Over the years, the phrase ‘trigger-happy cops’ have been used severally as an euphemism for the many deaths of innocent bystanders and apprehended criminals in the hands of men of the Nigeria Police. The coinage points to an anomie that has taken on the conventions of a norm- condoned and covered up along the hierarchy of the Nigeria Police Force.
A recent video in circulation highlights what has come to be accepted as the modus operandi of the Nigeria Police Force and provides the template to examine this prevalent ill and a possible way forward.
In the new video, men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) are seen toting cocked guns at a band of two robbers who had been tied up and restrained with what looks like ropes.
One of the officers is heard barking to both men to step off the vehicle they had been bundled into before proceeding to shoot both men at point bank- unarmed and posing no threats to the officers or passersby. It is instructive to point out that it is yet unknown who made the recording and how it subsequently made its way to the public, but the video-maker is heard in the background gleefully encouraging the shooting of both disarmed men and saying, “ We no dey waste time”.
That last statement rendered in vernacular is apt in that it captures the general impatience of police officers who solve all debacles with pedestrians and commuters through the barrel of the gun. Kolade Johnson, a young and enterprising man, was hit by a stray bullet while minding his business only because a group of SARS operative who had gone to effect the arrest of a suspected internet fraudster decided that shooting at a fleeing suspect within a congested area was operationally sound.
Regulars commuters and drivers on interstate roads are left with little choice than bribe their way to freedom and safety when engaged by corrupt officers mounting roadblocks. Many lives have been wasted over as little as a disagreement over N50 to N500 by policemen who felt slighted by the inducement given, or a refusal to ‘play ball’. Many are threatened that they would be shot and wasted and nothing would come off it, a miserable truth which only encourages more and more innocent deaths.
But not all who have been summarily executed were innocent people as some have argued. In the first narration above, the two men who were killed were in fact men of the underworld who were tracked down and apprehended. It does beg the question, however, if our policemen are now judge, jury and executioners?
The operational manual of the Nigeria Police and the Police Act directs that the ultimate point of any arrest is to restrain and detain, not restrain and execute. The police have no arbitrary right to choose who lives or dies. If they did, our courts would be needless and the judiciary pointless. In combat situations, however, with policemen taking on fire, brute force is permissible in subduing the threat and gaining control. The video in reference clearly shows that the two men posed no danger to the police officers and had in fact been tied up and bundled into a bus before being executed in public glare with pomp and excitement.
A few weeks back, the Nigeria Police were themselves, victims of a ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ situation when three of its men were gunned to death by military men who mistook them for kidnappers. The Police, usually the perpetrators, took to their official pages to try to hold the Nigerian Army to account before the same Nigerian public that are a regular victim of police, AND military, brutality. It’s a dog-eat-dog plight, sad yet instructive.
Going forward, the Police Force must truly undertake measures to prevent as much as sanction officers who kill without justification. That men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) are regular culprits is indicative of a lack of professionalism breeding within that rank and festering from inept oversight. There must be a total overhaul of the mentality of the average Nigerian Policeman through consistent reformatory training and accountability measures that respect neither rank nor file.
Only by refusing to condone and protect errant officers, and the application of severe sanctions for established cases of extra-judicial killings, bribery, commuter terrorism and abuse of official privileges, can the Nigeria Police Force attain an appreciable level of professionalism and acceptance with the public. As the unfortunate incidence involving its men and soldiers show, violence is not prejudicial to status and must hence be actively discouraged through positive actions
Executive Director, UNITED GLOBAL RESOLVE FOR PEACE(UGRFP)