Tell them, Wike and House of Reps
The last seven weeks must go down as Nigeria’s season of dilemma with the coronavirus pandemic outbreak. In a way, the ugly season of sudden death and griping fear known to have emanated from far away Wuham, in China spreads rapidly across the globe like wild harmatan fire. With it, is an accompanied thick cloud of conspiracy theory surrounding the virus source-whether it is natural or artificial. Notwithstanding the raging controversy, countries around the world have chosen to take preventive measures by imposing a lockdown and isolation order on the citizens even as borders into each country are shut to help contain the sporadic spread of the disease.
In several respects, Nigerians have learned the hard way from the COVID-19 lockdown even as it has revealed why security operatives in Nigeria are constantly in the bad record of the court of public opinion. For these past few weeks, some law enforcement officers drafted to carry out the federal government’s lockdown order have perpetually turned almost every checkpoint in the country to a business centre and people’s rights abuses of. As always, the country has a disappointing record when it comes to rights abuses and extortion by security operatives. From media reports, the COVID-19 lockdown checkpoints have become naira rain points. In the light of the above, many Nigerians think the federal government is not handling the issue of security properly as the security personnel act entirely on their own without following the law or rules of engagement. Over the years, their actions have shown a tiresome type of playground patriotism that only invites bad reputation for security forces and the nation.
The other day, the House of Representatives while adopting the joint motion sponsored by Nkeiruka Onyejeocha and Dachung Musa Bagos joined forces with many Nigerians notable among them, the renowned human rights activist and erudite lawyer, Femi Falana, to condemn abuses of fundamental rights, especially brutalisation, extortion and killing of innocent Nigerians by security operatives in the guise of enforcing the COVID-19 lockdown directives across the country. No doubt, the situation of fundamental human rights with security operatives in the country was already sufficiently serious and overwhelming before the COVID-19 lockdown. However, in an endless list of casualties caused by security operatives under the current lockdown the Deputy House Whip, Onyejeocha said Abia state is the hardest hit among Delta, Ebonyi, Kaduna, Katsina and Niger states of the 18 untimely deaths caused by overzealous security operatives.
Given what Nigerians have experienced, there is literally no crime when security operatives abuse, extort or kill innocent Nigerians. This is because hardly have any security operative have been punished with strong sentence for taking the law into their hands. Therefore, security operative in Nigeria can be likened to be above the law or seen as sports participants featuring a sprawling brawling clubs cast of players, each with their own tactics and tricks without rules or umpire. Of course, that brings us to the Rivers state governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike’s frustration of the lockdown order in Port Harcourt recently, when he accused the Deputy Commissioner of police in the state, Adamu Abubakar of sabotage. The governor said, “It is unfortunate to see the level of sabotage that we get from the police, particularly the deputy commissioner of police, operations, Rivers state command….will sign approvals for companies because he wants to collect money. I am the governor of this state and there cannot be two governors… The deputy commissioner of police has no power to issue approvals when the state government has locked down the state…”. The rights abuses and extortion by security operatives should ring alarm bells across the country. This is because the recklessness in the hands of security operatives in the name of COVID-19 lockdown is frightening. Governor Wike’s account shows that senior officers are not exempted in the nefarious trademark of lawlessness. Hence, they join rank with junior officers to brutalise and extort citizens. A case in point is Tala Azeez who was assaulted by inspector Ikuesan Taiwo and Constable Abass Ibrahim at Iwo, Osun state.
Too often, the brutal and extortionist attitude of security operatives in Nigeria appears drawn from a complex malaise, but are in a larger picture due to the grotesque inequality in their economic power, poor equipment/funding and inadequate training of personnel. Of course, several cases have revealed the above as reason many security operatives take unnecessary provocative offence on hapless Nigerians and charge them for an offence without proper investigation. Many Nigerians have suffered imprisonment for offence they had no knowledge of talk less of committing. With regard to the above, Nigerians are demanding justice for the wrongful imprisonment for six years of Idris Saula who was a victim of police raid in 2014 while working at a construction site at Sangotedo, Ajah in Lagos. As earlier noted, there seem to be a flagrant disregard of order and protocol among the rank and file of the security operatives. In the case of Saula, an order from Lagos state directorate of public prosecution absolved him after one year in custody of all charges. But the police prosecutor blatantly refused to honour the advice and present it before the court. Therefore, the Lagos state government, should by every means necessary fish out the dubious police officer and allow the law to take its course.
Indeed, the ways of the Nigerian government cannot be easily understood. If not, long before now several recommendations to fund, equip or decentralise the Nigeria police force and bring about community policing should have taken shape. However, the Senate in its wisdom the other day, urged the federal government to set up zonal security advisory committees at each zonal command to advise on the security challenges facing each zone. The Senate further reiterated the continued advocate for community policing by urging the federal government to direct the ministry of police affairs and the Inspector General of police to immediately implement the community policing strategy. It is quite obvious that such drastic measures to implement a human face policy would bring about a national renewal and a fresh constitutional dispensation that can rebuild an element of trust among Nigerians in security operatives across the country. There is need to stop the continued procrastination of reforming the police force because as Emperor Haile Selassie, once said, “Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted, the indifference of those who should have known better, the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most that has made it possible for evil to triumph”.