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NIGERIA: The Abuja Protest Drama

Last week’s drama between the Inspector General of Police, Muhammed Abubakar and the FCT Commissioner for Police, Joseph Mbu, over the banning and unbanning of protests in support of the kidnapped Chibok girls was an avoidable embarrassment for the federal government. Shola Oyeyipo writes

President Goodluck Jonathan is to different people, different personalities. But to those close to him, he is humble, humane and genuinely people-centric. Yet, the president continues to get negative public and media exposure, mostly because of the attitudinal disposition of the people around him who sometimes act with impunity.

The Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, albeit of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) and Senator Smart Adeyemi, a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) stalwart, have always attested to the president's good nature.

Fayemi, during an interview with THISDAY however disapproved of some of the president’s policies and decisions that he considered anti-people, one of which manifested last week when the controversial former Rivers State Commissioner for Police, Joseph Mbu, who was redeployed as the Commissioner of Police for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) banned all forms of gathering in any part of the nation's capital by the #BringBackOurGirls protesters.

Even where the protests had gone on peacefully, Mbu said: "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 soon, dangerous elements will join groups under the guise of protest and detonate explosives aimed at embarrassing the government."

Another premise of his declaration was that the protests had been on for over a month and that since the issue of terrorism is not one that is solved in a day, the persistent protests had begun to constitute "nuisance to the government."
But sensing the implications of Mbu’s pronouncement, Abubakar quickly reversed the order and declared that the police had not banned the #BringBackOurGirls protests.

Obviously a face saving measure, the IG through the Force PRO, Frank Mba, said Mbu's order was merely an "advisory notice" to the people to exercise caution in carrying on with rallies, particularly in the view of prevailing security situation in Abuja and its environ.
Though the IG also subtly canvassed that the people should be cautious in organising rallies, he reaffirmed that peaceful protest is both constitutional and a democratic right of the people.  

Considering the manner in which the office of the IG exonerated the police and the federal government from Mbu’s order, many are pondering whether or not Mbu secured clearance before placing a ban on protests.

IG’s reversal of the order supported the widespread rumour that government was unhappy with Mbu and also that he acted unilaterally in coming about his order, which is also a pointer to the fact that the police commissioner acted unprofessionally as alleged by a cross section of the system during his days as the Rivers State Commissioner of Police.

While in Rivers, Nigeria's Nobel Laurel, Prof Wole Soyinka and Governor Rotimi Amaechi, among others had called for his redeployment to Boko Haram ravaged states of either Borno or Yobe, they all accused him of showing more allegiance to some persons in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan than his constitutional responsibility of protecting the people of Rivers.

The chairman of APC in Rivers State, Mr. Davies Ikanya, had constituted a three-member committee to compile a comprehensive list of atrocities committed by Mbu since he assumed office as CP in the state. Governor Amaechi did a similar thing when at a point dragged him to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

In what was a conspicuous answering to certain interests, Mbu was openly partisan, acting in manners that suggested that he was an apologist of the presidency. Thus, followers of his antecedents were quick to conclude that he was manifesting the residual of his character for which he was well known in Rivers.

At the peak of his alleged recklessness, the APC had battled with the federal government when it directed its members at the National Assembly to block all executive bills at both chambers of the National Assembly. It was to include the appointment of the Chief of Defence Staff, the service chiefs, ministerial nominees and even the 2014 budget.

Part of the conditions then was that Mbu must leave Rivers State. Though the APC position was seen as selfish at that time, it was around the period that he was redeployed to the FCT.

Unfortunately for Mbu, notable Nigerians, including a former Minister of Education, Obiageli Ezekwesili and wife of a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Maryam Uwais were amongst those leading the protests.

Hadiza Bala-Usman who led part of the protesters had contacted the Falana and Falana Chambers to ask a Federal High Court in Abuja to declare that Mbu lacked the powers to ban protests in the FCT and then sought a reprieve from damage to the tune of N200m because to her and the rest in the agitation, the declaration that from Monday, June 1, 2014 no protest should hold was "illegal and unconstitutional."

Though some persons have been grumbling that the protesters have only been embarking on their activities for personal reasons for going to court to seek damage, what is important is that government learns from its mistakes and avoids actions that are easily interpreted as impunity and disregard for laid down rules.

It was the same reason that many thought for the IG to have reversed the order, Mbu was being 'remote controlled', by some forces within the presidency. It also showed poor control in the force because if the IG would have to reverse the order, it shouldn't have been approved in the first place. It was also not clear if Mbu was at liberty to take such decision without approval, especially in the FCT.  

Perhaps, such unethical conduct led to the sack of the president’s erstwhile Special Adviser on Political Matters, Ahmed Gulak, who interfered in the Akwa-Ibom State politics without decorum and got some 'friends' of the president angry. One would also think that if the president had been sincerely carried along in his activities in the state, he wouldn't have fired Gulak the way he did.

With such unwieldy characterisation of the presidency, observers believe the administration of President Jonathan is susceptible to the whims of fifth columnists that could employ the likes of Mbu to embarrass the administration at will.

At a time when developments are interpreted often negatively, President Jonathan is expected to tighten all loose ends, disallow back door interferences that could easily be misinterpreted as anti-people and political, especially if the president is truly keen about a second term.

It is the kind of unsavoury situations that have been created by Mbu, Gulak and Doyin Okupe at various times that have made many concluded that President Jonathan is weak by allowing some people act only to please him and cause avoidable row.

May be it is even safe to assume that Mbu’s show of lack of discipline in handling the situation was a vindication for the APC in Rivers that Mbu was truly the problem in Rivers and not the government.

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