By Tonnie Iredia
Police authorities in Nigeria have no doubt learnt some lessons from the massive destructions to their formations in many locations following the recent #EndSARS protests in the country. Police operatives, many of them arguably innocent of what caused the protests were greatly traumatized.
According to Mohammed Adamu, the current Inspector General of Police IGP, at least 22 police personnel were killed while scores of others were critically injured, in addition to the destruction of over 205 police stations nationwide. Such an uncivilized approach especially the killings, ought to be condemned because the deceased police personnel were fellow Nigerians whose families may never recover from their losses. Simply put, police lives also matter.
The gravity of the impact of the protests became more obvious when several police personnel thereafter snubbed their jobs and went into hiding partly because of anger over the level of animosity meted out to them and partly out of fear of possible renewed attacks on them. Against this backdrop, we appreciate the nationwide visits of IGP Adamu to rebuild the confidence of the police.
It can be argued that it was a well-articulated plan to boost staff confidence. A statement credited to the police boss urging his staff to feel free to protect themselves against any attacker which some people restrictively interpreted as instigatory is better seen from the positive standpoint of preventing the demise of the nation’s primary law enforcement agency.
There are however observable gaps in the confidence building messages of the police. For example, in seeking to play an elder’s role in the matter, former IGP, Tafa Balogun reportedly urged police personnel to put behind them what was described as unprovoked attacks on the police during the protests.
Our considered opinion is that the attacks should not be downplayed and described as unprovoked because for longer than makes sense, many people drew attention in vain to the unacceptable but subsisting bestial disposition of some police personnel to members of the public.
While there is ample wisdom in the saying that ‘two wrongs do not make a right’ and as such people should not destroy their own police because of the behaviour of some bad eggs in the police force, the point must also be made that none of the two wrongs, particularly police brutality is right, it is no less abominable than attacks on the police. Therefore, any attempt to deal with one of the two legs without placing it in the larger context of a free and safe society greatly misses the point.
It was indeed a grave error that the police under immediate past IGP, Ibrahim Idris did not end SARS in 2018, when the then Ag President Prof Yemi Osinbajo so directed. The omission merely helped to consolidate a conducive environment for cynicism towards police messages especially where SARS is concerned.
Thus, the need for the police to quickly embrace honest communication requires no further emphasis. The police should recognize that effective communication must always be complete. In which case, it is not enough to embolden the police to repel any attacker, they are to do so only in furtherance of self-defence and in line with standard rules of engagement.
The police authorities must not shy away from condemning police brutality; just as they should be sincere enough to accept that public scorn of the police results from the unacceptable behaviour of a few bad eggs in the force. The advantage of this type of messaging is its capacity to increase the large majority of decent personnel who may begin to show interest in dissuading their peers from anti-public tendencies.
In the United States, police departments in places such as New Hampshire and Washington state as well as Baltimore, Boston etc. have since 2014 embraced the policy of the power of peer intervention which encourages officers to prevent their peers from perpetrating unnecessary violence. If reducing police brutality to the minimum is pursued with vigour and honesty, public perception of the police would improve within a short while.
But if on the contrary, this counselling is ignored, it could harden some police personnel who may develop a retaliatory approach towards the public. Already, there is evidence in Nigeria of some police personnel who find it hard to disengage from years of the culture of police brutality.
Only a few days ago, a trigger-happy police inspector killed a tricycle operator at an illegal checkpoint, in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Expectedly, protesters made up of members of the tricycle operators association and other youths immediately blocked the Rukpoku axis of the Port Harcourt International Airport and demanded that the killer be released to them.
Until heavy deployment of policemen to the area was attained, the protesters were bent on burning down the police station there. The Commissioner of Police in the state, Joseph Makun had to quickly calm frayed nerves by assuring the public of the arrest and immediate trial of the inspector.
A statement by the police command which appealed to the protesters that bringing the killer to justice was better than burning and anarchy was logical, but it can only be appreciated if the police can spend more time counselling their operatives against brutality.
There is no better time than now for police authorities to mount enlightenment programmes designed to re-orientate police personnel nationwide. But for such programmes to have effect, the re-orientation schemes must be continuous until they stick. Again, the police should not see the policy as a sign of weakness or admission of guilt; instead, it should be used to reposition the police at a higher pedestal of public respectability as is done in other climes.
As police brutality is becoming a glaring irritation in democracies across the world, there are increasing efforts to redress the trend. For instance, the week before, some police officers in France beat up and racially insulted Michel Zecler, a 42-year-old Black music producer, in his studio in Paris. Filmed by a CCTV camera, the broadcast of the racist beatings and insults sparked a national outcry and forced the government to act.
President Emmanuel Macron did not mince his words in describing the incident in his Facebook page as ‘Unacceptable images that shame us’ pushing the police to promptly initiate disciplinary action against the offending officers.
Admonishing deviant personnel is not all that can up the game of the police, lifting the morale of the workforce should also not simply be premised on material benefits only. There is indeed, the wider area of creating a system whose members are inspired to attain job satisfaction through self-actualization and maximizing potentials.
The collaboration with Interpol which last week helped the police to repatriate a major fugitive offender back home for trial is a plus. The achievement was as usual buried far below in the gamut of police activities.
Considering that the police has a pragmatic communicator, Frank Mba, in its fold, it is inconceivable that the organization is yet to accomplish a level in which the public is saturated with her concrete accomplishments. It is hoped that the problem is not about the usual inhibitions of a larger management team which is more disposed to the policy of ‘silence is golden.’