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Fueling the culture of impunity

LONG ago, that relentless nonconformist, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, in one of his many sad songs, Sorrow, Tears and Blood, lamented official brutality in Nigeria. He sang about people running helter skelter and confusion was everywhere because the police and the soldiers were coming.

And a short while later, after the police and soldiers have come and gone, and because, in their characteristic violence, they had brutalised, maimed and killed, they, left a trail of sorrow, tears and blood. It was in the days of military rule that Fela sang this threnody. It was not totally inconceivably that military rule can be marked by cruelty and disregard for the fundamental rights of the citizenry.

After all, there is a universal and age long recognition that soldiers, by training and orientation, are ill-equipped for political leadership, and as such, military rule is an aberration. Centuries earlier, the 18th Century man of letters, Edward Gibeon, in an effusive ridicule of military aptitude for political leadership, wrote: “…the temper of soldiers, habituated at once to violence and (servitude), renders them very unfit guardians of a legal or civil constitution. Justice, humanity, or political wisdom, are qualities they are too little acquainted with, in themselves, and cannot appreciate in others”. But then, despite their periodic foray into civilian centres to assault, disfigure and kill and their deployment by the presidency to intimidate political opponents, soldiers are gone from Nigerian politics.

However, official brutality remains a major problem in Nigeria. We still run and scatter because the police and soldiers are coming and they still leave sorrow, tears and blood in their wake. We also run and scatter because officials of other government security and quasi-security outfits, like Kick against Indiscipline (KAI), Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC), are coming.

And, like the police and soldiers, they, also, leave the people bloodied, effusing tears and sorrowing. And just as military commanders mouth falsehood and refuse to let facts get in their way in defense of soldiers that are responsible for murder, assault and arson, the hierarchy of these other outfits confect stories and alibis in defense of their men, even, in the face of irrefutable evidence of their culpability .

On Wednesday, July 16th, 2014, officials of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps (NDCSC) invaded the office of the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) in Lokoja. They beat up JAMB employees, including a married woman because they requested that the NSCDC men move away from JAMB office gate to avoid scaring away those who came to purchase JAMB forms. The NSCDC men, also, assaulted, and threatened to shoot journalists who came to investigate the incident. These actions were inexcusable acts of lawlessness. But then, in their culture of impunity, government officials with any modicum of power and/or authority, especially, when augmented with uniforms and guns, think they are above the law.

Not surprisingly, members of the Nigerian police are amongst the most lawless and reckless drivers in the country. They zoom through red traffic lights and routinely drive against the traffic. This has, on so many occasions, resulted in fatal accidents that claimed lives of innocent road users. The Nigerian Police Force is globally notorious for its illegal arrests, torture and extra-judicial killings. In Lagos State, officials of LATSMA, which is just a traffic management authority, beat up motorists, including women. They have, on a number of occasions, beaten drivers black and blue over minor traffic offenses. Officials of another agency of the Lagos State government, KAI, who are ostensibly roving disciplinarians, ignore conspicuous acts of indiscipline that suffuse Lagos, and then, gleefully assault and bloody resourceful and enterprising, but indigent men and women, struggling to earn their living by selling in the streets of Lagos.

The nagging question is, fifteen years into Nigerian democracy, why are the police and other government agencies still as cruel and brutal as in the days of military rule? It is because they are agents of ignoble power elite. Essentially, it is the power elite, by their own lawlessness, arrogance of power, political intolerance and disdain for the rights and lives of Nigerians, that fuel the culture of impunity of the police and other government agencies.

For example, in Imo State, a governor ordered the arrest, detention as well as beat up an elderly priest by his security men because the priest, groggy from an all night church service, did not hurriedly drive off the road for the governor’s siren blaring motorcade. In Kogi State, a visiting governor ordered his security men to shoot at university students on a peaceful protest because they were blocking the route of his motorcade. His security men killed two students and their stray bullets killed four children in a nearby nursery school. As though the office of the governor confers a license to kill, he offered no apology and condoled none of the families of those killed by his security men.

On the same Wednesday, in Lagos State, policemen driving against the traffic caused an accident which killed one person and injured two. The policemen involved in this accident, just like the officials of NDCSC that beat up JAMB employees, will most likely go unpunished. Official brutality continues in Nigeria because the pseudo-democrats who rule this country, by their own acts of impunity, behave as though their power derives from brute force and not the will of the people.


TOCHUKWU EZUKANMA, a commentator on national issues, wrote from Lagos.



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