One of the cheering news that came from the Nigeria Police Force last week was the redeployment of its head of the Complaint Response Unit, Assistant Commissioner of Police Abayomi Shogunle, to a rural region of the country. With any luck, Shogunle finding himself without a Twitter soapbox will restrain him from doing further harm to the reputation of the NPF and Nigeria via his trenchant narrow-mindedness on the Internet. I am going to let down my guards this time and even commend the upper echelons of the NPF for taking this small step at this time. Hopefully, they commit themselves to more acts of responsiveness in the future in their public affairs and realise they owe it to the public to respond on issues that require accountability and responsibility.
Shogunle personifies the many things wrong in the digital age when an individual is installed as the face of an organisation’s digital channels and they begin to purge their unfiltered thoughts into the social sphere. Even if his attitude of blocking Nigerian citizens who interact with him online was set aside along with his illogical verbosity, clapback on the #EndSARS advocacy, and the advice of speaking Pidgin English to the police as an antidote to ‘accidental discharges,’ his dismissive comments on the alleged commercial sex workers arrested by the police in Abuja night clubs shows he is just another provincial mind in a federal office.
As far he was concerned, the public outrage over the arrest was just some folk “making (a) noise on (sic) the clampdown on prostitutes.” Come on, even if the ladies were truly sex workers, are they not human enough to deserve collective empathy for the sexual abuses and physical assault they allegedly suffered in the hands of Shogunle’s colleagues? For someone who claims to be the head of “Complaint Response Unit,” he has no sense of what his job truly entails. We might as well be wasting our time sending any official complaint to his office. Heavens help the people of Nkalagu, Ebonyi State where he has now been gladly farmed out to!
Shogunle has proved himself ill-informed in a police uniform, but we should not imagine for a moment that he exists in isolation in the NPF. He is by no means an aberration that, if stamped out of the NPF, restores the organisation’s dignity and integrity. No, the NPF is full of similar folk like him, and the major difference was that Shogunle was the one manic enough to use the social media to broadcast his unlearned state. By this, I mean the NPF harbours police officer(s) who lack any inclination to acquaint themselves with the fundamentals of law and order in the society and their role as police officers in guaranteeing it. They simply put on their uniforms, grab a baton, and they are all over the place acting with the force of authority they symbolise. The irony is that those who mostly lack a deeper appreciation of what they represent and how they should take their jobs, are the most zealous. With the vacuity of not knowing, and not knowing that they do not know what they do not know comes an inevitable sense of incompetence they make up for with excessive brutality against hapless citizens.
Many of us are living witnesses to the horrible tales of the NPF’s cruelty. Starting with all the personal narratives that emerged from the #EndSARS campaign against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, one wonders if the first crime that Nigeria needs to apprehend is not the one the police agencies are legally sanctioned to commit against the people. There were gory stories of brutality, extrajudicial killings, assault, intimidation, illegal arrests, extortions, harassment and even outright torture. We have hired monsters. As horrible as all these stories of police brutality were, they were not unfamiliar. Many of us were alive when the Apo 6 incident happened at the Federal Capital Territory. We saw how long the case dragged and the wildly unsatisfying manner it was concluded without justice settled for the victims. More than a decade after that incident, we are still here and dealing with similar issues.
The NPF officers have barely graduated or become better sophisticated in their predatory behavior or comportment. They are an anti-criminal organisation that targets people for the crime of being young and displaying acts of youthful exuberances such as sagging their jeans or even acting uppity by carrying everyday gadgets such as laptops or iPhones. These officers barely operate from the level of high intelligence their job requires. Because they are not socialised to understand the ideological underpinning of their job, they do not see their public conduct as one of the many pieces of banal actions that come together to fit into a systemic whole of brutality and repression. Everything about them seems to be more about brute, force, and a display of brawn. If Nigeria were a litigious society where they get sued regularly for their actions, they would have been long bankrupt owing from the amount of compensation they would have had to regularly pay for their lack of discretion.
The bases on which we indict the police for their harshness are not just derived from the stories from their victims alone. The police officers themselves offer the best examples of their poor understanding of their job through their self-accounting. Shogunle is one example. Earlier this year, a Chief Superintendent and Zone 2 Police Public Relations Officer, CSP Dolapo Badmos, wrote on her personal social media page that those who are “homosexual in nature” should leave the country or face prosecution. No matter what your stand on homosexuality might be, we should not overlook the ignorant mindset that prompts an NPF officer to ask anyone to leave the country. When was the last time the NPF ordered corrupt public officers whose sins truly impact the society to leave the country or face prosecution? Is it not a problem when a police officer cannot separate her prejudices from the legal substance of issues?
The other day too, the Lagos State Police Command spokesperson, Bala Elkana, stated that the police harass people who wear tattoos and dreadlocks because those displays of self-aesthetisation are foreign to our culture. Elkana claimed that because most people that they have arrested for being in cults have those self-accouterments, they more or less profile everyone who either wears tattoo or dreadlocks. How did our society end up with policemen who have set themselves up as arbitrators of culture and who ascribe to themselves the right to define what is our “culture” or not? The issue at stake is not so much about an organisation like the police ascribing to itself the power to legislate the parameters of what constitutes culture as much as it is a testimony to sincere ignorance that unfortunately uses the power of deadly force to launch its own ill-digested ideas of what social virtues might be.
There have already been several solutions prescribed to the menace they constitute to the society. Yes, people have rightfully asked for a dissolution of SARS, the creation of state police, and other kinds of reforms that will moderate the excesses of the current centralised police. The nature of reforms the NPF requires is one that will more or less involve an entire re-birth of the organisation. It needs a complete overhaul of its systems and structures and an indulgence in the process of ideological re-orientation. Part of the problem, of course, includes the low-level educational requirement people present to enter the force. We are dealing with people who are ignorant in a literal and metaphoric sense even if they can use tools like Twitter. These officers need education, training, and a form of socialisation that teaches them from the outset that their job is to co-build the society and ensure its flourishing, not its extinction.
– Adelakun is a respected columnist with The Punch