By Muyiwa Adetiba
At my age and with my profession, it is inescapable that I would have had encounters with the police at different levels. I have been locked up, put under house arrest, invited to make statements on quite a few occasions and once kept in the cold for over an hour at a check point at 2 am for refusing to ‘co-operate.’ But I can say that I have never been personally brutalised in any of the encounters. In that, going by the law of averages, I would say I have been very lucky.
There are people whose only encounter with the Police, has left them with loss of limbs or even lives.
There are incidents of police officers either liquor drunk or power drunk, who have shot hapless victims at check points over virtually nothing. Just because they can! Some have framed and tarnished reputations of victims just to cover up their crimes.
There have been vengeful attacks, reprisal attacks and all sorts of wilful attacks that have nothing to do with the dispensation of justice. But when police officers begin to take on other government officials who are supposed to be doing their legitimate jobs, then it is yet another wake-up call for all of us.
According to reports, two unharmed officers of the Federal Road Safety Commission who were supposedly doing their jobs were allegedly shot along the Aba/Port Harcourt Express Road in Abia State by some policemen. The wife of the Speaker was alleged to have been stopped for violating traffic regulations.
The convoy stopped alright, only for the occupants to unleash terror on the FRSC officers. Apparently not satisfied by the beating, the Speaker got to the scene and in fury ordered the FRSC officials shot. Somebody also ruthlessly and callously removed the battery of their car so they would not be able to access help including medical help quickly. I find this report difficult to believe for quite a few reasons.
One, that a highly placed official, elected to a public office would, even if he was a psychopath, have the impunity to order the shooting of a fellow human being and a government law enforcing officer to boot.
Two, that the people he would order to do such a dastardly job would be policemen trained and paid to protect lives and property. Three, that the policemen would obey. Four, that anybody, not just policemen, trained in the use of fire-arms could turn a gun on unarmed civilians.
Five, that the police force has descended so low that some of its officers could so easily violate the raison d’etre of the profession which is to protect lives and provide security. Clearly, the Inspector General of Police has a job on his hands. Regarding this case, he needs to move quickly to restore sanity to the madness that had gone on in that state. He needs to investigate, and bring to book, all those who are directly and vicariously liable for the shooting frenzy. I hope his sense of outrage is high enough to do the needful and the courage to step on toes.
Just as we were digesting the Abia incident, news came that parts of Apapa, home to West Africa’s busiest port, had literarily gone up in smoke. By the time the smoke cleared, two banks were burnt with valuables, at least one person was dead and several others injured.
It was said that a tanker driver, unable to find a place to park, decided to park in front on a bank thereby blocking its entrance. He was asked to move his tanker. He refused. In anger, a policeman picked up his gun and shot him dead. Naturally, pandemonium ensued.
The tanker drivers mobilised and asked the bank officials to hand over the policeman who had run inside the bank to hide from jungle justice. The officers refused. Angered by the refusal, the tanker drivers ran amok, burning, looting and maiming. Innocent policemen became collateral victims.
The vibration caused by this mayhem was felt by half of Lagos; businesses were disrupted, traffic was disrupted. This is what happens when respect for justice, law and order have been replaced by lawlessness and impunity. It is a jungle out there and our law makers and enforcers are the chief promoters of jungle laws. In my opinion, every active participant in this tragic episode is guilty with the possible exemption of the bank officers who refused to hand over the policeman. And the guilty must be brought to justice —if there is still any justice left. But beyond that, a more wholesome arrangement has to be made for all stakeholders in Apapa. The present untenable situation in Apapa is an accident waiting to happen; a tinderbox begging to be ignited. The nerves are frayed and it will happen again.
On a wider level, the Apapa and Abia episodes are symptoms of the general malaise within the police force. Clearly, reforms and house cleansing are urgently needed. Many of our so called leaders to whom the policemen are attached, have turned them to uniformed maiguards at best, or worse still, tools for performing and legitimising, clearly illegal and criminal acts.
Many of these policemen are so low in self-esteem that they will do anything to remain in the good books of their ogas; too poorly trained to know when they cross the line between law enforcement and crime; and too ‘Nigerian’ to care. I have seen police vehicles run red lights.
I have seen police vehicles take one way roads. I have seen police vehicles drive recklessly without consideration for other road users. I have seen police vehicles laden with livestock. I have seen police officers shorn of shame, collect bribe on the streets and highways. I have seen police officers engage in physical scuffle with civilians and with themselves. These obvious displays of indiscipline hardly promote security and confidence.
Every security organisation works on intelligence. Yet, how can people supply information when they don’t trust that the information will not be used against them. Police have been known to rent out guns to criminals.
They have been known to supply information to criminals. They have been known to participate actively in crime. They have also been known—as we have just shown—to be guilty of excessive use of force and abuse of fire-arm.
In essence, the custodian of our individual security is actually one of the causes of our insecurity.