More often than not, the Nigerian Police runs riot like a malicious militia whenever the politics of the president of Nigeria faces a viable challenge in the form of a street protest.
The police rush out to crush the demonstration. They assault the protesters. They brutalize them on an order of magnitude that can pass as sadomasochistic bullying.
The police ought to be civil, coolheaded and non-partisan. Their constitutional duty is simple and clear: the maintenance of law and order. But whenever Nigerians organize and set out to march under the banner of a cause that appears to be at odds with the official stance, the police almost always slough off professionalism and confronts the people with devastating cruelty.
The police’s penchant for attacking protesters reared its ugly head in Abuja on Tuesday. In broad daylight and in the heart of the nation’s capital, they pounced on Resume Or Resign campaigners, beat them, battered and teargassed them. They mauled journalists who were covering the rally.
The protesters had essayed to assemble at the Unity Fountain, Maitama to call on President Muhammadu Buhari to end his interminable medical exile or abdicate on the grounds of incapacitation. The police inflicted bodily injury on the protesters and branded them ‘’hoodlums’’ and ‘’criminal elements’’ to justify the assault.
All independent accounts of the demonstration pointed out that the Resume Or Resign crusaders were peaceful and restrained and that men of the Nigerian Police were the aggressors.
Needless to say, the police had no business savaging the protesters. It was not within their mandate to victimize people exercising their right to freedom of assembly and expression. It is not a crime to ventilate a view that is out of sync with the political interest of the president: and even if it were, the police are not authorized to moonlight as executioners of jungle justice.
The Nigerian Police basically stole power from the arms paid for by the citizenry and applied that illegitimate force against the people and the law.
The Nigerian Police is governed by the psychology of an Orwellian thought police. The rank of the police considers it their job to ensure universal devotion for the government of the day. They think themselves under obligation to stamp out any attempt by citizens to assert their right to ventilate disagreement.
The Nigerian Police treated the protesters as enemies of the state because their seemingly innocent advocacy represented a potent interrogation of the secret health status of President Buhari and his fitness to continue to lay claim to power. The protesters asked that if his interminable indisposition was not the very definition of incapacitation, he should come back to work. Or step aside.
After Buhari had spent almost half of the year on a medical holiday, magnetizing batches of government officials on ‘get well quick’ homage and curating optics of recovery, it was only fair that responsible citizens ask him to resume or quit.
Buhari has refused to go beyond admitting that his current sickness is the most serious of his lifetime to revealing the nature of his condition. He has shown no respect to the taxpayers who pay his medical bills, including the beggars whose alms purse his administration has proposed to perforate.
Ironically, Aisha Buhari flew back to London to ‘see’ her husband on the eve of the first day of the protest. Only a few weeks ago, she had asked "the weaker animals" to start rejoicing because "the Lion King" would soon return to his kingdom. It turned out that the ‘recuperated’ Lion King did not return home: it was the ‘Lion Queen’ who had to ‘return’ to London to join him in the foreign den!
It is impossible that a big country Nigeria will be an echo chamber resonating with the specious claims of the president’s spokesmen. Or the second-hand testimonies of politicians whose judgment of Buhari’s health was formed inside one hour of lunch and banter. Even if Resume or Resign did not emerge, some other voice would have demanded that the president prove his health.
The sad fact is that the Nigerian Police is noticeably obsessed with insuring the incumbent regime against civic protest than in serving their constitutional purpose. They consider the suppression of dissent the most important part of their job. They are certain to be overhasty in punishing contrarian opinion like patronizing guards of a slaveholder.
Earlier in February, they truncated a multiple city protest planned to demonstrate against the increasing banalization of human suffering by the Buhari presidency. They intimidated the organizers and cited a fake intelligence report on the prospect of violence in order to dissuade massive participation.
The scare tactics worked. Many peace-loving people stayed away. And what had promised to be a phenomenal popular movement turned out to be a weak parade of defiance by a small core of civil society players.
Countless times, the Nigerian Police have attacked Shiites protesting against the endless incarceration of Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky. The police would hit, club and abuse them with stone-age ruthlessness. The vicious onslaught has recurred so often it now registers less as the outrageous violation of the dignity of the human being than the repeated replay of a horror film.
The matter of pro-Biafra activists is even more spectacular in provoking the Nigerian Police to insanity. The police don’t bother to expend energy on manhandling this class of protesters. They just engage the gun. They shoot into the crowd and let their hail of bullets choose the targets!
It’s often said that the belligerence of the Nigerian Police derives from its history and legacy as an agency of colonial coercion. But that does not sufficiently account for the service of citizen subjugation the Nigerian Police perpetrates on behalf of the Nigerian government. There is the critical factor of the fealty of every Inspector General of Police to the person of the president.
Every IG owes his appointment and length of tenure to the grace of the president. And given the naked contest that ensues among all eligible senior police officers whenever the position of the IG is due to be vacant, the fortunate pick naturally swears to destroy any source of irritation to his appointer… as continual gratitude for being promoted to the peak of their career.
That sycophancy trickles down the chain of command and moves the average Nigerian policeman to answer dissent with brute force.
The Nigerian Police needs to do more than drop the ‘Force’ from their name. They must drop the force from their paradigm. The very age of our civilization encourages the plurality of views. The police cannot continue to conduct itself like a private militia beholden to the president.