Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: State Police - an Appraisal With Bishop Eyitene

BISHOP Eyitene was a Police Commissioner in old AnambraState. Within minutes, the great dream of a people of Ovwian in Udu LGA of Delta State and the scores of under privileged are rested.

He was neither an ecclesiastical prelate nor Bishop as the name sound. Bishop E. Eyitene popularly called and referred to as "Head of State" of old Anambra State (comprising the present day Enuguand Anambra States) in the Second Republic is gone.

Like a dream, Bishop Eyitene rose from the depths of obscurity to become a household name in Nigeria during the civilian administration of Alhaji Shehu Shagari. Within his life time, he had groomed his children, affected humanity in many positive ways, actualized his dreams in the spatiotemporal world and within that space of time; he left to where all mortals will one day go.

Bishop Eyitene died in the wee hours of Thursday, September 27, 2012 in his residence in GRA Benin City, the Edo State capital, at the age of 79. He hail from Ovwian in Udu local government area of Delta state. The light upon which dark pathways were illuminated is no more.

On why he was called and referred to as "Head of State" of old Anambra State, Chief Benson A. Ezema, a native of Nsukka who was in Enugu at the time in question had said that the Commissioner of Police had series of celebrated confrontations with the then Governor of the state, Chief Jim Nwobodo from December 10, 1980 to December 19, 1982.

While Chief Jim Nwobodo was intent on using Police Commissioner Eyitene as a tool to feather his political nests and intimidate his political opponents in the then Anambra State, Mr. Eyitene refused to be embroiled in the political machinations of the Governor (Jim Nwobodo). This triggered off a celebrated confrontation of unprecedented proportions between Mr. Eyitene and Jim Nwobodo.

In early 1981, Chief Nwobodo submitted a list of 64 policemen to Bishop Eyitene requesting him to send them as police guards to Government House,Enugu but Police Commissioner Eyitene turned down the request, on the grounds that the Governor had no right to determine the names and number of the policemen to guard the Government House.

Jolted by Mr. Eyitene's refusal to accede to his request, the embittered Chief Nwobodo went to court to secure judicial endorsement of his request. As it were, he clinched the case at the Anambra High court only to bow to the Police Commissioner at the Federal Court of Appeal, presided over by Justice Maman Nasir.

It was victory in style for Police Commissioner Eyitene as all the seven justices of the Court of Appeal unanimously declared that the Governor's instruction that Police Commissioner Eyitene deploy 64 named policemen to guard the Government House was not proper and Police Commissioner Eyitene was not bound to obey such an order.

The judgement in favour of Bishop Eyitene at the Federal Court of Appeal provoked a legendary and seemingly unending struggle for power between the twosome that metamorphosed into cover story news during the regime of the then President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Alhaji Shehu Shagari.

Smarting from his judicial defeat at the hands of Police Commissioner Eyitene, Chief Nwobodo, through the State Attorney General at the time, Hon. Barr. Rob. Iweka and Justice Okadigbo of the Anambra High court attempted to invite Mr. Eyitene to the Anambra State High court to humiliate him.

The attempt to disgrace Police Commissioner Eyitene in the High Court of Anambra State also hit the rocks as President Shagari intervened and asked Mr. Sunday Adewusi, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) at the time to instruct Mr. Eyitene not to appear in court knowing that it was merely a ploy by Chief Nwobodo to humiliate CP Eyitene in the court of law.

Undeterred by yet another legal loss to Police Commissioner Eyitene, Chief Nwobodo once again, through Justice Okadigbo of the Anambra High Court, intensified his efforts to get Police Commissioner Eyitene to appear in court but the CP again refused to appear in court prompting Justice Okadigbo to ask the Inspector General of Police at the time - Mr. Sunday Adewusi to bring police commissioner Eyitene to him in court.

The order by Justice Okadigbo was not heeded by Inspector General Adewusi and the case which had exploded into a national affair at the time was eventually brought to a halt in Mr Eyitene's favour by the then chief Judge of the state - Justice Emmanuel Araka after an unprecedented twelve futile attempts had been made to get Mr. Eyitene to appear in court.

In the course of the two-year struggle for supremacy, the source further said during a quiz competition between students of two secondary schools in the state a question was asked by the quiz master, " Who is the Governor of Anambra State?" Most of them answered," Mr. Bishop Eyitene". However, Chief Ezema said that no person should have blamed the students for failing such a simple question.

This is because at that time it was like there were two governors in the State. Indeed during the civilian administration of Alhaji Shehu Shagari and apparently due to the conflict and tussle for supremacy between him and the state governor, Mr. Bishop Eyitene was the most heavily guarded police officer in Nigeria. Eyitene's residence was intimidatingly guarded with a record number of armed to the teeth mobile policemen, ceremonially dressed policemen, fierce looking and action hungry police dogs that were alert at all times and horses. His office at the police headquarters in Enugu was more than a fortress.

Seeing him in the office that time was like seeing a head of state for there were thorough searches from one point to the other and before you gained entry into his office you had to pass through a room with about 20 policemen armed with state of the art combat weapons.

In truth, the magnitude of power he (Eyitene) wielded at the time in question is better imagined than described, for there had never been an officer in the Nigeria Police that had had the type of flamboyant movement on the road with an unprecedented number of siren blaring and gun totting policemen he had as escorts while moving within the state which earned him the sobriquet - "Head of State".

It is also on record that in 1981 at Enugu, the State capital of the then Anambra State, a world press conference was organized by Governor Jim Nwobodo during which he bared his mind on the "excesses" of police commissioner Eyitene, his refusal to take instructions from him and his acting like a rival governor in the state.

Acknowledging the importance of the Police in the Nigerian scheme of things, calling on them to do their job without fear or favour and campaigning against the use of State Police towards the realization of a better Nigeria, the Eyitene/Nwobodo tussle for power in the old Anambra State offers a rich reference point that deserves front burner consideration in determining the validity or otherwise of the clamour for state police in Nigeria.

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