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Does enforcement of the law necessitate violence?

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A Nigerian police officer flags down an on coming vehicle at a checkpoint . PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP

With a heart burdened with deep concern for proper governance, orderliness and the maintainance of law and order, I write.

Patriotism, chauvinism or nationalism may be the nearest qualification that will come to mind, but more than that, I am passionate about, not just the creation and enactment of viable laws, but particularly the way and manner its implementation is carried out by the law enforcement agencies. If the discharging of responsibility is shrouded in some anarchist method by those whose legitimate existence supports upholding of peaceful and moral standards, then there is an urgent need for reappraisal of their modus operandi.

Very quickly, the dictionary definition of violence simply put is any “behaviour involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something.” Though it was a profoundly grievous experience when I lost an able bodied young man in his late 30s survived by a wife and two kids to policemen brutality and callous handling of crime combating, however, that wouldn’t be my lamentation here. This is not supposed to be an emotionally lopsided exposition, rather objectivity and probity ought to be observed. There have always been shortfalls and inadequacies in the entire global policing affairs, nevertheless, the possibility of improvement and or advancement cannot be far fetched or mystified.

The financial burden of crime fighting is primarily borne by the government of the land on behalf of the police force; the police only contributes their expertise, professionalism and resoluteness to the realization of the security mandate. This is just by the way… the welfare of the those who risk their lives for the safety of others and thus put their lives in line, is totally a different topic deserving separate column. But in the meantime, let us examine the style of operation and if space and time permits us, we can probe the effectiveness and wisdom of the method of approach employed to the maintainance of order and peace by the police in our land. If you have ever given it a thought of the possibility that one may accomplish by craft in the long run what he cannot do by force and violence in the short one, then you may have started to get a glimpse of my perspective. This is not necessarily pacifism school of thought per se, but it is clearly about applying discretion and dynamics as against a stereotyped and stale system of enforcement of the law.

It will utterly shock any right thinking person what, in the first place, is the interest of an average policeman when a citizen deliberately or unintentionally, goes against the law. Most of these officers are happy to see citizens commit offense so they can capitalise on that to demand for their “share” of the “settlement” or “bailout” amount otherwise called bride. Failure to comply, woe betide you. A police officer has had to throw decorum to the air while he disparaged a private car owner for procuring every thing a vehicle is supposed to have before it can be on the road. From jack to fire extinguisher to the complete vehicle particulars to functioning transfigurators or sidelights to the valid drivers license to what have you. “Must you have everything,” (the hargardly dressed officer bellows). “Don’t you know that you are not supposed to have at least one of these things so that you can” settle us,” please vanish,” was the shameful and reproving words of a supposedly officer of the law to a diligent road user.

These things are happening in our country but how much of it is known to the authorities. Ignorance of the law may not be an excuse, that notwithstanding, the penalties varries depending on whether one is a routine offender or a first timer. The latter can enjoy pardon but firmly cautioned while the former is liable to the maximum punishment as stipulated and prescribed by the law.

But never should it be an option for the policeman who has the sole responsibility to protect life and property be seen destroying the same thing in disguise of execution of an order. The instances of cases whereby lives and property suffer decimation in the process of policemen hysterical efforts at checkmating crimes are both blazing and legion. But this write up is not about the reckoning of the data of especially police brutality in Nigeria but a clarion call to curtailing the excesses. There are certain maxims or (better known as) principles of war suitable and expedient during war time but we can agree that the primary responsibility of the police is not the same to that of the military. When and where civility is prioritized and maintained, those precepts of war makes no sense at all. And this other civil liberty and human fundamental individual rights are supposed to be the fulcrum of the police exercise of authority to guard and protect.

When the military endorses these aphorism… they do so to measure up with their calling, expectation and responsibility. “There is no better place than combat for measuring a man.” Or “A weapon that’s never used teaches no lessons.” And “The ends justifies the means; therefore focus on the target and apply methods you most deem fit.” The unbridled use of the weapons of destruction oftentimes upon the civilians by the field policemen is quite reprehensible. Even the froward and stubborn fellows do not deserve equal and highhanded treatment in the hand of the police that will result to premature and extra judicial death of the former. This is a serious problem that requires urgent attention and resolute supervision of the legislative arm of the government to forestall recurrence.

The top echelons of the security chiefs in Nigeria should, as a matter of upholding national prestige, instill utter regard and respect for human life and rights in the minds of their rank and file. They should stop killing these “bloody civilians” like they slaughter chicken and herds of cow. The overzealous officers have, in this Covid-19 lockdown period alone, killed not less than 20 able bodied men in South East Nigeria alone just for the trivial reason of not wearing face mask. Human life is so cheap in Nigeria, courtesy of the brutality of the police authority. In bringing this to conclusion, may I reiterate the need to reorient the values our policemen place on human life and property especially while on their field mission. Even the hardened and incorrigible criminal can be rehabilitated instead of eliminated, prematurely. Laws are made for human beings and not the other way around. And the luminary pundits have postulated that a good law

But the interest and stake that any responsible government have towards proper governance in their formulation of ordinances is not punitive in nature but structurally rewarding and advantageous. The heartbreaking episode this writer witnessed in Dopemu, Alimosho local government area of Lagos State recently, where the special police task force team mandated to intercept banned commercial bikes or registered dispatcher’s bikes who violate the state’s traffic rules and impound them, went berserk smashing the side mirrors of other vehicles especially commercial commuters buses that stood on their way at every traffic scene, on their way to their base, cannot be allowed to continue unchecked. It was too appalling, irritating and quite unbecoming of a democratic society.

If you still have a retinue of lively conscience, that demonstration of oppression (that I witnessed and just narrated briefly here above) by the government security agent – the police, will be so disgusting and intolerable unto you. If there is yet any who takes time to read among our political leaders, let this expository write up serve as a clarion call to call our law enforcement agents to order so that they may begin to put a higher premium on the lives of the people, including the ones they call “suspects,” until through court of competent jurisdiction, their innocence is disapproved and sentenced. Particularly our Police Service Commission should beware! Before things gets out of control, this rascality needs be arrested.

Orajiaku, a freelance Journalist and Social Activist , wrote from Lagos.


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