and would not sit back in his office and watch some persons disturb the peace that is being enjoyed in his State to be threatened. That to me is leadership”.
Matters got to a head when governors in the southwest states of Nigeria under the umbrella of the Southwest Governor’s Forum also condemned the attitude of the senior police officer to the directive of Governor Sanwo-Olu.
The Forum through its Chairman, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State issued a statement in rebuke of what they considered a demeaning of the authority of elected state governors.
The statement reads: “The content of the video is very disconcerting, and this is being charitable. The utter disrespect, which underlines the response of the officer to the Governor establishes, beyond doubt, the impracticability of the current system, dubiously christened “Federalism”. An arrangement, which compels the Governor of a State to seek clarifications on security issues in his jurisdiction from totally extraneous bodies or persons, is a sure recipe for anarchy.
“We condemn, very strongly, this brazen assault on decency. We call on the IGP to explain the justification for this intrusion. This is not acceptable. Any expectations of rapprochement between so-called federating units and federal security agencies are becoming forlorn, progressively, due to deliberate acts which mock our very avowal to ethics and professionalism. We condemn, in very clear terms, the role of the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami, in this act of gross moral turpitude.
“We, on our part, will continue to interrogate the current system, which treats elected representatives of the people as mere prefects, while appointed office holders ride roughshod over them as Lords of the Manor. If the purported Chief Security Officers of the States of the Federation require clearance from the office of the IGP on matters within their areas of jurisdictions, only hypocrites will wonder why the current security crisis deepens and there appears to be no solution in the foreseeable future.”
Attorney-General, Malami faulted the response of the Southwest Governors to the crisis, adding that “some of the cardinal pillars of democratic governance are the doctrine of separation of powers and obedience to the rule of law inclusive of court orders”.
Mr. Malami pushed the argument further when he hid behind the notion of separation of powers and the need to apply the law blindly, regardless of whose head the axe falls on.
“It is a common knowledge that execution of the judgment and orders of courts of competent jurisdiction, and the court of last resort in the circumstances remains a cardinal component of the rule of law and the office of the Attorney-General wonders how maintenance of the law and order in the course of execution of the judgment of the Supreme Court can be adjudged by the imagination of the governors to be unruly. We want to restate that sanctity of the rule of law is not a matter of choice,” he argued.
A Lagos-based social critic, Femi Oshin supported the stance of the Minister of Justice, pointing out that Governor Sanwo-Olu went too far in heading out personally to the scene of the incident. He asked rhetorically: “How could a state governor walk into a scene where a valid court judgment is being executed?”
One of Nigeria’s national dailies, Punch Newspaper, however, wrote on the incident on one of its social media handles that: “You can see why we clamour for decentralization of police. Abuja gives order on a local matter in a state without the knowledge of the state chief security officer. Who is accountable to the people on security matters in a state? The IG or the Governor? Who really is in charge of a state? Who gives the final directive on security matters?”
These conflicting views point to the indubitable truth that Nigeria’s federal system needs an overhaul if the country must continue to stay in one piece.