Impunity, lawlessness and disregard for human life are getting worse in Nigeria. Proof of this emerged on Saturday when police officers attached to the Speaker of the Abia State House of Assembly, Chikwendu Kalu, shot officials of the Federal Road Safety Commission while on patrol.
Two FRSC officials were riddled with police bullet wounds during the incident on the Umuikaa/Aba-Port Harcourt Expressway, Abia State. Photographic images of the injured FRSC officials in the media raise the question of police conduct and impunity on our roads. The really scary aspect of all this is that the FRSC operatives were unarmed. If uniformed FRSC officials can be shot in cold blood for doing their job, then other ordinary citizens are really in deep trouble.
At the heart of the bloody incident is the wife of Kalu, the complicity of the police and the State Security Service. According to media reports, the wife of the Speaker, who was reportedly riding in an SUV, was stopped for traffic violation by FRSC officials. Instead of obeying the law, the security officials attached to her started brutalising the FRSC personnel. Some reports alleged that the Speaker’s wife also joined in the lawless act of beating up the officials.
The issue could have stopped there but when the Speaker was informed, he reportedly stormed the scene with his own police details, who he allegedly ordered to shoot at the FRSC officials, who, by then, were already seated in their patrol vehicle. The directive nearly cost these men their lives as their bloodied bodies showed.
In the first place, should police officers obey the Speaker’s unlawful order to shoot at officials of the Nigerian government, who are not in any way criminals? Ruthlessly, the police reportedly removed the battery of the FRSC patrol car so that the injured victims would not be taken to the hospital.
In what has become a common occurrence, FRSC officials often come under undue assault in the line of duty. In 2016, a road marshal, Segun Enikuemehin, who tried to plead with some military men to stop their assault on a civilian ended up with one of his eyes being plucked out from its socket. He was said to have successfully rescued the civilian and taken him to the police station. But on returning to the scene with policemen, the military men took offence and descended on him, completely damaging his eye.
In another incident in Calabar in January, Cletus Okune, a driver attached to the Cross River State Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Peter Egba, was remanded in Afokang Prison in the city for allegedly assaulting two members of the FRSC. The commissioner, according to newspaper reports, was not in the vehicle when it was impounded for a number of traffic offences, including driving without fastening of seat belts. But, on arrival at the scene, Egba reportedly ordered his driver to assault them.
“The commissioner later joined in the beating and also used a stone to injure a colleague in the head,” Fidelis Eteng, one of the victims, said. Egba denied ordering the assault. In 2013, there was another case in which nine operatives of the commission were arrested by a deputy commissioner of police on allegations of obstructing traffic on the Enugu-Abakaliki Road in Ebonyi State. Three operational vehicles belonging to the FRSC were also reportedly impounded, although the vehicles and the officials were later released.
But the buck stops at the desk of the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris: he should immediately order the arrest and prosecution of everyone involved in the despicable act. The policemen deserve severe punishment for misuse of their firearms and obeying an unlawful order. Already, the list of individuals who have been gruesomely murdered or beaten into submission by sadistic policemen is long and ugly. The fact that innocent people and minor offenders are routinely being killed by the police is unpardonable. It is, indeed, awful and shocking that 17 years into the 21st century, policemen will open fire on other unarmed law enforcement officers or civilians on the orders of a power-inebriated politician.
If the allegations against Kalu, the Speaker, are correct, he is unfit for public office, one of those undesirables that notable cleric, Tunde Bakare, identified as “the worst of us ruling over the best of us.” And there are many of them around. He amply reflects how our public office holders hold the people in contempt; lord it over them and have impunity as their guiding philosophy. He should be arrested and prosecuted accordingly. The SSS agent, who also allegedly featured in the brutal attack, should be similarly prosecuted. Like the policemen, she should be flushed out of the system.
FRSC Corps Marshal, Boboye Oyeyemi, owes his subordinates, his conscience and Nigeria a duty of ensuring that justice is done: he should liaise with the highest authority in the land to see to the prosecution of these wild agents of destruction.
There is an urgent need for systemic policing reforms. It is argued that the Nigerian society “is over-policed and under-secured.” Really, a research finding notes that Nigeria’s problem is not a lack of officers. More often than not, the police are themselves a significant source of insecurity, since they are “often engaged in criminal activities − particularly corruption and extortion.
Nigeria’s police are also feared for their excessive use of force. The police also misapply themselves. For instance, how many policemen are attached to the Speaker and his wife? What are the rules of engagement given to the over 100,000 policemen guarding individuals, their wives, family and corporate bodies? The impression has gained ground that these police maiguards are free to brutalise, intimidate and even shoot other Nigerians when so ordered by their pampered charges as Kalu’s case amply demonstrated. This nonsense must stop; the Nigerian Police was not created to protect a few and oppress the majority.
The fact that these horrific acts by the police continue relentlessly and becoming ever more brazen demands a strong response. We encourage the victims to file civil suits and seek compensation irrespective of the IG’s action. Nigerians should rise and use all lawful methods to resist and shake off oppression and impunity.