By Owei Lakemfa
THE People’s Democratic Party, PDP, in Ekiti State on Wednesday held a pre-election march in Ado-Ekiti, the state capital. This was within the rights guaranteed by the constitution and allowed under the electoral law. But the party apparently did not take into cognizance, a deity called the police.
Failure to appease the police, make propitiation and beg permission to hold such a march, made the police feel its authority was being challenged and undermined. So even with Governor Ayodele Fayose and Deputy Governor, Olusola Eleka in the rally, it was tear-gassed and gun shots fired.
The police justified its actions on the basis that the rally, even where it was peaceful and carnival-like, could lead to the breakdown of law and order. In order to be preemptive or preventive, the police did what it had to do; transform the peaceful rally into a riotous one with people scampering and being injured. The police as is wont to, initially denied that its men fired tear gas, not to talk of live rounds. Assistant Inspector -General, AIG, Hoseah Karma was quoted in the media as saying with a straight face: “There was no violent incident here.” Later, the police said its action, which it promised to ‘investigate,’ was meant to abort the rally. The rally was already in full swing, so how do you abort a baby that had already been born? I guess it is the Nigeria Police that can perform such feat.
While the police was displaying its prowess against unarmed citizens in Ekiti State, it left its planks in states like Sokoto and Zamfara open to bandits who were having a field day sending more Nigerians to early graves. I am not saying that the police could have prevented the massacres in those states, because it is not known to take on armed groups. It prefers soft targets like those at peaceful rallies or commuters on the road.
Deputy Inspector-General of Police, DIG, Habila Joshak, who led the patriotic attack in Ekiti State, said the primary reason was that the PDP did not obtain permission before holding the march. On why riot policemen were unleashed on the rally, he said: “As a law enforcement agency, we must be proactive and take actions that can prevent crisis rather than trying to quell it after it might have broken out.” Very true indeed!
My experience as a student activist, pro-democracy campaigner in the military era and labour leader in the post-military period, showed that most rallies and marches do not become disorderly or violent until police intervention. I do not identify with Fayose, but I could not but be amazed by jubilation on the social media that as a sitting governor with constitutional immunity, he was tear-gassed and humiliated by the police.
They claimed it was retributive justice; that he is experiencing what was done to my friend, Dr. Kayode Fayemi in 2014 when he was governor and the police was under the control of the PDP at the national level. I was tempted to respond that I thought the All Progressives Congress, APC, which now controls the police and Armed forces, came to right the wrongs of the past, not perpetuate illegality, unconstitutionality and brigandage. But I restrained myself for fear of being branded unpatriotic and a wailer like the opposition.
I am also careful to be on the side of the law, which in Nigeria, means being on the side of the police, an agency that has forced Nigerians to imbibe its golden line: “The police is your friend.” Indeed, who would not want to have such a powerful friend who can turn innocence into guilt and guilt into innocence? The Nigeria Police reminds me of the ape who insist on being your son- in-law even if you had not given it your daughter in marriage.
For the Ekiti elections, the police deployed 30,000 policemen led by DIG, Habila Joshak, supervised by AIG Hoseah Karma, and assisted by three Commissioners of Police – Ali Janga, J.B. Kokumo and G.B. Umar. These excluded the army, State Security agents, Civil Defence and other security personnel. This goes to show that in Nigeria, election is war, not a civil responsibility; it is a military action, not a civil engagement.
With the police and securitymen crawling everywhere and electoral areas under siege, it will always require a level of bravery to go out on election days, even to vote. In emphasising that elections are war, DIG Joshak did not say the police would arrest electoral offenders and charge them to court in accordance with the law. Rather, he boasted: “If you snatch the ballot, we will cut off your hands, if you run with it, we will stop your legs.”
From my little reading of policing, it is not so much the number of policemen that matters, but more about the purpose or objectives. For instance, in the Ekiti case, less than one third of the 30,000 policemen, backed by intelligence would have been more effective. But since the Nigeria Police believes most in what it terms ‘Show of Force’, the more the number of policemen, the better the attainment of its noble objectives. These include showing the citizenry its available numbers, the physical fitness of its personnel and the array of weaponry at its command including armoured personnel carriers.
In Nigeria, the people are not the masters of the police, it is the police that are masters of the people. Where the constitution guarantees the people the right to peaceful assembly, the police vitiates it by verbally decreeing that any assembly whatsoever, peaceful or violent, must be with its permission. Where the constitution guarantees the right to freedom of movement, the police decrees such movement must be done with its consent.
For the Nigeria Police Force (Yes, it is a force), where two or more are gathered in whatever name, it is not enough for God to be present, such gathering must additionally be authorised by it. While there is a universal saying that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, in Nigeria, the fear of the police is the beginning of wisdom. If you fear God, but not the police, the latter can dispatch you very quickly to heaven or hell depending on your ultimate destination.
Any disrespect for the Nigeria Police whether by acts of omission, commission or confusion, can have dire consequences. The grave is full of people who dared disrespect the police. The story of the police in the Ekiti elections may be its story in the 2019 general elections. Whether the police swings the country towards order or disorder, it can always count on my patriotic support.