By Chuks Oluigbo
If Jimoh Moshood, Force Police Public Relations Officer, were conversant with the bible, he would probably have come across the admonition in Proverbs 21:23: “Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.” If for some reasons he missed that because it is Old Testament and he is in love with New Testament, then he would have read James 3:6: “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”
But events of the past week show clearly that the spokesman of the Nigeria Police does not understand the destructive power of the tongue. That was why he wielded his very carelessly, making utterances that have been widely condemned as “unprofessional” and “unfortunate” and attracting calls for his immediate removal from office.
The story of what happened between the Force PPRO and Terver Akase, chief press secretary to the Benue State governor, on Tuesday is already public knowledge. I will just do a recap.
The setting was Channels TV’s breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily, in which Moshood and Akase appeared as guests. The discussion centred on the handling of the farmer-herder clashes in Benue State, north-central Nigeria, and what needs to be done to resolve the conflicts. The situation has since created a rift and mutual distrust between the Benue State government and the Nigeria Police.
During the programme, Akase had questioned the capacity of the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Ibrahim Idris, to tackle the insecurity in the state and had asked the IGP to resign or be sacked.
In a quick reaction, Moshood, who apparently could not hold his peace, called Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom “a drowning man” and called for the governor’s resignation. This led to a heated argument between the two men, with Ortom’s chief press secretary interrupting Moshood with a strong rebuttal, demanding a retraction of the statement.
“He has to withdraw that statement. The governor of Benue was popularly elected and he is not a drowning man,” Akase said.
It took the intervention of the moderators to prevent matters from escalating further. In the end, Force PPRO Moshood was compelled to withdraw his statement.
Was the PPRO right to have spoken of a sitting governor is such a manner? Was he right in the way he reacted? Or in calling for the resignation of the governor? The answer could be found in the reaction of Nigerians who watched the programme.
On Twitter, Oby Ezekwesili (@obyezeks), leader of the #BringBackOurGirls movement and a former minister of education, described the PPRO’s utterance as bastardisation of “our national institution” just because “the governor asked his boss to resign”.
Ekiti State Governor Ayo Fayose (@GovAyoFayose) said the Moshood’s comment on Channels TV Sunrise Daily describing Governor Ortom as a “drowning man” was “an insult on all the governors in Nigeria”.
Ben Murray Bruce (@benmurraybruce), who represents Bayelsa East in the Nigerian Senate, said, “Is the police telling us something about how herdsmen got their AK47s?”
Meanwhile, some other Nigerians said the Force PPRO calling a sitting governor “a drowning man” on national television was a strong indication that “the police is partisan”. Some said Moshood by his action displayed unbelievable lawlessness, “doesn’t deserve to remain in office as Police PRO” and so should be “redeployed to operations”. Some pointed to Governor Ortom’s several letters to the Federal Government in which he raised alarm but the FG paid deaf ears until the killings got too bad. Yet others called on the police to apologise to Nigerians.
Bish Johnson, a retired captain in the United States Army, who was guest on Channels TV Sunrise Daily on Wednesday, said if he were in Jimoh Moshood’s shoes, he would not have engaged in verbal exchange with a citizen whose tax is used to pay the salary of the police. He described Moshood’s conduct as unprofessional and an embarrassment to the Nigeria Police, adding that with such outburst and appearance of partisanship, any action the police took in Benue thenceforth would be viewed with suspicion.
A Makurdi, Benue State-based civil society group, #IstandWithOrtom, demanded that the PPRO should “retract those unfortunate words and write a letter of apology to the governor and the good people of Benue State”, noting that the context in which the police spokesman described the governor as “a drowning man” was an indication that the governor was not a man to be taken seriously.
The group described Moshood’s comment as “not only unprofessional but unfortunate”, adding it was an indication that the police had taken sides with the invaders of Benue State.
“We wish to condemn the police for such an ugly public show. As PPRO, Moshood is the face of the Nigerian police. So, such public careless utterances can further embolden the attackers of Benue to carry out more attacks against the state,” it said in a statement signed by its convener, Iorliam Shija, on Tuesday.
“With this kind of audacious behaviour by a top cop, it is clear to us now that the police, which is expected to be an unbiased agency at all times, has taken sides with those who have invaded Benue villages and are killing our men in their numbers,” it said.
In his reaction, Governor Ortom described Moshood’s statement as laughable, adding that IGP Ibrahim Idris was the drowning man who should resign.
“As the chief security officer of Benue, I do not have the coercive powers to enforce the law, whereas the police and indeed the Inspector General of Police (IGP) who have the powers to enforce the law have failed in this regard,” Ortom said in a chat with newsmen in Makurdi on Tuesday.
“The police high command should rather resign their appointments because they had failed in enforcing the law. It is the IGP that has failed to do the right thing that should be called a drowning man, it is the IGP that should resign,” he said.
He said he was not a drowning man, that he was doing what he was elected to do, and that over 99 percent of Benue people were with him.
Ortom said the IGP Idris had no business being the IGP and that he should resign because he doesn’t have the capacity and has failed woefully. He said there were many good police officers who could take over the IGP’s job and perform creditably by turning around Nigeria’s security architecture so as to protect lives and property.
“The IGP is the mouthpiece of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore,” Ortom alleged. “He should resign his current position to serve full time in his new job.”
The House of Representatives did not take the matter lightly either. It was the Benue State Caucus of the House that first responded through a press conference, demanding the resignation of the PPRO over what it termed professional misconduct and partisanship.
But the general House’s reaction came via a “Motion on the Derogatory Statement by the Police PRO against an Executive Governor of a State and the Seeming Unwillingness of the Inspector General of Police to Recognise and Enforce a Constitutionally Enacted Law by the Legislative Arm of Government” which was sponsored by Mark Terseer Gbillah, member representing Gwer East/Gwer West Federal Constituency.
The motion sought to have IGP Ibrahim Idris tender an unreserved apology to the Benue State governor for the derogatory remarks against him by the PPRO and the immediate removal of the PPRO from his position. It also asked for investigation into certain statement allegedly made by the IGP and its implication on his ability to superintend the resolution of the conflicts in Benue State.
The motion enjoyed the support of most lawmakers, who roundly condemned the conduct of the Police PRO, saying it indicated the partisanship of the Nigeria Police as an agency. In the end, the motion was passed without amendment.
While Nigerians wait to see where this all leads, the Nigerian Army on Wednesday announced that it would begin Exercise Ayem Akpatuma (Cat Race) from February 15 to March 31, 2018, covering Benue, Taraba, Kogi, Nasarawa, Kaduna, and Niger States in order to tackle the cases of kidnappings, herdsmen/farmers’ clashes, among others. The exercise, according to Maj-Gen David Ahmadu, Chief of Training and Operations, would involve raids, cordon and search operations, roadblocks, show of force, and checkpoints.
For some Nigerians, this military exercise, coming long after many had been calling for deployment of the army following the inability of the police to tackle the escalating herder-farmer clashes in and around Benue, and a day after Governor Ortom had asked Benue citizens to use all legal means to defend themselves against further attacks from herdsmen, may be coming a little too late. Others, however, say it is better late than never.
In the end, it is a lesson for the Buhari government not to let matters get out of hand before it acts. The old adage still stands: a stitch in time saves nine.