You are acting outside the law, Rivers State Attorney-General warns Commissioner of Police
By Worgu Boms-- The purpose of this Press Release is to buy relief for my conscience that, as Attorney General in this critical time of Transition politics in the State, I did warn that the activities of the state Commissioner of Police indicate that we are, inexorably, sliding into lawlessness and impunity on a scale never before known. As you shall see anon, I am not making a political statement but a statement of both Law and facts.
The Commissioner of Police is a Commissioner of Police and NOT a Law Maker or a Law Interpreter – functions that statutorily and constitutionally belong to the Parliament and the Judiciary, respectively. The Commissioner of Police is only a Law enforcer and no more.
Yet, being neither a law Maker nor a Law Interpreter, he has continued to act in both capacities through his speeches and conduct all of which have combined to signpost a preference for anarchy in place of observance and maintenance of Law and Order for which the Police are established and for which he was employed.
The Commissioner of Police declared, on May 24th, or thereabouts, that he has banned all type of Procession in the state and has, through many press statements, insisted that his word is final.
For the avoidance of doubt and for the information of the public, the Commissioner of Police has no such powers to ban any type of procession nor does any citizen need to apply to him for permission or authorisation to engage in any type of protest or procession.
Ours is a Society founded on and governed by Law. The Commissioner of Police, curiously, did not inform the public under what Law he derived his power to ban processions.
The Public is hereby informed that there is a Law that regulates Public processions. That Law, known as The Public Order Act, does not ban public Procession, neither does it obligate any citizen to apply to the Police before embarking on any procession.
Indeed, it is the Governor of the State, in this case, The Rt. Hon Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, CON, Chairman, Nigeria Governors Forum, that the Public Order Act authorises and empowers, in its Section 1, to direct the conduct of all assemblies, meetings and processions on the public roads, or places of public resorts in the state.
The Act also empowers the Governor, NOT the Commissioner of Police or anyone for that matter, but, I repeat, the Governor, to prescribe the route by which and the times at which any procession may pass.
Do you NEED a License or Permit to engage in a Procession?
The Act provides that you apply, NOT to the Commissioner of Police, but to the Governor, 48 hours prior, if you desire to embark on a Procession and if His Excellency is pleased that the procession will not cause a breach of the peace, he shall direct any superior police officer to issue the license and he can also decline.
The Governor may delegate this authority of issuance of license to the Commissioner of Police. As the Attorney General of the state, I confirm to you that His Excellency has not delegated any such power to the state Commissioner of Police.
Even when his Excellency does delegate such power, the Law further provides that any citizen who applied for and was refused the licence by the Commissioner of Police, acting in his delegated capacity, such a refused applicant can appeal to His Excellency, the Governor, and that the Governor can overrule such decision and that the Governor’s decision on the matter is final.
As can be seen in the above situation as provided by Law, the Commissioner of Police does not come into the picture of issuing or authorising permits for processions unless the Governor directs and even when the Governor directs, the Commissioner can still be reversed. There is no power, either in the Governor or in him, or on anyone for that matter, to ban Public procession.
The claim, as the commissioner is now informing the Rivers State public and the world, that he banned public procession, is very unfortunate as it paints the picture to the public and the world that we are still in the Dark Age. Luckily, we are not and no attempt to bring us to that Dark Age will succeed. The Public is hereby informed, that as our Law stands, the claim of the Commissioner of Police that he has banned Public procession is ultra vires his powers as not even the Governor, his boss, can ban public procession. It is the decision of individuals or Groups to express their feelings though Procession and they should take care not to commit any crime in course of exercise as the Law will not exculpate any who commits crime whilst processing.
I had stated at the outset that the Commissioner of Police is not a law interpreter, a function that eminently pertains to the Judicature under our Constitutional arrangement. That Arm of Government has since interpreted these provisions, the most recent of these interpretations being in 2007 in a case involving the All Nigeria peoples Party and the Inspector General of Police. In that case, the Appellate Court held that all those requirements in the Public Order Act relating to permission for procession are Unconstitutional and void. In clear terms and in other words, that no permit from the Governor as stated in the Act, is to be required as a precondition to validly engage in a procession.
What is clear, therefore, is that neither Parliament nor the Court empowers the Commissioner of Police in the state, to ban procession or request or demand the holding of a permit by citizens before they embark on a procession. This mental state of mind, with all due respect, of a requirement for permit before procession, is a throwback to the inglorious days of military dictatorship from which Society has since moved away and to continue to allow that state of mind will provide the fertile ground for our continued descent to a police state. The Police should even guide and guard processions and only interfere when crime is committed or likely to be committed in the guise of a procession.
Two More Examples of the Commissioner of Police’s Descent to Lawlessness and resort to Anarchy:
Following the Judgement of the Hon Justice Ishaq Bello of the Abuja High Court on April 15, this year which Judgment replaced the nearly one-year-old State PDP Executive Council of G. U Ake with another set of Executives, the Commissioner of Police announced again to the world that he would enforce the Judgment to the letter and pursuant to his declaration, moved men and materials to the Party Secretariat to, according to him, enforce the Judgment to the Letter.
The powers of the Nigeria Police with respect to enforcement of Orders are highly circumscribed as it is, strictly speaking, not the Police that enforce Orders but Sheriffs of Court except the Judgment itself clearly directs. This is clear from Section 4 of the Police Act which clearly states that ‘’the Police shall be employed for the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of offenders, the preservation of Law and Order, the protection of life and property and the due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged ‘’.
Here, as in the case of the purported ban on procession, the Police Chief entrusted on himself a duty that Hon Justice Ishaq Bello never specifically directed him as provided for in Section 4 of the Police Act.
The Next evidence of this continuing slide to lawlessness on the part of the Police Chief is, to my mind, the most despicable as it is a direct affront to the Rule of Law.
A Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt presided over by the Hon. Justice Ngajiuwa , in a suit filed by the Caretaker Government of the Obio/Akpor Local Government Council against the Police, after hearing both the Police and the Council, specifically ordered the Police to vacate their barricade of the Council which they had sealed off and allow the staff and visitors egress and ingress to and from the property. The barricade, ab initio, was illegal but even despite the Court Order, the Police have remained there on the most incredulous reason that some persons plan to bomb the council. This is the crudest assault on the judiciary and the Rule of Law in the state that I have known since the end of Military rule. The position of the police simply means that all that is needed to shut down, say, our courts, is to raise a bomb scare and the public place will be shut down for as long as it pleases the Police chief. It is clear that the Commissioner of Police has allowed his office and his men to be involved in political dispute in favour of one side. This is dangerous.
Last week, the Commissioner publicly boasted that whenever he was ready for the Chief of Staff to the Government House, that he was going to get him and that no Court will save him.
Gentlemen, the Police are and should be our friends but, statements like that and conduct of the above as I have endeavoured to list, smack of enmity and bitterness in the discharge of official police duties and are dangerous to healthy policing.
Let me be very clear here and in one particular respect that the office of the Attorney General is more interested in Governance accordance to Law than in politics of lawlessness; in particular, that Law and Order and the justice system should not be ridiculed or trampled upon as the Commissioner of Police is brazenly demonstrating. The consequences of such approach to policing are grave for us all.
I therefore strongly remind the Commissioner that the Police as a unit, was established to serve the people in sincerity within the Law and not to lend itself for use by a section of agitating politicians or group to undermine Law and Order as the continued closure of the Obio/Akpor Council Secretariat in contempt of a Court order has continued to suggest; nor is the Police established to undermine the Governance of the state.
This is the first time in Rivers State that the Police as a public institution are being used to wage war against the Government of Rivers State and the person of the Governor with a view to infusing timidity in Governance in the hope that the Governor will change his measures, an act that is, itself, a criminal offence.
The office of the Commissioner of Police which all should respect and which I sincerely respect, is vested with great powers for the maintenance of Law and Order, the detection and prevention of crime and the securing of lives and property amongst others. It is therefore, my prayers, that the dignity of that office and its crucial role to our society under God, should never be impaired by the absence of sincere efforts on the part of the police to function without political and other bias.
The work of the Commissioner of Police and how that work is now being performed in Rivers State at this crucial and trying times of transition politics, is equally crucial and indeed, very close to the center of the attainment of our socio-economic purposes as a state since nothing can be achieved in a state of high impunity from the Police as we are now witnessing.
How the commissioner of police does his work is a test of the quality of the civilisation of the Nigeria Police.
Let him choose now to police Rivers State within the Law and not use the Police to break the Laws of the state and ridicule the judicial system as he is now doing.
Finally, I remind the Police Chief of the old Saying that ‘Man, among all the animals, is the noblest, but separated from Law and Order, is the worst’.
*Worgu Boms Esq. is the Honourable Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Rivers State.