A recent directive by the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, to policemen to defend themselves if attacked is generating reactions from residents of Lagos State. The IGP had told policemen and women to defend themselves against any further attacks from suspected hoodlums who took advantage of the EndSARS protest to attack police formations and personnel. Lagosians are now expressing fears that the directive from the police boss may become a licence for policemen to start another round of extrajudicial killings and abuse of power.
The residents are worried that unscrupulous police personnel may hide under the directive to harass and intimidate law abiding people. A resident of the state and a security expert, Mr Felix Olorunda, said though it is normal for anybody, either a security officer or a civilian, to protect themselves from attack, it is unnecessary for the police chief to give such a directive to members of the force. Olorunda, a retired military officer and executive director of SV Securities, said he believed that the IGP gave the directive so for two major reasons – to save his own job and to rebuild confidence in the rank and file. According to him, self-defence by anybody is not always confrontational but could be a retreat or by running away from the attackers.
He said: “Even if it involves confrontation, the act must not involve the use of weapons that could lead to loss of lives of harmless persons. Rather, things like rubber bullets, tear gas, helmets and armoured vehicles should be used. Otherwise such a police officer would be charged for extra-judicial killing and punished accordingly. And if the situation gets to that stage, the IGP would distance himself, condemn the act and leave the officer involved to his or her fate.”
While lamenting that it would take the police a long time to redeem their lost public confidence, he advised the force to approach policing in a professional manner. Olorunda said he observed that many policemen in the metropolis were now obeying simple laws like staying in traffic with other motorists, something which they would not have done before. “You also see many of them now in groups engaging in discussion and not ready to arrest anybody,” he added.
Sharing a similar view, Mr Moshood Oshunfunrewa, a member of the Youth Rights Campaign, said all that the police need to do now was to be more professional in their conduct and rule of engagement rather than to go back to their duty posts and continue their excesses against members of the public. He said Nigeria had had enough of police brutality.
Another respondent, Ehis, expressed the belief that the directive of the IGP could engender a return to police brutality which the EndSARS protesters and the majority of others Nigerians were against. According to Ehis, giving such a directive is like handing the policemen the licence to continue their incivilities under the pretext of defending themselves. The young man said the attitude of the majority of officers and men, not only of SARS, must be addressed through training on interpersonal relationship. He said there was the need to reorient the security agents on interpreting responses from members of the public so they could make the best of every encounter with civilians.
“The directive of the IGP is not good enough. Some bad eggs within the force could use it as an excuse to continue intimidating Nigerians. We should not forget that some officers and men of the Nigeria Police Force take offence with responses of members of the public to questions. They see such as an affront and then subject their victims to inhuman treatments or end up shooting them dead. Our policemen should be retrained particularly on interpersonal relationship, on how best to relate with members of the public. They should be retrained to be civil,” he added.
Sharing a personal encounter with the police, Ehis recalled how he was detained overnight at Ijora Police Station four years ago. According to him, he had been arrested after a man he considered a drunkard grabbed him and manhandled him as he and his friend were waiting to get a bus to their destination late in the evening. “I was wearing a jacket and a fez cap. My friend and I had gone to visit his family, having lost his father and his uncle and were preparing for their burials,” he said. According to Ehis, he had pushed the man off as he tried to free himself from his grasp when his friend drew his attention to the fact that he was a policeman.
“The two of us were arrested and taken to Ijora Police Station. When we got there, they alleged that I was among those who had been fomenting trouble in Ijora for some time. I didn’t live in Ijora and each attempt I made to defend myself attracted severe beating. They said my friend was innocent and released him, while I was thrown into a cell where I spent the night. One of the people I met in the cell said he was arrested while relaxing in front of his house and the next thing he knew was that he was put in detention.”
Ehis further recalled that a year later, his brother demanded for his assistance regarding some transactions at the Tax Office, Alausa, Ikeja. He said he had left his brother’s apartment with a parcel containing the files related to the taxes which he needed to take to Alausa, when he was stopped by policemen around Charley Boy Bus Stop at Gbagbada and was asked about the content of the parcel. He said: “I told them what was in the parcel but then they started querying me as to why I would be found with tax documents despite the fact that I told them where I was coming from and that I was asked to verify them with the Revenue Office at Alausa since my office was located around the place. They arrested me and took me to their station where I was locked up. I was not carrying my ID card. I phoned my brother who rushed to the station, surprised at the police arresting and detaining me, claiming not to know what tax documents were all about. It was my brother that told them that I was a journalist and that they should tread with caution next time.”
Managing Director, Build Consult Limited, Mr Chucks Omeife, described the directive credited to the Inspector General of Police as “reckless.” He said such a directive was not different from the issue that led to the EndSARS protest across the country. Such “a dangerous directive,” he said could lead to a new wave of police brutality in the country. According to him, the issues raised by the protesters centered on police brutality, their welfare and corruption, and these have not been resolved. He said: “Has the Inspector General of Police consoled the victims of police brutality across the country? Has he addressed the issue of poor welfare of his officers and men, which the EndSARS protesters canvassed for?”
Omeife said it was unfortunate that the IGP would issue such a directive, pointing out that “in advanced countries, the IGP would be asked to resign for making such a reckless statement.”
A property consultant, Boye Ajayi, said the statement by the IGP was “quite unfortunate” at a period he should be thinking of how to reorganise the police. According to him, the directive showed that the police were not ready for any reoorganisation. He said: “The IGP should have concentrated on addressing some of the issues raised by the protesters. This kind of directive shouldn’t have come from him. No sane members of the public will attack the police. What the IGP should do is to flush out the bad eggs damaging the image of the force rather than threaten members of the public with such a directive.”
For the president of the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Mr Ben Nnabue, police personnel defending themselves in the event of an attack is their fundamental human right, especially in view of the killing of 22 policemen during the EndSARS protest. He said: “I think they have the right to defend themselves if their lives are being threatened. It is a fundamental issue. But we are scared as we just finished with the EndSARS issue and we saw the challenges that we did not even expect. But making this kind of directive at this time when the nation is going through a healing process is scary. Of course, there are seasoned professionals among the police officers and men but there is no need to use such a directive to aggravate the dying tension.”
In the view of the managing director of Centurion Aviation Security Services, Group Captain John Ojikutu (retd), it is unclear if the IGP had the backing of the president or the office of the National Security Adviser in issuing the directive. Ojikutu, a former military commandant of the Murtala Mohammed Airport, said: “If the IGP was directing his men to start firing at civilians, where did he get the authority from? What is the role of the office of the national security office in this? We have to go back and find out whether that directive had the backing of the national security office. If the national security office and the Commander-in-Chief’s hands were not in this, then the IGP should be called to order.” The retired military officer queried the continued presence of so many personnel of the army and the police on the roads.
The directive is inciting –RULAAC
The Rule of Law, Accountability and Advocacy Centre (RULAAC) described the directive of the IGP as inciting and urged carefulness, especially on the part of the police rank and file, in the discharge of their duties. The executive director of RULAAC, Okechukwu Nwanguma, airing his view on the police boss’ directive, said: “The IGP’s statement on policemen defending themselves when in danger, while it ordinarily sounds understandable, could be inciting and is capable of being misinterpreted by the largely unsophisticated men of the junior ranks who may embrace it as licence to kill at the slightest excuse. How much training have these policemen received on the use of force? How many of them know about or have seen copies of the revised NPF’s Force Order 237? How many junior ranks (so-called rank and file) are familiar with the NPF Force Order or the UN Minimum Standards on Use of Force and Firearms?”
The RULAAC director added “Their own understanding will simply be ‘shoot to defend yourself’, even when their lives or the lives of others are not in danger and they will attempt to justify it. Remember that many police officers are currently aggrieved over events of the past weeks and are likely to act with vengeance. We must be careful not to make statements, albeit well-intended, which are capable of inciting police misuse of firearms and provoking another wave of protests.”
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