WHEN LAW OFFICERS TURN LAW BREAKERS

A catchy item in today’s edition of Daily Trust caught my attention and left me mentally exhausted from working the possible causes of such a phenomenon.

The report was about altercation between a low ranking Army officer and a Division Police Officer (DPO) of NPF in Kebbi State.

From what was reported, the problem started when the soldier, riding a motorcycle and in mufti, overtook the DPO. Shortly after the soldier stopped to repair his tyre at a vulcanizer’s shed along the road. The DPO met him there and slapped him twice despite the soldier’s successful attempt in identifying himself as a serving military officer.

Provoked, the soldier retaliated by hitting the DPO with an iron rod, an action that caused the DPO’s fuse to blew and he subsequently ordered two Police officers with him to shoot the soldier. Promptly they obeyed by shooting the soldier twice and he died on the spot. Welcome to planet Nigeria.

It’s a common occurrence in Nigeria to read or witness unimaginable behavior that could not fit even story books in other countries on other planets. A typical example of public intolerance to what is now becoming almost a “non story” in Nigeria was the 1991 Los Angeles riots in a certain country, USA on planet earth.

Rodney King was an American construction worker who was beaten by Los Angeles police officers following a high-speed car chase for offence I cannot immediately recall. Most of the unfortunate event was caught on video by a local man from his balcony. The footage showed 8 officers of LAPD participating in the beating. The video went viral across the globe and soon LAPD was on a hot spot for assaulting Rodney King. His long rap sheet notwithstanding, King enjoyed the support of Americans and even the international community who stood by him and demanded justice for him.

Four out of the officers were charged with assault with a deadly weapon and use of excessive force. Three were acquitted of all charges. The jury acquitted the fourth of assault with a deadly weapon, but failed to reach a verdict on the use of excessive force. The jury deadlocked at 8–4 in favor of acquittal at the state level. End of the story and everybody lived happily ever after you may think. No!

The acquittals were what triggered the 1992 Los Angeles riots in which 53 people were killed and over 2,000 were injured, ending only when the military was called in. It was generally assumed the case was mostly debated by the jury on racial ground thereby the acquittal of some of the officers. The riots that followed the seemingly biased deliberations of the jury forcefully led to the federal government’s obtaining grand jury indictments for violations of King’s civil rights. The trial of the four in a federal district court ended with two of the officers being found guilty and subsequently imprisoned. The other two police officers were acquitted again.

Provocatively biased as King’s trial was, it was a better expression of relationship between the pubic and the government. King’s case is a judicial “heaven” very few Nigerians could imagine and even fewer could engage in a hopeless wish for. Of course, going by the reckless, thuggish and repulsively unprofessional behavior of Nigeria’s security it’ll take us light years to achieve the unfortunate level of 1991 LAPD.

If a police officer, one heading a whole division at that, could arbitrarily and repugnantly assume the position of a complainant, the Police and the courts , as well have the power to pass and implement “roadside” death sentence on a serving member of a sister security body in the senseless and inhuman manner done by this DPO, one could only imagine the fate of “civilians” in his hands. Is it any wonder that the NPF is mostly considered ineffective and an impediment to our quest for proper policing with its senior officers behaving less than street thugs?

But for Nigeria, where could a simple traffic offence that attracts fine tickets in other worlds attract death sentence? Please note, the whole thuggish “judicial process” might have been determined by the killer DPO strictly to massage his ego. It’s probable the supposed offence committed by the victim was not even captured by our traffic laws. The DPO, confused about his constitutional responsibility sees his uniform as a source of power to do as he wish according to whims and caprices.

To understand this mess even better, one have to accept that the result of the unfortunate altercation between the soldier victim and the killer DPO was entirely ruled by luck. The result could favor any side as none of them could lay claim to any awareness to their professional responsibility. Sadly the blame is not for them alone as individuals. They simply represent the tragic face of Nigeria’s security arrangement.

With close to N3trn spent in 3 years on security (or in the name of security) we are still trapped with an ill motivated and disillusioned Army/NPF that could hardly differentiate between lawful and unlawful command due to poor mental preparedness and absolute lack of capacity building and periodic upgrade. This is particularly more dangerous in mentally numb and morally sleepy societies like Nigeria.

Last week the government ordered 40 helicopters apparently to compliment the obsolete military hardware and the whole country went agog not bothering to check what N3trn could have done to the system to stop it from such face saving fire brigade strategy. How, in God’s name could we solve the plethora of security issues asphyxiating Nigeria without the needed sincerity and preparedness.

How could Cameroon rescue the wife of its Vice PM within 48 hours of being kidnapped while Nigeria is yet to be fully convinced that the Chibok girls saga is simply a matter of criminality not politics with the girls in captivity for more than 100 days ? The most amazing thing however, is the fact that nobody seem to understand there is a problem. The few that did are labeled government enemies whenever they dare express it. Truly sad!



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