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Published On: Tue, Oct 20th, 2020

Police Brutality: State govts, elected officials culpable

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The nation is currently witnessing an unprecedented display of raw Youth Power as the #ENDSARS protests morphed into demands for overall overhaul of public governance. #EDNSARS is now more of #ENDBADGOVERNANCE. The Buhari presidency is carrying the can , not necessarily because his five-year administration is the worst but because the inherited pent up anger in the land is exploding in his face, as the Man of the Moment. It is contentious whether or not he could have averted this explosion of general anger, of which the youths are just poster children, and SARS brutality a convenient excuse. The fact that The YOUTHS’ BILL RIGHTS demand on the Nigerian government has ballooned from the initial five to 23 shows that #ENDSARS agitation is a spark of fire, the rage of which requires tactical and strategic responses to prevent the raging fire of protests from becoming an all consuming inferno.
SWAT – A POLICE TACTICAL GOOF ? I do not know the strategic thinking, if any, that goes into Police policy pronouncements, but announcing the formation of another strong-arm police team under the intimidating name of Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) team sends a signal to the public that the police is hell-bent on retaining a belligerent policing tactics. As public communication, it represents a poor understanding of the mood of the nation and would seem to confirm the notion that the police force is irredeemable. The SWAT team announcement amounts to a knee-jerk reaction in a situation that demands sober, reflective, introspective response. SWAT, in the current circumstances, is not only saber-rattling, as it were, it is an in-your-face, nose thumping against the protesters. It cannot be helpful and it is, therefore, no surprise that it has been rejected by the youths. The police leadership must divest itself of arrogance of power which bred the impunity associated with police brutality being protested against.
STATE GOVERNMENTS, ELECTED OFFICIALS CULPABILITY . On security matters, state governors have failed to project as protectors of residents in their domains. Rather, they are for ever whining about federal government ineptitude on security matters as if state governors are completely helpless. They are artful dodgers of their primary responsibility to their constituents – protection of lives and property. Police brutality and documented extra-judicial killings could have been greatly minimized if state governments take up prosecution of indicted police officers under the auspices of state ministries of justice. State governments have this power but they have over the years left the people at the mercy of merciless, heartless and extortionist rogue police officers, thereby aiding and abetting police brutality. Lagos state governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu on a condolence visit to the family of Mr. Okechukwu Iloamuazor killed by police bullets during the #ENDSARS protest in Surulere, Lagos had pledged to ensure the killer cops face the full weight of the law. He had stated : “The officers involved are undergoing orderly room trial, but we will allow the police complete their investigation. We will certainly take the case out of the police and bring the full wrath of the law on the officers who perpetrated this irresponsible act’’, vowing that “ This will be a clear signal for other trigger-happy officers’’. Beautiful, reassuring talk. But then talk is cheap, can Governor Sanwo-Olu walk the talk ? Taking cases of police brutality and killings out of control of the police establishment is what state governors should have been doing as deterrent to callous police officers. Sanwo-Olu will become a governor of reference if he can pursue the Iloamuazor killing to its logical end and empower the Office of the Public Defender to, as a routine, take up such cases, should they occur, in the future.
Elected representatives of the people in State Assemblies and the federal legislature also have responsibility to protect members of their constituencies who suffer police brutality or any form of injustice. Constituency offices are expected to monitor developments in their areas and report same to the legislators for necessary intervention or intercession. Sadly, many legislators often do not maintain active constituency offices but are rather preoccupied with wealth accumulation to the neglect of their constituents.
The cumulative effect is that the Nigerian public feels abandoned by the state and its officials . The youth protests are a manifestation of pervasive resentment against a perceived non people-friendly public governance, in general, with police brutality serving as the trigger.
The federal government has, so far, been appropriately responsive to the demands of the youth protesters and the steps announced, especially the directive for states to constitute judicial investigative panels to determine cases of police abuse of power, get indicted police officers prosecuted and compensation for victims of police brutality are laudable. The hard part is stopping the #ENDSARS protests, before they spiral out of control. The narrative that the protests are being hijacked by hoodlums is self-serving and unintelligent, as it conveniently ignores the fact that hoodlums are citizens and that it is a flawed governance system that turned them into hoodlums, in the first place.
In stopping the #ENDSARS protests, therefore, government must be wary of taking measures which could inflame passion, the more. The Police must be made to address the problem, with each State Police Command being made accountable in peacefully managing the protests. For now, the military’s Operation Crocodile Smile could be interpreted as an attempt to militarily crush the protests, seen as expressing the will of the people . It carries the risk of hardening the protesters and if inadvertent, horrendous killings of protesters should occur, the protests could take a new and dangerous dimension. No doubt, these are testy times for the nation but it is premature for the federal government to lose its patience.
Dr. Bisi Olawunmi, a Mass Communication Scholar, is former Washington Correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria. Email: : Phone (SMS only) 0803 364 7571

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