In the first few days of the COVID-19 lockdown, more people died from the brutality of Nigerian security agents than the virus itself. This shows that there is a need for dialogue, reorientation, and reconciliation.
Please take time to read this post to the end and share it. We need change in Nigeria.
I must state straight away that I have relatives and schoolmates who retired as generals, admirals, Assistant Inspector General of Police, Commissioners etc., and those who are still serving in various capacities in the security agencies. In fact, one of the serving commissioners of police in the Southern states of Nigeria was my junior at FGC Warri, when I was a house captain.
Lesson 1 – A Dynamic Decade.
Lesson 2 – The Death of Abba Kyari—Nigerians Hardly Learn.
Lesson 3 – Captain Tom Moore—The Elasticity Of Humanity.
Government College Ughelli, my old school, has produced several military officers because of the military cadet unit we had there in those days.
1. Rules of engagement during law enforcement
There are several incidences that took place during the COVID-19 lockdown that reinforces my initial observation that Nigerians hardly learn.
The first incidence took place in Lagos State. Some members of the task force on the enforcement of the lockdown order were seen in a trending video breaking empty bottles of drinks in a shop that opened, contrary to the rules of the lockdown. I was particularly angry with the way one of them pulled down some wares on display. They seem to derive pleasure from the way they were destroying the bottles and other goods on display. There was a lot of protest on social media and they were quickly arrested and maybe disciplined.
We’ll look at it from different perspectives
a. Nigerians are very rebellious
If there is a law that you should not open your shops, please follow the simple instructions. We always have this “nothing dey happen” mentality.
This attitude is reflected in the way we drive. Most of the traffic congestion we have in our cities is because of people who drive against traffic, and do double parking in very narrow and bad roads. You will see bus drivers oblivious of the obstruction they are causing, even when there are traffic police officers there. It is not uncommon to see handshakes taking place between the traffic police officers and drivers. This breeds the mindset that you can always get away with every rubbish behaviour in Nigeria.
b. It was very obvious during the lockdown that the leadership of the Nigerian Police Force do not approve of such reckless vandalism.
However, I believe that for each operation in the future, those policemen who are sent out for such duties must be well-briefed and trained on the rules of engagement with civilians and offenders.
Our police force is no longer a colonial force. We are citizens of the same nation. The force exists because of us and by us.
2. Paternalism and Maternalism Mentality
I was in an immigration office to renew my passport with my lawyer, late last year. An immigration officer came out to call the names of those who were to move to the next office. He called one name three times before she heard and got up. The officer gave her a dirty slap. My lawyer stood up and protested, just like most people there.
My lawyer was called in with the girl by a senior immigration officer. He later rendered a profuse apology to the lady and all of us present. “This is not a representation of the immigration service”, he said. That immigration officer slapped that young lady because that’s how he slaps his daughter (and probably his wife) at home.
The citizens you meet in the course of your duties are not your children; they have rights.
At the same time, the police officer on duty is not your employee or housemaid. Don’t talk to him/her anyhow because you are a rich man or politician; he/she represents our country.
3. Use of Firearms and Adrenaline Rush
In the first few days of the COVID-19 lockdown, a soldier shot and killed a young man at Warri, who was said to have responded to the call of a sick father. I agree that the young man should have stopped when asked to stop. But to shoot at his tyres was very unnecessary. To eventually catch up with him, and shoot him dead was very reckless and an excessive use of force. It turned out that the soldier was not even part of the task force on the enforcement of the lockdown order on COVID-19.
The soldier was quickly arrested and detained. This reinforces the fact that there is a change in the attitude of the leadership of the Nigerian Army too. Tragically, a soldier was mobbed by angry youths. The video was very sickening to watch, to see Nigerians beat their own soldier with sticks. He was not the one who shot the young man to death. He was innocent of that crime.
There is something very wrong in our society that needs an urgent dialogue.
Within a few hours, some scruffy-looking young men were using gutter language threatening that they will come and rape women at Warri and infect them with HIV. They, too, were promptly identified and detained. This again is a sign of good leadership in the army.
4. “The Bloody Civilian” Mentality
One of the reasons for the excessive use of force against civilians in Nigeria is a hangover from the civil war. Before the civil war, I never saw a soldier in our streets. The vulnerability of civilians during the civil war has left a remnant of that picture of helpless and expendable civilians in the minds of our security services. They do not understand human rights issues; they do not know times have changed. They do not understand debate. Everything must be done by force or use of arms.
One junior military man threatened to come and deal with me online. I checked his profile. He did not know who he was dealing with. Within an hour I got his details, the secondary school he attended, and what he did there. I told him the name and address of his mother in his village. He tendered an apology very quickly.
The Nigerian civil war ended in 1970, and we must go back to what General Yakubu Gowon said “No Victor, No Vanquish“. Let me add, “No Victim”.
5. “Why Always Me?” Mentality
A poor old man in Ubiaruku, who went to buy Akpu (cassava meal) was pursued by policemen and humiliated by some young policemen. One young policeman took the cap of the old man and used it to beat his head. In the video online, they were seen searching his pockets. My blood boiled at such humiliation of a poor man by his son’s agemates. I saw some throwing away foodstuffs of poor old people. The youths and the people always ask, “Why can’t these same policemen and soldiers use this same energy to deal with herdsmen who kidnap, kill, rape, and rob them every day?”
This breeds terrible anger especially when there is so much hunger in the land.
The people always ask, “Why can’t the military use the same vigour against Boko Haram”.
There is this siege mentality by the civilians, particularly in the southeastern part of Nigeria.
6. Respect and Value for Other Professionals
Doctors in Cross River State were harassed by a police team. They had identified themselves. One of the videos showed them with ward coats, and the bus with the emblem of the hospital was obvious. In the Cross River State incidence, the police fractured the humerus (bone in the upper arm) of one of the doctors.
In Delta state, doctors went on strike for a day because police harassed medical doctors going to or returning from work. The president of the Nigerian Union of Journalists was assaulted too, and there were other reports of other journalists assaulted in other cities too.
Nigerians hardly learn; all incidences I have enumerated here have been happening for decades. Smart phones and cameras have made them public in the last few decades. We do not seem to learn from them. I call it predictable lunacy.
IT Can Be Better
The Lagos Experience
During the lockdown, police officers saw a man wandering desperately about 3:00 a.m. in Lagos. They interrogated him and learnt that his wife was in labour. After contacting their control room, they took the man to his house, carried him and his wife to the hospital. They came back the next day to check on the man, his wife, and the new baby.
This is what the relationship between security personnel and civilians should be.
The Agbor Experience
There was a video online taken somewhere at Agbor. Apparently, some police personnel had seized some stuff from the citizens. The youths went on rampage and attacked the team, including a female officer. It was very offensive to watch.
However, some reasonable people rescued the lady and other policemen, and took them to safety with motor bikes. The most impressive aspect was that the youths mounted a protective barrier with their bodies to protect the Divisional Police Officer. The DPO and some officers were visibly armed. The DPO and his men exercised the greatest restraint, and the leadership of the youths showed a sense of great responsibility.
THAT IS HOW IT SHOULD BE.
All of us cannot be mad at the same time.
We are in it together.
We’ll end with this video of a young man who just turned 6, and who wants to be a police officer. Despite the lock-down the police officers still came out to put on a show for him. This kind of gesture would leave a lasting impression on the mind of this young man for many years to come.
God Bless You.
You can read the next lesson here: National Values and The Coronavirus Pandemic [Lesson 5].