The Nigerian Police Force is partly responsible for Nigerians’ disrespect for the institution and the law it enforces.
There could be no excuse for citizens’ lawlessness, but when an organization set up to defend the laws of a country tramples the same, it renders the law helpless and susceptible to abuse.
The conduct of some men of Nigeria’s police leaves much to be desired. It ridicules the law and strips it of the supremacy given to it by the people. I will return to the conduct of some police officers but let us consider some ways these law enforcers break the law.
Early on Monday morning, Afrobeat artiste, Seun Kuti, alleged to have assaulted a policeman over the weekend, walked into the hands of the police on his own volition. The police immediately arrested him and put him in handcuffs. The latter action was unwarranted and illegal.
Section 7 of the Administration of the Criminal Justice Act (2015) provides that suspects can only be handcuffed or subjected to any form of restraint under three circumstances. These include when:
“(a) there is reasonable apprehension of violence or an attempt to escape.
“(b) the restraint is considered necessary for the safety of the suspect or defendant, or
“(c) by order of a court.”
None of these situations existed in this case, yet the police flouted the fundamentals of arrests. They also ran afoul of S. 34, Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999, as amended), which guarantees the rights of citizens to personal dignity.
The same disregard for processes causes police prosecutors to seek the detention of suspects pending “investigations,” or advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
But for the vigilance of the magistrate court where Kuti was arraigned on Tuesday, the suspect would have been dumped in detention for 21 days. In that time, the police would pretend to investigate a case whose details are obvious.
First off, the arrest of the musician should not have happened until the conclusion of the investigation. Under normal circumstances, he would be invited to give a statement and granted administrative bail until the police complete investigations. But as stated in this column last week, the Nigerian police started by arresting suspects, putting them in jail, and then investigating for as long as it takes.
The point here is the Nigeria police’s infidelity to the very law it should maintain. Even when on the receiving end, this institution should be professional and maintain the dignity of the law. However, Nigeria has an emotional police force, which panders to public sentiments and engages in the media trial of suspects.
The police do more damage to their reputation through the conduct of their personnel, even at the highest levels. They forget that perception is reality and that citizens form opinions by what they see police officers say and do.
It is for instance, ludicrous that the inspector-general of police, Usman Alkali Baba, directly gave orders for Kuti’s arrest.
In Lagos state where the incident happened, there are two assistant inspectors-general (AIG). There is a commissioner for the Lagos state command, and God knows how many other police commissioners. The police also have zonal commanders, many divisional heads, and so on, all of whom would have seen the same video Alkali Baba saw. Yet, the IGP had to “order” a suspect’s arrest in a matter that should be mere procedure. Such events, which happen now and then, show that the police force is a dysfunctional body where the number one man micromanages instead of concentrating on the administration and reformation of this force.
That is not all! There is a penchant for the police to deceive courts into keeping suspects in detention for longer than usual.
In doing this, prosecutors come up with various justifications. In the Seun Kuti case, unconfirmed reports suggest that the prosecutor claimed that the policeman was in a coma. We cannot authenticate this story even though the police have not refuted it.
However, The PUNCH reported that the victim was receiving treatment at some medical facility. This is despite an earlier statement where the Lagos police command claimed that the man trailed Kuti to his Ikeja home, collected some money from him, and drove to a police station to report the incident. So, at what point did he fall into a coma or become so sick as to be admitted to hospital? Did he run into another accident, or was it Kuti’s slap that sent him into this state? Issues that breed distrust like these diminish the force and affect the people’s estimation of them and their duties.
This is not to talk about the public conduct of some personnel who serve government officials. Some behave like minions, carrying the bags and briefcases of their principals. Most policemen on the streets leave their homes calculating how much they will extort from Nigerians, rather than preventing crime. In wringing money from people, some would do anything and everything, including shooting and sometimes killing the innocent. How does a society respect such people?
So, government must pay attention to the Nigerian Police Force. Right from the recruitment process to the training, equipping, psychology, and presentation of personnel.
The appearance of policemen, the environment they work in, and the equipment with which they work, including vehicles, and computers, affect their image. We cannot continue to display a police force that relies on citizens to fuel their operational vehicles and expect public respect.
Police personnel must also realise that they represent the law and that their conduct in uniform can incentivise or dis-incentivise the average citizen. They must know that their duty is to protect and defend the law. Even when they become victims, they must find the grace to focus on maintaining the sanctity of the law, shunning abuse, and emotionalism.
None of the above, however, excuses Mr Kuti’s reckless and irresponsible behaviour. His conduct on Saturday is hypocritical, arrogant, and lawless. This is a disgraceful combination that rubbishes his usual attempt to pontificate on Nigeria’s problems.
Kuti pretends to understand the requirements for the emancipation of Nigeria. Assaulting a policeman, who is the people’s agent, however, puts him in the same league as the oppressors that he criticises.
The slap on a police officer is a metaphorical expression of the disdain that privileged Nigerians, including those who break the national purse to maintain pretentious lifestyles, have for all our national institutions. His empty and arrogant boasts remind us of the urgent need to rebuild our country.
There are frailties that influencers like Seun Kuti must tame. One is a lack of capacity for self-control, as exhibited in his unbridled anger. Not only did he slap the policeman, but he shouted down his wife when she tried to intervene. One thing that is worse than anger is the dismissal of close people’s requests for a cessation of this temperament. He showed disrespect for his wife whom he commanded to go back into the car. The poor woman walked away humbly.
Kuti also lost the opportunity to apologize to Nigerians before he turned himself in. He probably does not realize that his conduct was a letdown for many of those young Nigerians who see him as a role model.
Sometimes, our humanity overtakes us, and we bear ourselves in untoward ways. The humility to assess our behaviours, take responsibility, and apologise, restores us to the place of dignity where people place us. It conveys our mortality to our followers and makes them realise the importance of conforming to the laws. Anything otherwise suggests an overestimation of our importance, an ill-advised trip in narcissism.
This is why justice must be served in this matter. We should avoid that tradition wherein condemnations greet the advent of matters like this only to be followed by a graveyard silence that is only broken by another incident. Whatever followed the storm created by Senator Elisha Abbo’s alleged assault on a lady in a sex toy shop in 2019? A nation that rewards bad behaviour with silence will surely progress into infamy. So, a diligent prosecution of this case should serve as deterrence.
As we expect performance from the Nigerian police and its men, those who have influence cannot behave like they are above the law. We must all reflect on the way we treat the law and those who enforce it. Police officers are a symbol of governmental and citizen authority. Mistreating them is disrespecting the country and its people.