By Zayd Ibn Isah
“Policing Nigeria is difficult.” – Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, GCON
The Vice President made the above statement when he paid host to His Royal Highness, Alhaji Ahmed Abdullahi Hassan (The Yakanaje Uke of Nasarawa State) in his office at the Presidential Villa. In fact, his exact words were, “Policing Nigeria is difficult, hence the decision by the country’s leadership to reorganize the security architecture for effective results.”
It appears the Vice President shares similar sentiments with the former Inspector-General of Police, Muhammed Adamu. The former IGP had once said that policing Nigeria in the era of social media has proven quite difficult. He made this claim during the closing ceremony of a four-day capacity building workshop for Police Public Relations Officers in Anambra State.
Now, I couldn’t agree more with both the Vice President and the former IGP. From personal experience alone, I know that policing in Nigeria is one of the most difficult anyone can do. Consider the fact that most Nigerians often complain about policing in Nigeria, but see no problem in breaking the law as long as it either benefits them or comes with no consequence. And that as a law enforcement agent, it isn’t enough trouble bringing law-breakers to book, but you’re meant to conduct yourself properly even in the face of unruliness, disrespect and animosity. You now understand why the Vice President and the former IGP were of the view that policing in Nigeria is a very difficult job, right?
The viral video of Seun Kuti attacking a uniformed police officer is another glaring proof of why policing in Nigeria is a very herculean task. Oluwaseun Kuti, widely known as Seun Kuti, is a Nigerian musician, singer and the youngest son of Afrobeats pioneering legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti.
Seun’s act of rascality has stirred up a storm of outrage on social media, with many concerned Nigerians already calling for his head. This is even as the Inspector-General of Police has ordered for Seun’s immediate arrest and possible prosecution. The Chairman, Police Service Commission, has also released a statement commending the IGP’s swift response and imploring that the law must take due course to set a cautionary example..
Reacting to the calls for his arrest and prosecution, Seun alleged that the police officer had tried to “kill him” and his family members, causing him to react in what he believed to be an act of self-defence. How Seun intends to corroborate this statement is up to his lawyers to decide, because in the widely circulated video, the policeman in question appears to be unarmed. And even after being slapped, the policeman incredibly kept his cool. This outstanding detail alone earned him the respectful commendation of the PSC Chairman.
Meanwhile, Seun has joined the long list of Nigerian citizens who have assaulted police officers while performing their lawful duties. Sometime in April, 2021, a police officer attached to the Lagos State Rapid Response Squad, ASP Sunday Erharbor, was assaulted by a young man later identified as Emmanuel Ebhomenyen. The officer’s offence? He was only trying to arrest Emmanuel for driving against traffic. And the young man took offence at that.
How did we get to this stage where citizens raise their hands against our nation’s symbol of authority? How? But what surprised people most about the aforementioned incident was that ASP Sunday never even tried to use his AK–47 rifle while the young man unleashed a barrage of blows on him. And that earned him an award from the Lagos State Government. Whenever anyone says, “All police officers are trigger-happy killers,” I often refer them back to this record of ASP Sunday’s exemplary professional conduct.
But perhaps, the most amazing part of Seun’s lawless act is that he sees assault on police officers as no big deal. He later confirmed in a video posted on his social media page that what he did on Saturday, in broad daylight no less, was nothing compared to past encounters he has had with police officers. And he always get away with it. But it remain to be seen whether he will escape the long arm of the law this time around.
I am quite sure that the likes of Peter Okoye and other celebrity musicians pleading for justice to be tempered with mercy on Seun’s behalf would have lowered their heads in shame after watching Seun implicate himself even further. This is because what he said in that video is enough evidence to nail him in court. At this point, only a popular Igbo proverb captures the current situation perfectly, and that’s the one which says people whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.
The job of policing in Nigeria is not just difficult, but a thankless one as well. Police officers in Nigeria are practically expected to perform magic in their frantic efforts to fight crimes and criminality. Also, they are expected to be over and above board. As a matter of fact, being a police officer automatically translates to being under pressure to convince a lot of people that look o, you are different from regular police officers often encountered on the road, that you don’t collect bribes or abuse the authority you possess. And nobody may believe you.
If Nigerians hold other civil/public servants to these same high standards, this country would no doubt be better off for it. But then, their concerned wish for a police institution in the mold of the highly-trained NYPD (United States) and tactically efficient Metropolitan (United Kingdom) is understandable. Afterall, there is no organized country without an effective police force. However, we must first of all understand that ours is a third world country. The only way we can have an intelligently advanced, highly sophisticated and logistically competent police force is through strategies to utilize proper funding, adequate manpower and state support.
Seun Kuti’s lawless act is despicable, to say the least. And that this is happening at a time the IGP and PSC Chairman are poised to rid the Force of its bad eggs is worrisome. After all, no one can disrespect a police uniform more than the very officer who wears it. That is why these symbolic uniforms are often earned at great cost in order to reflect the high standards of authority and duty they represent. If we allow them to be undermined and disrespected by lawless individuals like Seun, the end result could spell destruction on an unimaginable scale.
Another thing we need to do to curb these incessant attacks on police officers is to review the law criminalizing assault on officers going about their lawful duties. It may interest you to know that the penalty for assaulting a civilian is 25 years under the Anti-Torture Act of 2017. Meanwhile, the penalty for slapping a police officer is three years imprisonment under the Criminal Code. If one of the main aims of imposing punishment is deterrence, then such a small term of imprisonment for the assault of police officers and other uniformed personnel is simply not deterrent enough.
Isah, Media Aide to the Chairman, Police Service Commission, can be reached via: [email protected]