I had goosebumps all over me yesterday when I called Garba to check on him over what has been happening in town. He said to me, “my Oga” (that’s what he calls me), “my people showed me love”, “now I Know, the land you protect and serve will not consume you”. He went on to narrate to me the tears-evoking story of how the irate mob that was going round the town looking for police officers to lynch and police stations to burn topped to his station. The officers and men of the station were highly terrified and battle ready. But he warned his men not to fire a shot. The DPO came out, immediately the mob saw him, their songs changed from war songs to songs of praise for the DPO.
The DPO addressed them on the need to remain peaceful and maintain order. He counseled them, spoke kindly to them and everyone hailed him. The boys assured him that they would ensure nothing happens to him and his men. The DPO told me that some residents of Fegge even made food and brought to him just to ensure that he is fine in the face of the crisis. I am not exaggerating. In all, not a stone was thrown at Fegge Police Station where Garba is the DPO.
Well, I am not surprised one bit. Some of us are not usually generous with praises, particularly when duty-bearers are involved. But I cannot fail to appreciate CSP Rabiu Garba for the exemplary policing and professionalism he has demonstrated over the years. He is everything you desire in a fine officer. He respects human rights. He knows the law. His interest in justice is superb. He is a friend of lawyers. Garba is highly disciplined. Quit unlike many officers I have met in the course of my work as human rights defender and a lawyer, Garba cannot be bought to pervert justice. He respects the poor as he respects the rich.
To be clear, I have related with Garba since we first met ten years ago. By the way how did we meet? On that particular day, I was driving along New Market Road, Onitsha. Those who know Onitsha would know that New Market Road is “one way”. So there was this Mobile Policemen in their van who were driving against traffic. They were breaking the law, and yet were harassing everyone they see. One of the officers used his gun butt to hit on the side of my car, inflicting a serious cut on my car. I couldn’t take that so I trailed them to the bank where they were going, met the bank manager who told me that they are not his staff. The Bank manager told me that they came from MoPol 54 Onitsha. I immediately went to their office at CPS and met their Oga who happened to be DSP Garba (as he then was) Garba was the 2ic at MoPol 54 then.
After narrating the incident to him, Garba immediately summoned all the officers that went for the operation. And after listening to them, he not only reprimand them but he told them that they must repair the damage they caused, I wasn’t sure whether he meant it. He asked me to all a panel beater and an auto painter to assess the cost for fixing the car. I did. And he told the officers involved to go and bring the money (about #18,000}. When I saw his genuineness and sincerity of intentions, I told him that I was not going to collect a dine as I was totally satisfied with his handling of the matter. At that time Garba did not know me but he just acted in good faith. He was only serving the course of justice.
Shortly after the incident he was redeployed to Fegge as the DPO. We have remained friends since then. He is one officer that makes my human rights work easy for me. I have never had any reason to altercate with him. Sometime in 2017, officers at Area Command brutalized me. When the heat turned on them as we were ready to deal with them, having mobilized the civil society community in Nigeria and our international allies against them, the officers including the Area Commander, Abubakar Yahaya made efforts but could not reach me. I was not ready to have any of them in audience. I was not amenable to settlement.
I didn’t ’know who gave them info that Garba has the magic wand. Garba called me one afternoon and told me that he was coming to my office. I didn’t know it was in respect of the matter. Shortly thereafter he came in with his DCO, SP Ifeanyi (the current DPO of Dunukofia). He said he came to beg me to allow him lead men of Area Command to my office to beg for the matter. Garba was their joker. I couldn’t say no him. He had kept faith for more than seven years. Consistent in honesty. I needed to show him that we appreciate his good work. His intervention weakened me.
Again, I need to emphasize that Garba is not an Igbo man. He is not even a Christian. But he is more than a friend. We must need to realize that the fault lines are artificial. The problem of Nigeria is neither tribe nor religion.
•Justus Uche Ijeoma, lawyer and Activist, is Executive Director of International Human Rights and Equity Defense Foundation (I-REF).