By Frank Tietie.
Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark is undoubtedly the natural political leader of the people of the Niger Delta, the geographical residence of Nigeria’s oil wealth. The region is also the hot bed of a home grown agitation that metamorphosed into a miltancy that is still dreaded not for the potential number of human casualties but for its propensity to plummet Nigeria’s oil revenues and send shock waves across the international energy market.
Thus, where a local informant supplies an intelligence lead that gave rise to a reasonable suspicion that a cache of arms and ammunition were stockpiled in Chief Clark’s residence in Abuja, the Nigerian police should be commended for swiftly arranging to search the residence of the highly revered leader of the people of the Niger Delta. That is a duty to State that does not have to require any kind of political correctness.
Certainly, the highly respected octogenarian, by his antecedents and graceful age would be the last person to stockpile arms anywhere in Nigeria, especially in a place such as Abuja. His towering public image had risen in the eyes of the international community by how he had managed to deploy his sagacity and local relevance to end hostilities in the Niger Delta.
In fact, it is unthinkable that Chief Edwin Clark could be associated with such acts of stockpiling weapons in Abuja or anywhere else for that matter.
Nevertheless, it must also be considered as unthinkable and perhaps unimaginable that the 1990 coup plotters as reported, did use an innocent looking fishing facility in Lagos, such an unlikely place indeed, to stockpile weapons and conduct drills, which they used to unleash a lightning attack on Dodan Barracks thereby chasing away the then military President, Ibrahim Babangida into temporary hiding.
So the Nigeria police did well to have responded to the information that arms were stockpiled in Chief Clark’s residence in Asokoro, Abuja. That is irrespective of whether the information the police received was true or false.
It was however a police search that went wrong on grounds of procedure and law. Therefore, the Nigeria Police must take full responsibility without resorting to scapegoatism.
The dismissal of the three junior police officers and interdiction of one other senior police officer, who took part in the infamous police search, amounts to a wrongful act of blatant injustice.
The Nigerian public, in good conscience and application of law must call for the immediate reinstatement of the dismissed police officers since they were carrying out lawful orders to the best of their knowledge and understanding at that material time the order was given to them.
If there would be any police officer that must be punished, it should be that superior police officer, whoever he is, that authorised that illegal search. He alone should have been punished and not the officers who actually conducted the search as lawfully directed by the superior police officer.
For avoidance of doubt, Section 28 of the Police Act is herein below reproduced and provides as follows:
1. A superior police officer may by authority under his hand authorise any police officer to enter any house, shop, warehouse, or other premises in search of stolen property, and search therein and seize and secure any property he may believe to have been stolen, in the same manner as he would be authorised to do if he had a search warrant, and the property seized, if any, corresponded to the property described in such search warrant_.
2. In every case in which any property is seized in pursuance of this section, the person on whose premises it was at the time of seizure or the person from whom it was taken if other than the person on whose premises it was, may, unless previously charged with receiving the same knowing it to have been stolen, be summoned or arrested and brought before a magistrate to account for his possession of such property, and such magistrate shall make such order respecting the disposal of such property and may award such costs as the justice of the case may require .
3. Such authority as aforesaid may only be given when the premises to be searched are, or within the preceding twelve months have been, in the occupation of any person who has been convicted of receiving stolen property or of harbouring thieves, or of any offence involving fraud or dishonesty, and punishable by imprisonment.
4. It shall not be necessary on giving such authority to specify any particular property, provided that the officer granting the authority has reason to believe generally that such premises are being made a receptacle for stolen goods .
Thus, by subsection 3 of Section 28 of the Police Act, it was irresponsible for any senior police officer to have issued a search warrant to be executed on Chief Clarke’s house knowing full well that within the preceding twelve months Chief Clarke himself has not been convicted of receiving any stolen property or known to be a person harbouring thieves. He has also not committed any offence involving fraud or dishonesty that is punishable by imprisonment.
That was the height of an insidious act of indiscretion by any senior police officer, who alone must answer to the police authorities for such an unprofessional conduct.
It was however wrongful of the police authorities to have dismissed the individual police officers who carried out the orders without giving the details of the senior policeman who actually gave the order by signing the search warrant. It is that senior police officer that has caused the police authorities such an embarrassment and there can be no justification for protecting him while using law abiding junior officers as scapegoats in order to appease Chief Edwin Clark and his teeming admirers from the Niger-Delta, whose unpredictable reactions could do damage to oil production and ultimately affect national revenues or national interest.
Thus, it cannot be in the national interest to unduly sacrifice law and responsible citizenship in furtherance of a policy of appeasement.
The three policemen and their team leader who executed the search on Chief Clark’s house with the full vicarious authority of the Nigeria Police, cannot be held liable in any way. It is the police authorities that must take responsibility and it should have ended there.
There was no need for any face-saver or appeasement that would engender such grave injustice to the said policemen. It is the Nigeria Police alone as a legal entity that should apologize to Chief Clark and take honourable steps to show remorse by paying adequate compensation.
The Niger Delta Chief should not accept to be appeased with such injustice to the individual policemen who are Nigerian citizens. In fact, he should not deign to be appeased as he has never been a purveyor of violence.
If the Nigeria Police is not mindful to immediately reinstate the dismissed police officer, then Chief Clark, in the true spirit of leadership, is hereby urged to proceed to court to seek punitive damages against the Nigeria Police for wrongly punishing officers who were carrying our lawful orders in furtherance of an unlawful act.
▪Tietie is the Executive Director, Citizens Advocacy for Social & Economic Rights (CASER), Abuja.