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AFTERMATH OF #ENDSARS PROTEST: POLICE AS VICTIMS OR VILLAINS?

*The Insight


"The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watched them without doing anything." - Albert Einstein.


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In the past two weeks, after the #EndSARS protest and the unfortunate carnage, brutality and destructions that followed have mellowed down, many citizens are still counting their loses. The government, institutions, private citizens and even the protesters themselves, suffered dare consequences. But a particular institution that remained battered and demoralised is the Nigeria Police Force (NPF). They remained downcasted and unenthusiastic to promptly return to their duty posts.


Since then, we have heard several appeals from well-meaning Nigerians and political authorities to them to return to work. Not that they abandoned their stations completely but they have refused to lift a finger in many situations that demanded their attentions, which statutorily are their responsibilities.


The cause of such demoralisation was the targeted attacks at them during the protest. We read series of irreplaceable losses they incurred. Some police officers and their family members were killed, stations and their vehicles burnt, and personal properties destroyed.


Even when the protest had its main or initial focus on the ending of the brutal and beastly SARS, it proceeded to demand for police reforms. SARS officers were first and foremost, police officers. While many regular police officers "claimed" innocence of all that SARS did over the years, they also suffered the consequences. Unfortunately, at the height of the rage, most of the real culprits could have escaped and disappeared, leaving the regular police officers to bear the brunt.


Sadly, all the atrocities that SARS officers committed in those years of terror were done under the nose and in the full glare of the regular police officers. The SARS did not have separate stations. All their bases and torture centres were located in various police stations, which are superintended by Divisional Police Officers (DPOs), at Area Commands, State HQs, Zonal Commands or Force Headquarters overseen by Senior Police Officers. That put all the other officers, and their stations in the line of fire. A case of "when one finger touches oil, it soils the others".


The IGP has continously reiterated in his tour of affected stations across the country, assuring them of government's supports and a renewed commitment to their welfare and wellbeing. The losses were huge. According to reports, about 205 stations were burnt, 22 officers killed, while many others injured. They should be adequately compensated. And some of the demands of the protesters included these. They recognised the essence of having a functional, efficient, well-remunerated and motivated police force. Afterall, police officers are human beings and are Nigerians too. They deserve better.


However, too many horrible things have been attributed to police officers for far too long. The menace perpetrated by SARS officers in the last decade only took it a notch higher. And despite endless cries from the citizens to their governments and political leaders to do something about them, the pleas fell on deaf ears, until it boiled over about five weeks ago when the youths said that enough was enough. They rose to the occasion and demanded the end to SARS and police brutalities. Unfortunately, we paid higher prices than it would have been had governments responded as and when due over time.


The irresponsibility and non-responsiveness on the part of governments and police authorities to address the alleged heinous crimes against humanity being committed by SARS officers in particular and many police officers in general, gave the culprits the air of invincibility. They became lords onto themselves, having no regards for lawlessness and order or any constituted authority.


In the past one week since the panels of inquiry set up by various states and the FCT started sitting, it has been one horror of a story after another as victims and or their relatives narrated their gruesome ordeals in the hands of SARS officers all these years. Nigerians, many of them innocent, were subjected to most inhuman treatments. Many of them suffered permanent damages and deformations. Many dead. Many lost their life savings and entire properties to SARS criminal activities and police brutalities.


I watched in horror as people came out, making this revelations one after another, across the country, especially in Lagos where it seemed most prevalent and other states in the southern Nigeria. I kept wondering how human beings could do such horrendous things narrated to fellow human beings. Those officers must have been "mentally deranged" to be able to do that. There were allegations of  many of them being on illicit drugs most of the time. But their greatest motivation was the impunity.


When they knew that nothing would happen to them no matter how grievous their atrocious acts were. Life was nothing to them. They killed, maimed, assaulted, extorted and robbed many innocent people. They arrogated absolute powers to themselves. But why was that? Didn't they have superior authority who oversaw their activities? Or were there compromises on the part of their leadership as well?


If all that the SARS committed were done with the knowledge of other regular police officers, in their presence and they did nothing, or they participated in them, then, it amounted to hypocrisy to play the "victim cards" as we have seen them do in the last one week. They are as guilty as the SARS officers by association and silence in the face of evils. They paid for their compromises with the unfortunate and condemnable attacks on them and their stations.


The truth is that, many police officers committed same crimes. The attitude exhibited by many of them poisoned their relationship with the general public, despite the deceitful slogan that "police is your friend". Actions speak louder than words.


The police themselves need introspection, rethink and remodelling as a people and an institution. Blackmail won't solve any problem. It is by this act that they too can seek restitution, start to gain the trust of the populace and succeed in carrying out their responsibilities of protecting lives and properties more effectively with peoples' supports.


Like President Harry S. Truman of the United States of America said that; "The buck stops here (on his desk)". That’s taking responsibility. Over the years, our political leaders were culpable in all that happened. The bulk stopped on their tables but they took the citizens for granted while the officers had field day at the expense of the citizens and their lives.


Police brutalities and extrajudicial killings did not start with this administration, they are historical.


Sadly, I have observed with shock that many things that the protest was against were already being repeated in the name of arresting palliatives and shops' looters. I watched on the television and many video clips of the people arrested for commiting one crime or another during the protest and after. The way many of them were being treated is still extrajudicial. Police and security agents cannot be the arrestors, prosecutors and judges at the same time. There have been arrests and detentions without charging "suspects" to court.


A woman alleged that she was arrested while on her way to buy foodstuffs for her children and family, on the premise of the curfew imposed in Lagos, despite the claim by Governor Sanwo-Olu that he did not direct that people be arrested on that account. The woman was not allowed to speak or reach out to her family. She just got missing. That’s was six days when I watched it this Monday.


Some of the utterances and body language of many of the officers who arrested them exuded vendetta. That is not acceptable. I believe this past incident should have taught us some lessons that, as Yorubas will say; "ojo gbogbo ni t'ole, ojokan ni t'oloun" (everyday for the thief, one day for the owner). The day of reckoning will always come either "normally", where authorities do their jobs by punishing erring personnel or "abnormally", when citizens would have been pushed to the wall as we saw. We pray there wouldn't be a repeat of such again. "Ogun awitele ki pa aro t'obagbon".


Going forward, the people need to recognise that police officers are humans like the rest of us. They are our brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers and relatives. And they came from our generally rotten and dysfunctional society too. Like many have said, that the symbolism of "SARS" is inherent in most of us as Nigerians. We do exhibit them in different positions of authority we found ourselves in our attitudes and behaviours. There is "SARS" in each and everyone of us. The only difference is that we do not carry guns, though, the consequences of our own "SARS" might be more devastating sometimes.


To the political leadership of the country, from the president down to the lowest office holders, the buck stops on your desks. Even when all others, apart from Mr. president, have no powers over the police or control over their activities, they owe their constituencies the duty to speak up against ill-treatment of the people who put them in office and act in accordance. "A ko gbodo fi eniyan j'oye awodi, k'oma le gb'ediye" (leaders should be alive to their responsibilities).


This has also made it more expedient, the call for state and community police. They will also be fall-outs of proper restructuring of this country. The venom displayed during the period of the crisis was an indication of bottled-up anger, disenchantment, hunger, frustration and a feeling of hopelessness by the people, caused by the country and her political leadership over the decades. Nigeria is not working as presently configured. There is need to restrucure and stop playing the ostrich. Who is afraid of restructuring "sef"?


The police need to be taken care of. People who risk their lives to protect all of us should be adequately compensated. Their improvement should begin with the criteria for recruitment. Situations where dropouts, touts, thugs and other criminal elements can find their ways into the police force or any other security agency should be prevented. The qualifications should be made stricter and prospects should be employed on merit basis with adequate background checks, unlike the "man-know-man" largely obtainable. They should be well trained in the art of modern ways of policing.


The existing facilities in the training schools that we saw in a documentary are not habitable for animals, not to talk of our dear police personnel. Same thing goes for their barracks. They are better imagined. The conditions in those facilities could be worse than prisons. Their welfare, remunerations and life insurance should be critical and top priorities. Adequate arms and amunitions, protective gears, working tools and other needs should be provided.


To the officers, you are part of us. Why would any officer treat fellow citizens like animals just because they have guns which were bought for them with taxpayer's money? The same guns which were supposed to be used to protect the citizens were used to terrorise them. That’s criminal and unacceptable. This should stop. If the claims that majority of officers are good and that the bad ones are in the minority are true, it is then the responsibility of this majority to expose and flush out the bad eggs from among them. Otherwise, the general public will continue to paint them with the same brush.


For those who joined the force to perpetrate "official crimes" simply for self agrandissement, they should turn over a new leaf. The day of retribution is here already. If they escape this time around, they will not be all-time lucky. Karma will always catch up with them.


All the Panels of Inquiry set up must do justice to the assignments given to them without fear or favor. The victims' succour now rests with them. All the SARS and police officers found culpable should be brought to book, prosecuted and appropriately punished for their crimes no matter whose horse is gored. The victims of police brutality should be adequately compensated. Their assailants should also be punished in line with the law.


We appeal to the police officers to return to "active service" to their fatherland with renewed dedication and sincerity of purpose.


God Bless Nigeria.



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