The Nigerian Police Force is a government agency that is charged with the responsibility of enforcing the law. It also has the duty of protecting lives and properties of every Nigerian. The police, they say, is your friend and ordinarily, there ought to be a cordial relationship with mutual respect, between the citizenry, officers and men of the police. With a population of over 170 million, Nigeria is heavily under policed with a force that can boast of just 371, 800 personnel. The median number of policemen is 300 officers per 100 thousand inhabitants. So it is a no brainer that the Nigerian police is overwhelmed by criminal activities that pervade the country. The average Nigerian sees the police as his enemy, instead of his protector.
They are treated with disdain and loathed intensely. A cursory look will tell you that this is no fault of the ordinary citizen. Over time, policemen have been pettily brutal in their Interactions with the general public. The rise in insurgency, the spate of kidnappings, and the herdsmen-farmers clashes are three events, over time that have escalated police activities especially in the affected states of the country. This has stretched them and perhaps increased police brutality, where even innocent citizens are treated like condemned criminals.
There is also the new found cyber-crime, where criminals known as yahoo boys have continuously defrauded Nigerians through various online media and activity. The special police unit known as SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad) have been saddled with dealing with this menace along with their anti-robbery operations. This special unit has caused a lot of public outcry over the way they handle sometimes innocent people in the discharge of their duties. Nigerians on social media had to launch a #ENDSARS campaign, asking the FG to shut down the special unit, or better still, re-constitute and re-position the unit, to see it operate within the ambit of the law.
About a week ago, one Kolade Johnson, had gone to watch football at a viewing centre in his Mangoro neighbourhood in Lagos. A police special anti-cultism patrol squad (SACS), had gone there to arrest someone, having been carrying raids and arresting young men wearing dread-locks’ hairstyles and tattoos around the area. According to the policemen, they thought Kolade was a criminal or one of the persons they had gone there to arrest. One thing led to the other and Kolade was shot dead. Some eye witnesses say he attempted to run. Bottom line is that the policemen on the raid had broken the rules of engagement and had opened fire on an unarmed and innocent civilian, simply because he wore dread-locks!
This special anti-cultism squad drew the ire and venom of Nigerians on social media. Nigeria’s cyberspace was awash with a lot of outcry over such excesses of the forces and the brutality they mete out on innocent civilians. Kolade’s case was one they were not ready to let go and there was an unwritten understanding that the social media campaigns, calling for justice for kolade, would not stop till it reached the highest offices in government and decisive action taken. The 36 year old graduate of University of Benin had been shot dead for committing no crime other than going out to watch football. His wife and his son have lost him for no just cause.
Kolade’s name had become popular, even though for the wrong reasons and someone sitting behind me in a restaurant had to ask the question, “Who is this Kolade, is he the son of someone”? The campaign was immense and the news of his death was all over the news media. The Lagos state police commissioner had to visit Kolade’s family and condole with them, while assuring that the perpetrators of the crime will surely be brought to justice. Kolade’s execution did draw the attention of Mr. President as he made statements, also condoling the families of the deceased. He strongly condemned the actions of the police officers and promised that they would be dealt with, according to the dictates of the law. And quickly enough, the killer-policeman faced an internal inquiry and was court-martialled.
He has since been handed over to the Lagos state chief magistrate’s court. He has been remanded in prison as the directive of the Lagos state director of public prosecution is awaited. True to the question of the person in the restaurant, asking if Kolade was the son of a somebody, justice has already prevailed in Kolade’s killing, and the matter was approached by the police with great alacrity.
It was as if Kolade was the son of a highly placed government functionary. Kolade was the son of Alhaji Remi Lukman, whom the Nigerian social media had mobilised support for, in the quest for justice for his son, who had fallen to the bullet of police brutality. There are tonnes of Kolade’s out there who have not been blessed with voices that have called for justice for them as their cases are brushed aside, as if nothing happened.
Back when we had fuel queues, the police treated people on queues like animals, sometimes beating up motorists as they struggled to buy fuel. Each successive Inspector General of Police, comes with the proclamation that road blocks within cities and on the highways, will be removed. They have continued, and they have consistently harassed motorists, both private and commercial operators. If they stop you, and you dare move or signify any action, contrary to their instructions, they cock their AK 47s, gesticulating that they will shoot.
It is no secret that they mainly extort motorists, especially the commercial ones, as they hand over the regular handshakes with the policemen; this time, the police are friends! Meanwhile, crimes go on around the vicinities of these road blocks or police ‘toll gates’, and they do nothing about it. A friend’s house girl was abducted and robbed at Gwarinpa, a suburb of Abuja, near a police road block and her screams fell on deaf ears as they continued with their ‘work’.
The previous #ENDSARS campaigns are filled with gory tales and accounts of how innocent people are beaten up; and their monies taken from them illegally from supposed police officers, who go unpunished. Because officers carry guns, they wield them as weapons for bullying the citizenry, filling them with the fear of the fire-arms, extorting them as they try to go about their normal day to day activities. It is clear that the police is under-staffed and under-trained. They have lost track and are operating on a different level, against the run of play of the #Next level. There is the urgent need for police personnel to undergo thorough training on how they are to interact with the general public.
They must be made to understand that they are friends of the people and not their enemies. They must be cautioned over the unnecessary and excessive use of force, let alone fire-arms. They must be taught that being trigger-happy, is not part of their calling. As a matter of urgency too, the government should know that the police force is heavily under staffed and there must be a massive recruitment exercise, this time, accompanied with the requisite training that will make a new police work force out of them.
They need to be psyched into understanding their roles as officers, and not as revenue collectors. The recent elections are litmus tests as to the inefficiency of the police, as the Nigerian Army had to do police-like duties.
Without additional policemen in their thousands, peace and success in the war against kidnappings and other crimes will remain a mirage.
– Tahir is the Talban Bauchi
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