- BY ADEMOLA ORUNBON•
I don’t know who came up with the Nigerian Police Slogan “The Police is Your Friends”, but make no mistake about your relationship with Nigerian Police. Nowhere in the world are the police your police. They have a very important role in keeping us all safe from the baddies of the world, but police is not your friend. Police is especially not your friend in an environment that does not hold the police accountable for the actions and expression of unreasonable force.
Whatever class of person you are in Nigeria, the last thing that you want is an encounter with the police because you will find out very quickly that all that the black letters in the Nigerian Constitution is statutes, and Police Public Relations campaigns mean nothing to the officers on the streets and in the police station near you.
The Nigerian Police Service as a law enforcement agency is primarily established is meant to protect the lives and properties of the citizens but what we have in Nigeria today is quite the opposite as they have taken it upon themselves to menaces in the society. Citizens are constitutionally entitled to the right to be protected by its police and are guaranteed by the highest law of the land but some of these officers make it a duty to deprive citizens of their right.
The police brazenly encroach and abuse the right of the people with impunity while the rule of law is thrown to the dogs. They unleash injustice on innocent poor and law-abiding citizens of this country without resistance and woe betide you if you dare challenge them.
The mantra that the police are our friend has long been thrown overboard as the officers themselves do everything possible to show that they are not our friends. The mantra of the Nigeria Police Force that: the Police Is Your Friend. This notice is posted on every police formations, divisions, posts and commands while successive Inspector General of Police have tried all they can to launder the image of police and however, as much as the top hierarchy of the police is trying to paint the force look like friends, the simple truth is that the police have refused to be anyone’s friend, at least those that interact with the general public on a regular basis. Instead of being friends, they have constituted themselves into the enemies of the public with their actions, antics, aloofness and their attitude of intimidating members of the public.
Police officers who abuse civilians, typical arrest their victims (the innocent civilian) is becoming more common every day; notwithstanding, the fact that most adults now possess the ability to quickly video record events that we confront (smartphone video recordings). However, so has public acceptance of the use of; 1) brutal and disproportionately excessive use of, or the threatened use of weapons; 2) disproportionately restrictive methods of immediate restraint (i.e. handcuffing for “officer safety” purposes, as general precautionary proactively, in citizen street contracts), 3) shooting persons who the police say that committed an offence “real or frame up”.
In years gone by, we, as a society, had a whole lot more respect for each other; even if the showing of that respect was nothing more than addressing a person as “Ma’am” or “Sir”. Just listen to old radio shows, and it’s apparent that people were simply more polite, respectful and civilized toward each other. So, were the police? They didn’t dress like they are suited for street patrol in Nigeria; if you see Nigeria police on the road blocks, they dressed haggardly, irritating and indecent, especially those called F-SARS, and SARS, indeed, when you see them, you will thought that they were armed robbers, pretending to be police officers, oftenly clashes with people, and part of the present problem in the law enforcement community. They walked a beat and weren’t trained to kill you if they suspected to shot and kill a civilian might pose a threat of danger to them.
Moreover, the police needed “probable cause” to believe that you committed a crime, to restrain your freedom to leave their presence, and go about your business (the present standard for determine whether a person is ‘seized‘ within the meaning of the 1999 amendment constitution). Well, now they don’t need ‘probable cause’ to detain you, even in a humiliating and degrading manner. In the real world, the police really don’t need even ‘reasonable suspicion’ of criminality by you, to detain you, or even handcuff you. The police are trained that their personal safety is primary, and they have become so brazen as to declare themselves dictators of the scene (take charge), with essentially martial law powers, to order civilians around. This is no joke.
Any failure to immediately comply with arbitrary or just float unreasonable police orders, now in itself become the basis for the police to seize you, and, very often, to beat the crap out of you; usually for fun with the guys. To add salt to injury, not only did you get beaten up for actions such as; 1) daring to tell the police officer that you know your constitutional rights, 2) that the officer is violating your constitutional rights, 3) asking the police what’s going on; 4) telling the police that you’ll comply with his/her orders when he/she tells you what’s going on; 5) complaining to the officers about his treatment of another, and 6) otherwise criticizing the police, but, chances are, that you got arrested by the police for some trumped up “resistance offense”, that gives the cops two bites at the preclusion apple; that apple that will preclude you from obtaining redress for the police outrages and constitutional violations perpetrated upon you.
The police have so much power that they were not being facing music of violation of human rights in this country, and under normal circumstances, if they abnormally brutalized or violated your constitutional rights, they supposed to be punished for that unjust offence against you, now, even if you can prove that the police attempted to frame you for a crime that they knew you did not commit, and that you suffered terrible damages, ridicule and humiliation from that attempted frame-up, the police are absolutely immune from liability for attempting to frame you, if the care is not taken! You will also punish for that. Indeed, in advanced country like U.K, U.S and others, if the police arrested you unlawfully or wanted to arrest you, they will be pleading with you and pacifying to follow them to their stations, but here in Nigeria, the reverse is the case, they will brutalize you, beat you and humiliate you for the crime you knew nothing about.
Like the late Afro-Beat Maestro, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti said, police stations have long become Bank where the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) serves as the Manager and the other ranks are the tax collectors. The rate at which policemen hit the street on their now famous raid and indiscriminately arrest innocent people is quite worrisome. And once you are arrested, you must pay to be released or you may rot in detention or jail as they will clamp some trumped up charges on you.
You will be lucky if they don’t kill you and tag you an armed robber. Some inside sources say the officers on the streets have targets set by their DPOs and if they do not meet such targets, they will not be given lucrative beats. Like the bulky spoilt kid who picks on his smaller colleagues, Nigerian policemen bully and steal from people. Theirs is even worse because some of them go as far as killing innocent victims.
Tell any Nigerian “the Police is your friend” and you will be bombarded with sighs, hisses, anger, laughter and in some cases, threats as they reminisce and reflect upon their past experiences with their “friends”. Almost everyone has one bad experience or the other to recount. The force has now become a dumping ground for frustrated individuals whose lack of credentials have blessed them a bleak future and thus, decide to enrol in the force with a view to making money from the citizens, and those that are desperately looking for jobs after being graduated for many years but found none to do. Most of them are so frustrated with the low salaries they get that they look out their frustrations on the innocent citizens whom they are made to pay for their troubles.
Police officers have been known to have murdered Motorists, Okada rider and even passengers over money as little as N50. Some of them are hopeless drunkards, gamblers, womanizers and are always on the lookout for victims to extort money from to settle their bills. This is why to most Nigerians; the Nigeria Police Force is the most corrupt and compromised security institution in the country. And given the opportunity, many will readily cite several reasons derived from bitter encounters with cops to buttress their belief in this regards.
That’s more reason why the public relations attempts or campaigns to sell the police as a friend to the public have always failed to achieve the desired objective. One thing is to oppress innocent citizens, brutalizing them is another reason the conversation about the institution housing the men in black should not end on social media, particularly the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) officers who have become notorious for extortion, brutality that sometimes leads to the death of innocent young Nigerians in their search for yahoo boys.
As far as the average Nigerians is concerned, the police based on the conduct of its new, can never be a friend. Rather, many feel they have very strong reasons to be wary or fear the police even as much as they fear men of the underworld. The despicable abyss of indiscipline exhibited by the officers and men goes to show the very low level of training devoid of sociology and psychology as basic knowledge for modern policing in a fast-changing society. From all corners of the country, the story is the same as innocent law-abiding citizens are often made to bear the brunt of the law unjustly. Stories abound of people indiscriminately arrested after an alleged crime incidence, while the criminals might have fled the scene to safety. And such people picked up could end up languishing in jails because they could not buy their ways out, while the real criminals continue to have a field day.
Do we talk of bail? On the doors and walls of every police station, it is written clearly that bail is free but the signs are just what they are: Signs. If you think you can walk into any police station in Nigeria and walk out without dropping something, you might have dropped from planet Mars. Try and pretend that you know your rights and would not pay for bail and you could end up in detention for weeks. But do we wholesomely blame these officers who make it a point of duty to extort Nigerians?
How do we expect these officers to meet their needs with the meagre salaries they get? Many of them are abandoned if they lose their lives in active duty and their families would be left to suffer, as they would not be able to get their pensions and gratuities. It would be unreasonable for us to expect these same men to be friendly with us when they are left to scavenge for their livelihoods in whatever forms they can get it.
- Orunbon, a journalist and public affairs analyst, wrote from Abeokuta, Ogun state