The murder of Ms Omobolanle Raheem by a police officer in Lagos on Sunday reveals more about governance in Nigeria than mere police brutality. The sad event shows the lack of respect for life, the short attention span of those who lead us, as well as the apparent intentional deception in high places.
If the government’s failure to ensure comprehensive police reform in the aftermath of the #ENDSARS The protests in 2020 are not deliberate, so it must mean our government is confused about what it means to reform the police. This is how you lose the full significance of an event like this for the families of the victims and the psyche of Nigerians.
You will understand what I mean if you can see the video of the deceased’s mother that was circulated on Tuesday. Speaking during a visit by the Commissioner of Police in Lagos State, Ms Salami painted a picture of a soulless, ungoverned society where, as the English philosopher Thomas Bobbes argues in his book, Leviathan, life is lonely, poor, nasty, brutal and short.” From the old woman’s pain, one can imagine the overwhelming pain and agony caused by the irresponsibility and rampant recklessness of the rotten eggs in law enforcement agencies.
The President, Major General Muhmmadu Buhari (ret.), and Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu also displayed this sense of disconnect in their reactions to the incident. In the president’s case, reports in a statement signed by his Senior Special Assistant, Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said he described the crime as “a stark reminder of recurring mishandling of weapons.” Really? Is it not more about the suitability of some of those hired by the police and the lack of discipline in the institution?
The statement also said it was a “wake-up call to law enforcement, including police, to ensure full implementation of administration-instituted gun-handling reforms, as well as protection of the rights of citizens”.
I don’t find this statement useful in the circumstances. Depending on the implementation of any reform, the government’s plans for security agencies when there is a cabinet minister in charge of the police sounds like a concrete reform is underway. And that’s not surprising in an environment where the Police Service Commission and the Inspector General of Police cannot work amicably.
Sanwo-olu, whose reaction was commendably quicker, spat fire. He said his government would not sit back and watch citizens get killed. He also assured that justice will be done and quickly. An aspect of Sunday’s statement that is identical to the statement on December 7, 2022 regarding the death of another citizen, Gafaru Buraimoh, at the hands of policemen from the same Ajiwe police station in Ajah. But investigations are still dragging on in that case despite promises.
Now, this is where our leader’s disconnection from the real effect of this assault on the lives of ordinary Nigerians is felt. There are rogue police inflicting pain and mistreating people all over the world, but the challenge in Nigeria is the level of transparency around accountability and reward. Trials in situations like this should be swift and without opacity, but Nigeria almost never has this. Not even the #ENDSARS the protests appear to have precipitated many changes.
I was very suspicious of this in the article titled “Like Nigeria, Like Nigerian Police”, published on November 19, 2020. I wrote in the article: “Forgive my skepticism, but the immediate reaction of the federal government to the #ENDSARS The protests that struck Nigeria like lightning in October do not guarantee lasting reform. Agreeing to end the Special Anti-Robbery Squad in accordance with popular demand, but replacing it with a Special Weapons and Tactics Team, seems nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction motivated by deluded populism. Here’s why I say it.
“While the SARS operatives were the immediate reference points for the various cases of brutality and other misdeeds the Police are accused of, the glaring truth is that the entire Force is a sorry case of what an entity should be. national police. SARS and its agents were just a finger or two on a hand ravaged by leprosy. What that says about ending the nuisance that SARS has become is not a name change or the deployment of a new batch of personnel from the same rotten police house. It does seem that after the name change and the conclusion of the work of the investigation tables installed in some states, the government assumed that its work with the police was done and dusted off. But that’s not even the beginning.” The events of the past two years indicate that Nigerian leaders do not understand what to make of police reforms.
In his book, Boldly comes justice: sensitive, not silent, Indian-born peace advocate and author Abhijit Naskar suggests that “policing is not a profession, but a promise of protection.” He further says that the only concern of those who wear badges should be society. “Your loyalty is only for the people; their well-being will rescue your humanity.” Political leaders in Nigeria who use the police as an instrument of oppression against the common man must understand this when they talk about reforming the institution.
To have any impact, the place to start with police reform is in the minds of the staff. The late CEO of German sports car maker Porsche, Peter Schutz, said: “Hire character, train skill.” There can be no greater demand for qualification in a police force that intends to serve the people. This is the basis of the trust that society has in its police officers, without which the police cannot function well.
In his 1948 book, British police historian Charles Reith identified nine principles that guided the founders of the Metropolitan Police. The nine, known as the Peelian Principles, revolve around the people-centered nature of policing.
For example, one of the principles advises members of the police to recognize that “the power of the police to carry out their functions and duties depends on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour, and on their ability to secure and maintain public safety.” respect.
Another says that the police must “always recognize that the test of police effectiveness is the absence of crime and disorder and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them”. Here, law enforcement officers harness the power of the weapon handed to them by the people and unleash terror on them.
There is also the issue of discipline. Each Inspector General of Police gives instructions on the eradication of roadblocks, where most of these extrajudicial executions take place. But his men scoff at this instruction without consequence. The police in Nigeria is a kingdom of impunity.
This raises questions about corruption. And you wonder what brings an Assistant Superintendent of Police to the road for a stop and search exercise. This is a man who is said to have served the police for 33 years! What is also the protocol for the delivery and use of weapons and ammunition in the Nigerian Police? Does anyone count? Events over the years suggest otherwise.
To positively reform the police, therefore, there is nothing more convenient than having a humane police force that sees itself as a servant of the people and respects life.
Attention must also be paid to the well-being of police officers from their recruitment to their retirement. While it can be taken for granted that the vehicles and their maintenance would be the priority of those who are leading the reform, it must be said that there is not much that those police officers can do in these days of sophisticated criminal practices without identity forensic machines, until -date crime data and other modern means of crime detection.
Even now, everyone has moved on from the loss of this lady, who is obviously an inspiration to many. A five-year-old girl has been denied a mother she has just met. Omobolanle’s death is now the problem of her husband, her elderly mother and so many others she could have touched. Nigeria moves on until someone else gets caught up in the recklessness of the very people meant to protect them.