The Police Force, at least in Nigeria, is an outfit of the decision-making or managerial wing of government that upholds; preserves, conserves and maintains law and order in every civilization, whether urbanized or emergent as the case may seem. Fundamentally, the Nigeria Police Force is a social – historical fabric of oppressive state apparatus launched for the duration of the colonial epoch to aid the locals to live in peace and harmony with each other and to make sure the confrontations of the locals against the government are subverted. Unlike its operations during the colonial eon, the Force System would have been an ideal contrivance to keep up social immovability and stability in our days today, if the right structures were put in place to reform the institution for societal and human protection as enshrined in the letters of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. But has the Police Force been able to, in actual fact; carry out this obligatory and indispensable requirement of the Nigerian Government?
As in time immemorial, it was a famous truth that the local police; a conglomerated force previously garnered from the Vocational Guilds – the farmers and hunters, were all stationed to checkmate the excesses of unmanageable and boisterous people in the nation. It was their responsibility to make peace and enforce crime control in the surrounding area. It behooved strongly on this agency at that time of its induction to look into and take legal actions on illegal or unlawful cases of the Nigeria people. The agency played this very important role in guaranteeing peaceful coexistence amongst the city dwellers without which the society would have been in a ruthless, cruel, callous and brutal state of affairs. A system which was fundamentally established to utterly combat and repress all sorts of criminal activities in the nation is now subjected to brutality of the masses and dehumanization of innocent personages on the streets of Nigeria, and then hurting the hopes of the populace.
The tempo at which our police officers engage in unprofessional and dishonorable conducts is beyond the human intellectual capacity. I can’t still imagine the right a police officer has to check people’s phones on the roads, streets, in their houses or in their cars without a report against them saying without a doubt that they use their phones for crime or any criminal assertion bordering on cybercrime. How can you hold someone in a buttonhole and start violating his or her privacy? I have always known that people have right of self dignity, which is a fundamental human right. And I know very firmly too that an average police officers, even those in the lowest ranks; are privy to the fundamental human rights in the 1999 Constitution, as amended. If they are not ignorant of that fact, then why indulge in it?
I get very bemused, baffled and irritated seeing our Nigeria police officers at “checkpoints” compellingly obtaining under duress monies from commuters. They do it without any iota of shame or dishonor. They demand for it as though it is their right and must be given to them. Police are hypothetically to check tags and licenses not collect tips. The numerous police “checkpoints” in Nigeria are in praise of dishonesty, bribery and corruption. Around the mid months of the year 2019, I travelled to Onitsha; a metropolitan city located on the eastern bank of the Niger River. To my utmost disappointment and sadness, the array of police “checkpoints” I met within the urban city of Onitsha is dressed in an exorbitant sou’wester cap and puffs out a thick content of white smoke. There are neither checks nor clearances taking place at any of the many stops impressed on innocent and hapless Nigerians by security officers beneath the stare of the presidency. None of them stopped our vehicle with the sole purpose to inspect the underside of our vehicle. No one even lifted a bonnet to inspect what is under it. All they did was to squeal commands and bark orders upon their unfortunate heads. And once money changes hands, the vehicles are waved on.
Many Nigerians have at one time or the other been unlawfully detained by the police without any offense. You can’t just go on a street raid and arrest anyone you see on the street for the reason that you had a failed operation. Let’s say in an event where a crime is committed and the criminals drove in a black stallion car, any other person in that exact car is detained and sent to jail. We all know that once an arrest of that sort is made, what follows is an amount of money is swiftly fixed for bail after some days even when they know that the arrest victim is not guilty. For instance, in 2012, three men riding in a red Jetta car with a nursing mother and a baby on their way from a family meeting were arrested by the police at a checkpoint in Benin City, for the crime that a banker travelling with her daughter was abducted by gunmen with a Jetta car. Was that an adequate amount of reason to arrest and detain any person seen with a red Jetta? The police officers in Nigeria are very fond of arresting and detaining innocent citizens without any realistic proof; apart from the usual money they amass under the guise of bail.
A very surprising part of the unpleasant misconduct and brutality of the police on the Masses in Nigeria is detaining an acclaimed suspect for 9 days without court trial. Everyone knows that a suspect is not lawfully allowed to be in detention for more than 48 hours of arrest. Many Nigerians have spent several years in pre-trial detention which is a horrifying repudiation of their rights to personal liberty and freedom of movement. They are a lot of cases of persons who are in prison sails with no trail. They are just there waiting “…until the Lord comes”, if not; they remain in detention until the police authority decides to grant them freedom.
What about cases of extra – judicial murders? There are also many cases of innocent Nigerians killed by trigger – happy police representatives. In most cases, such massacres are roofed up by the authority most likely to salt away the image of the police. I know that some brutal police officers have been reprimanded because of the status of the victims and the amount of public blame spawned. In 2015, I can vividly have a down pat of the police officer that opened fire in a burial ceremony in Fugar, Edo state, killing two nursing mothers who were seated under a canopy. It was accounted that the said police officer was found to be at the wrong side of the law in the Police Orderly Room Trail and dismissed from the Force and charged to court. But we still have some other police officers who are guilty of this deadly act who are still in police uniform. Unattended cases like this provide a seeming justification that these men and women were employed to execute these deadly tasks and Nigerians are progressively more losing hope and coolness in them because of the unethical demeanor of some of its operatives.
At the commencement of this year, I read the United Nations Peace Keeping assignments for the year 2019 and I was so flabbergasted that some members of the Nigerian Police received international recommendations and medals; even in this despicable circumstance. How did that happen? Or could the Nigeria society be guilty for the unscrupulous deeds of the Nigerian police as it is a microcosm of the larger society? Is it because of the get rich quick – syndrome in Nigeria? I am still trying to wrap my head around it, with the reports we have of police officers stealing and harming innocent citizens on the streets of Nigeria. These unprofessional behaviors of the Nigerian police pitiably contravene the rule of law. The rule of law has been severally calamitously negated and annulled by the unethical attitude of the largely incompetent police officers.
The fundamental human rights of Nigerians have been offensively and awfully negated by the police. Someone goes to a police station to file a report, before that report is put in black and white; you will have to disburse money to the officers behind the canter. Someone calls for the instantaneous help of the police, before they leave their station, the person must be prepared to fuel the police’s means of transportation. Even to let go of someone in their custody on bail for crime or an inconsequential felony, the person is asked to pay money. All these are extortions. I can courageously say that the police as a body have failed Nigerians and are still failing Nigerians. How can a group of persons have no working sense of right and wrong? Why scheming with fortified robbers to intimidate and bully the people you were recruited to save from harm? This is ethically culpable.
I think for the Nigerian police to be effectual; the recruits must be appropriately knowledgeable on the conditions in which the firearms can be triggered. Very importantly too, they should be properly taught what the rule of law is all about. At this point of our country’s development, state police is very much superlative for the reason that combating criminals in a strange place is phenomenal and can be extra special. Furthermore, having civil lawyers in the police force is not a discouraging idea; at least they can help counsel the police on cases that should be charged to court, by so doing; no one would violate the fundamental rights of Nigerians. I as well consider the fact that Nigerians should demonstrate likeness for the members of the police when encountered with; at least Nigerians can willingly and enthusiastically offer them water to quench their taste in a scorching sun. This is also pointing at the government in every level to provide and furnish the police officers certain incentives outside the normal monthly salary; just for police officers to have some sense of belonging within the force system which will make them put in their best at service. These and others may help them serve our nations and her citizenry better.
Rev Fr John-Duke Akowe is a Catholic Priest of the Diocese of Auchi, Edo state, Nigeria.