By Rotimi Fasan
It is about two weeks to the so-called Black Tuesday, October 20, 2020, when protesting Nigerian youth were allegedly gunned down by persons suspected to be members of the Nigerian Army at the Lekki Toll Plaza in Lagos.
Neither the Army nor the Lagos State Government that the Army said invited them to the scene of the gory encounter has unequivocally owned up to their part in the alleged murder of harmless Nigerian youth. But the event at Lekki unleashed a chain of events, marked by wanton destruction and looting of property by criminal elements and other delinquent persons who saw the outrage that followed the chaos that started at Lekki as an opportunity to indulge in criminal activities.
The police were particularly targeted and police stations, as well as the personnel manning them, became scenes of instant evisceration across the country. Police officers were hounded, identified and summarily killed. The police, rather than being everyone’s friend as a famous legend that adorns the walls of Nigeria Police stations all over the country has it, suddenly became persona non grata in Nigeria.
It became too risky to identity or be identified as a police officer. Let’s be reminded that the #EndSARSprotests started as a campaign against the uncommon brutality of a supposedly elite unit of the Police that was set up to combat armed robbery but which went rogue, operating under the outlaw code of extrajudicial policing.
In a flash police officers cleared off the road where they had forever been a ubiquitous presence. Not only did they abandon both street corners and the highways, they deserted their stations or set up barriers to prevent access to them. In a dangerous reversion of roles, the hunter is now the hunted and the effects of this unauthorised police strike is everywhere for all Nigerians to see.
With our roads and lives denuded of police presence even Nigerians that appeared to want nothing but the dissolution of the entire police force has been afflicted with panic attacks. Others are worried about the probability of criminals overrunning the country in a reprise of or capitulation to the post-#ENDSARS chaos that has seen the Police and other security forces abandoning their duty posts.
Nobody could have imagined the police going MIA in this manner. For the first time in God-knows-how-many decades or, indeed, in living memory, one made an out-of-state trip that lasted some six hours both ways and there was no single police officer on the road. The presence of the military was also muted. No doubt the Police has taken a terrible hit and appear to be the scapegoat of the #EndSARS campaign.
They have come in for much scrutiny even when part of the protest was ostensibly to rescue the Police itself from state-sanctioned annihilation by way of poor or non-existent training, poor resources and salaries, all factors that predispose them to corruption and brutalisation of Nigerians.
The Police like other security apparatuses have operated in an in-your-face manner that places them everywhere in the lives of Nigerians. That they have been nowhere to be found in the open in the wake of the targeted attacks on police personnel and formations have been unsettling for Nigerians. Let’s be clear about it.
The Nigeria Police is a creation of the Nigerian state and there can be no way it can be better than its creator. Which is another way of saying that Nigeria deserves the kind of police it has, given the way successive governments, mostly military that were afraid of creating/nurturing a force able to confront/control its tendency for intervening in governance, have deliberately undermined the police by grossly underfunding it, leaving every aspects of the Force in disarray.
Beyond any perfunctory measures, this is the time to rescue the Police and reposition it for 21st century policing. This is not the first time this point would be made in this space, long before the #EndSARS protests. One of the initial five-point demands of the protesters which government accepted was the rehabilitation of and improvement in the condition of service of Police officers.
Abuja has responded with a new pay structure. But a lot more needs to be done in terms of training, housing and general welfare. It is simply unfair to make the problem of the Police look self-inflicted. The situation the Police finds itself in today was an infliction of Nigeria which created the Frankenstein monster that now terrorises it.
Now, the Police is sulking and have stayed off our lives and there is the fear of chaos taking over the streets, our towns and cities. While one could understand why police officers would feel threatened at this time, they must also realise they are not at liberty to abandon their duty posts in a gesture of anger or blackmail which appears to be propelling their current stance.
The Police or some members of it overreached itself/themselves by working outside the law. There can be no justification for such conduct. There is no way Police officers can or should hope that the only way they would be satisfied is by things returning to the criminal or undisciplined way they were before the #EndSARS implosion. They must brace up for change.
It is part of the indiscipline that led us here that police personnel have refused lawful order of the Inspector General, Muhammed Adamu, to return to work and clear the streets of criminals. Perhaps in a gesture of appeasement, the IG has asked police officers to defend themselves. One hopes this is not a subtle invitation to the ways of old when officers thought they were law unto themselves.
No, Police officers have a duty to return to their duty posts and they must be ready to do that in a civilised and professional manner. They have a duty to the entire Nigerian population, not just a minute fraction of it made up of a few so-called VIP or VVIP with money to retain police officers as personal guards performing not just domestic but demeaning menial jobs.
Every person requiring personalised services of the Police outside those statutorily recognised by law should get private security. They should be rich enough to do that. That’s why they are VIP/VVIP.
Enough of robbing hundreds of millions to satisfy a few thousand. Let police officers return to their core mandate of securing and protecting Nigerians. They can do that without necessarily showing themselves everywhere. It was corruption that led to the police occupying every parts of our lives, every street and highways.
Effective policing does not have to be loud. If the Police personnel want to change for better, they could be on the streets, on the roads and the highways without causing havoc to the lives of Nigerians.