When You Face Arrest, Call Wike

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Ismail Nurudeen

“It doesn’t matter what it will cost. When you talk about liberty, sacrifices must be made. We are not trying to stop an arrest. All we are saying is that things must be done decently and in line with the rule of law.” Governor Nyesom Wike, on his role in stopping the invasion of the residence of a Judge in Port Harcourt.

I must confess that before he became governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike was not on my list of top 20 favourite politicians on the arena. I had judged him based largely on what I considered an unfair and unnecessary pre-election and post-election attacks on his predecessor, Rotimi Amaechi, now Minister of Transport. He had come across to me as an anarchist, rabble rouser and a political predator who had nothing to offer.

But having watched him keenly since becoming governor of the oil-rich Rivers State, Wike has changed my perception of him. He has not only proved himself contrary to those characterisation, but has also exhibited vision and courage-qualities that are rare to find among present day breed of politicians.

I have cracked my head trying to fathom the reasons why Governor Wike prevented operatives of the Directorate of State Services,DSS, from invading the residence of Muhammed Liman, a judge in his state, despite the risks to his life, and public insinuations on his motive.

But the preponderance of legal public opinions on the manner of the DSS arrest of senior judges recently have vindicated Wike, who is himself a lawyer. The Nigerian Bar Association also kicked against commando style operations of the DSS. The All Progressives Congress-led National Assembly has also condemned the arrest of the judges and passed a resolution to probe the DSS on the matter.

And even shocking were comments coming from the Chief Justice of the Federation, Mahmud Mohammed describing the DSS action as “saddening and deeply regrettable.” He said the Judiciary viewed the assault as “ illegal and unconstitutional and a threat to the independence of the judiciary,” and aimed at intimidating the judiciary.

These are strong words coming from the Chief Justice of Nigeria, an office renowned for taciturnity in matters such as these.

But it was Governor Wike who put the issue in its appropriate perspective and context. He saw the action as an assault on liberty of citizens and on democracy, and these are core principles he would be prepared to die protecting. That is why he urged sacrifice on the part of all to protect this democracy from military men in civilian camouflage.

Wike’s intellectual interpretation of the action of the DSS, and his physical sacrifice to defend liberty, was expressed in a more prosaic way by the CJN when he said “these military-style operations are totally unacceptable in a democratic society. They are unacceptable against private citizens but even more so against serving justices of superior courts.”

There is an easy temptation to view Wike’s intervention in the arrest of the judge as a plot to cover up a crime or protect criminal act as the DSS had insinuated. But Wike’s bold and confident admission that he prevented the arrest because he thought it was patently wrong and dangerous was enough to disabuse my mind of his complicity. No one with intent to cover crime would have such audacity.

How I wish such governorship interventions is not limited to the high and mighty, and can be extended to the common men in this country. If we have governors standing for the common people against unlawful arrests and official brutality, it will undoubtedly go a long way towards sanitising law enforcement in this country.

This is why Governor Wike must not stop at protecting only senior citizens, he should immediately inaugurate a rapid response committee or agency that will make such interventions on his behalf for all citizens of the state facing illegal arrest by law enforcement officers. Such agency must have hotlines that would be circulated in the media for people to call whenever actions are about to take place.

If everyone in the state is allowed to come and share their experience with law enforcement officers, especially the police, nearly everyone will have a pathetic story to tell. It is such a common occurrence that Nigerians have almost gotten used to it. Many Nigerians would react to stories of police harassment or brutality with such phrases as “No be police,” or “Na so them they do!”

Of course, there are people who would abuse such privileges and call for government protection even when they have committed the crimes and the law enforcement are doing their lawful duty. But the agency must be equipped and mobilised to also act as an ombudsman so that it can investigate cases and deal with them on their merit.

The likely abuses of such an arrangement must never blind us to the objective of reducing, if not eliminate the menace of official brigandage as witnessed recently in the arrests of judges.
Governor Wike must go a step further to convince his people that he is truly the Chief Security Officer of his state by putting machinery in place to elevate law enforcement decency.

The law presumes a criminal innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Those who enforce the law must be decent to act decently. If they are not ready to be decent men and women by their training, the society must force them to be. And one way is when high state officials are prepared to make the right sacrifices to protect the rule of law and liberty of citizens the way Governor Wike had done.

Leadership is effective when it has the force of personal example. Governor Wike is leading admirably by personal examples. Even though he entered River State Government House still in battle with Rotimi Amaechi, his immediate predecessor, he unexpectedly and unconditionally sheathed his sword against the outspoken Amaechi. The two are important figures in the state, and working together is best for their state. Wike realises this and has welcomed Amaechi on board.

It is time to serve and make Rivers work again. This appears to be Wike’s motto. What he has achieved in the last one and half years is ample testimony of this commitment, and is a subject for a treatise on leadership.

.Nurudeen wrote in from Abuja