THE primary statutory duty of the Nigeria Police Force as enshrined in the Constitution and the Police Act is the protection of lives and property of citizens. This onerous responsibility is sometimes observed in the breach by some officers and men of the Police Force. Cases abound where Policemen turned their guns on helpless citizens they are supposed to protect, resulting in death or permanent disability.
One of such incidents resulted in a violent protest when some trigger-happy policemen opened fire on students of Osun State University, Osogbo, during a football match on SaturdayJanuary 21, 2017. The plain-clothes policemen accused some of the students on the football pitch of engaging in internet fraud known as ‘Yahoo-Yahoo’ in street parlance.
Some of the students reportedly put up resistance when accosted and the policemen opened fire on them. Two of them, Kazeem Adesola and Ibrahim Ajao, were hit by bullets in the stomach and mouth respectively. Irate students subsequently made bonfires on major streets in Osogbo to register their protests over alleged incessant police harassments and extortions.
Policemen are permitted by the law to use reasonable force where necessary in the discharge of their duties and its consequence must be reasonably justified by the law.
A resort to extreme measures against university students suspected to have committed punishable offences was not justifiable. The Police are trained to tackle such situations and arrest the culprits for possible prosecution. That is the standard of policing in democratic and decent societies. The fact that our policemen excel whenever they undertake international assignments means they are reasonably well trained. It is strange and sad that our policemen are often unable to demonstrate the same excellence at home
The Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Mr Ibrahim Idris on December 16, 2016 in Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State, established the Public Complaints Rapid Response Unit to deal with cases of anti-people conduct by policemen and misuse of firearms, with a threat to dismiss and prosecute erring personnel. This is a good initiative especially as it will operate 24 hours. The Osogbo shootings will be a litmus test as to whether IGP Idris is serious about keeping the Police under his command within their legal and professional limits in handling firearms when dealing with the people, especially excitable youth.
The trigger-happy policemen who are already in detention should be made to face the full weight of the law. This will help prevent situations whereby law enforcement officers throw caution to the winds and needlessly waste the lives of unarmed citizens.
With the trigger-happy reputation of many Nigerian policemen, it is not surprising that the needed synergy between the Police and the public has not been realized.