Whenever trigger-happy cops kill an innocent citizen, they have only given expression to the adversarial relationship they have cultivated with the rest of the citizens. They have not done anything different from what others who occupy positions of authority do. Those who preside over the affairs of our nation see society as bifurcated between themselves and the rest of the citizens who should be subjected to ill treatment at their hands. To them, government does not exist for the people but for a handful of leaders and a coterie of their loyalists. Or why do our leaders not feel the pain of the citizens? How would our leaders feel the pain of driving on a pothole-ridden road when they fly above it? Would they feel the pain of being treated in a slaughterhouse that is outlandishly christened a general or teaching hospital when they fly abroad for medical treatment at the expense of the taxpayers?
It is only on those rare occasions that they are made to experience the pain of the citizens that they may consider taking action to stop the source of a tragedy. If a son or daughter of the president or a governor had been shot dead by the police when the victim was not guilty of any criminal offence, by now the government would have initiated a rash of policies and programmes to stop the unprovoked killings of innocent citizens by the police. But as usually the case, policemen only harass and shoot dead those outside the class of the rich and powerful in the society. It is only a tricycle and a bus driver who refuse to be extorted of N50 or youths whom they suspect of being criminals simply because they are wearing earrings and dreadlocks who suffer the grisly propensity of the police.
Thus, the shooting to death of Kolade Johnson in Lagos only illustrates the perennial ordeal of the citizens at the hands of the police. Johnson’s killing was the fourth reported cold-blooded murder by the police in just one month, March. The police smudged the month with blood on March 2 with some officers shooting a bus driver dead in Mosan, Ayobo area of Lagos for refusing to part with money. Two weeks after, a teenage girl was killed by a stray bullet in a shootout between policemen and some cultists in Ikorodu, while on March 25, an Okada rider was shot dead in Kilo, Surulere area of Lagos.The victim, identified as Ademola Moshood, was a few blocks away from his house, when he was shot by an officer attached to Soloki Police Station, Surulere.
Now, the police have ended the month with the killing of Johnson on March 31 by operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) who had visited his area on an unmarked commercial bus to arrest a boy who was wearing dreadlocks. Johnson was shot dead at a venue where he had gone to watch football. If the police believed that all football viewing centres were sites either for the proliferation of criminality or the hibernation of felons and malefactors, why have they not banned them since? Worse, the policemen may not have understood their rules of engagement with the rest of the society. This perhaps explains why they would raid and start shooting at football viewing centres that obviously had no guns or other lethal weapons hidden somewhere.
No, the policemen could not have been taught such rules of engagement when their leaders have been preoccupied with ballot-snatching. Propelled by cupidity, they have been aiding politicians to commit all kinds of electoral heist at the detriment of their professional responsibilities. It is because the police have not been educated on their responsibilities to the rest of the citizens that they see the latter as perpetual foes to be extinguished at every given moment. And out of the ignorance or deliberate violation of the rules of civility, they cannot understand the attitudinal and sartorial peculiarities of the youths. They do not understand that today’s youths want to daily push further the frontiers of independence. Police operatives are affronted when they see young ladies having beards and moustaches. Once they see them, they want to get scissors and cut off what they consider as excrescences. They may even go to the extent of striping them naked to see whether they are male or female.
Of course, we must take cognisance of the few professional persons in the police. These are the ones who are really motivated to make a career in the protection of life and property. And these ones have the sympathy of the citizens. The fact that they attempt to match sophisticated and heavily equipped criminals with antiquated weapons has not gone unnoticed. The citizens are aware of the need for them to be provided with improved welfare in terms of better remuneration and accommodation in the place of their squalid shanties. But the bulk of the police personnel see their jobs as a means to quick self-enrichment. This is why they are ready to pay any amount as a bribe to be recruited by the police. And to continue to remain in the police, they sustain this culture of bribe-taking and bribe-giving. They give bribes to pass their examinations. No wonder, we are often shocked at how some of them got to the top of the police leadership.
To wean the police off their unprofessional proclivities, they should be re-orientated. This should begin from the top. If the managers of the police had been serious about ensuring sanity in the security agency, they would have realised this objective a long time ago. Every time a new inspector general of police is appointed, he considers it his first major public duty to order that all illegal checkpoints should be dismantled.After that, he does not bother whether the order is obeyed or not. Thus, fuelling the suspicion that the managers of the police benefit from the criminality that is perpetrated at such checkpoints.
More importantly, the killing of Johnson has once again brought to the fore the need for restructuring and its attendant true federalism. If there were local police as part of true federalism, they would have an idea of the criminals in their environment. They would not mistake law-abiding youths for criminals simply because they are soccer- and dreadlocks-loving.
But we cannot afford to eternally wait for the nation’s leaders to cure themselves of their dread of true federalism before there is an end to these mindless killings. There is the urgent need to check these killings by the police. One way to do this is to make sure that those who are responsible are duly punished. There should be no room for the very jaded excuse that those killed are victims of stray bullets. The police should end their complicity in these killings by resorting to a so-called orderly-room trial of the culprits only to redeploy them where they would commit worse atrocities, or quietly ease them out. All those found guilty should be allowed to face the legal process that would see to their punishment. If they knew that there were dire consequences for the way they wasted the life of Johnson, they would be more conscious of their responsibility to protect life and not to take it. And in the case of Johnson, the police must go beyond just identifying the culprits. They must be made to pay for their unprovoked murder.
A nation where the police can kill innocent citizens is far from ready for development. It cannot attract the local and external support that would lead to building it. Johnson was a young man who returned to Nigeria in order to pursue a music career after living in South Africa for five years. How do we persuade Nigerians abroad to return home and invest when their lives would not be safe here? Or how do we stop professionals like doctors from emigrating when in addition to their poor salaries and lack of opportunities they are faced with the peril of physical elimination by the police anytime?
Again, there is the need to make police operatives to adhere to the dictates of professionalism anytime they are on duty. Just as the doctor who is about doing a critical surgery would not be drunk and over-smoked before going to the theatre, so the policemen who have guns should not be allowed to indulge in these vices while they are on duty. They must know that their duties are too sensitive to be executed under the influence of Indian hemp, drugs and alcohol. And they must be made to realise that it is irrevocable self-immolation if they are swayed by the notion of their being gods who can only be momentarily placated with the blood of innocent citizens like Johnson.