For the Police to be a true friend

By Mohammed Bello Yunusa Email: opinion@dailytrust.com Text: 08131800030 Yunusa is Executive Director, Socioeconomic and Environment Advocacy Centre, Zaria

Friendship is a strong bond. A friend is someone you trust; someone you protect in his absence; is the one you are truthful to; is the one you share anything come rain come shine! This is the type of friend that is voluntarily found and kept. The crux of the matter is the friendship that you are persuaded into. As a citizen how do you feel if the police of the country say it is your friend? How will you manage a friendship of unequal power and authority? There is no reminding the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) of its motto – “Police is Your Friend”. As a citizen, how is the NPF my friend with its powers and highly elastic authority?

These questions are begging for answers for proper governance of justice – the ways our laws are applied to citizens. With the Seun Kuti saga, most citizens will be perturbed as to the fate of any citizen that may have run afoul of the NPF. In the ongoing Seun-police-court engagement, is the law being applied or is it justice laced with injustice with reckless abandon?

At the centre of the melodrama is the NPF that is investigating and prosecuting a case that it is a principal stakeholder. As an institution, the NPF was established by Section 214 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, a principal document of our social contract. To ensure the proper functioning of this institution, the president appointed Usman Alkali Baba, a well-trained and experienced officer as the Inspector-General of Police (IGP).

Powerless and vulnerable citizens have become victims of the ruthless application of power by the NPF over time. Citizens have died or maimed or kept away from the good life without just cause. Citizens became endangered at the hands of their friends. The citizens’ reaction to the overbearing powers of the NPF is the #EndSARS movement in some cities.

The movement organised by the Nigerian youth took place on the streets of cities to protest the gross unfriendliness of the NPF. Ever since then, the police-public relationship has remained under scrutiny with the help of modern media – social media - is awash with various video clips that expose NPF application of brute force or citizens taking laws into their weak hands.

The issue of citizens taking laws into their hands brings about Seun Kuti’s tragedy. This is tragic because Seun is an enlightened and popular musician. He was alleged to have slapped an officer of NPF and this is forbidden by the provisions of Section 356 of the Criminal Code. By implication, the offence is very clear. After surrendering himself to the NPF peacefully, Seun was first handcuffed and displayed as a specimen for booing and jest. He was subsequently locked up. This brought out the image of the NPF as an institution and its friendliness.

As a friend, the worry is if the NPF has specific governance practices set by law and are of standard best practices. Has the NPF any defined procedures regarding arrest and detention? To outsiders, it appears that the official responsibilities of the NPF are extremely elastic. And so, all officers of the NPF define their responsibilities and actions.

The elastic nature of NPF’s duties breeds brutality and citizen frustration. Otherwise, how does one explain the handling of Seun Kuti’s unfortunate incident? The violated section of the law is well stated. How does the offence forbid the offender to render a statement to the NPF in the presence of his lawyer? How does the investigation of a highway incident, this time a slap invite home search by the NPF? Why does NPF demand the blood sample of the offender? All these appear to be beyond the case of a slap of an officer. If the offender and the victim are not of NPF, will all these come up?

Really, the acclaimed friends of NPF are dumbfounded. This is worsened by the claim of the NPF that the officer that was slapped and that was able to trail the suspect to his house, had gone into a coma! Did the NPF forget that after the apology cash was offered to the officer? Really, the strategy of the NPF has left citizens in utter confusion and frustration as to the need and purposes of friendship with the NPF.

The citizens will find all these disturbing and think that the NPF is economical with the truth with respect to actions and intentions. This aggravates citizens’ frustration and the possibility of taking laws into their hands. This is injurious to the NPF and Nigeria. If nothing else, the rule of thumb only increases the number of inmates in NPF facilities and Correctional Centres. Yet the NPF is not in a hurry to discharge cases.

The violated section of the law is well stated. How does the offence forbid the offender to render a statement to the NPF in the presence of his lawyer? How does the investigation of a highway incident, this time a slap invite home search by the NPF?

Seun Kuti took himself to the NPF and was detained. He was arraigned before a magistrate’s court where the NPF was given 48 hours to complete all investigation and thereafter Seun Kuti should be allowed to proceed on bail. Rather than keeping to the term, the police, without Seun’s lawyers took the suspect to a magistrate to secure another four days of detention for Seun. If the motive and procedures are clear, why take the suspect to court without his lawyer?

From the experience and training of the IGP, the expectations are high on the application of law and the overall orientation of the men and officers of the NPF. The NPF must be shown to be a friend to all citizens at all times by being open and caring. The NPF’s relationship with citizens cannot remain apprehensive and suspicious. Incidentally, the burden is on the NPF to demonstrate the Police is Your Friend’s drive because of its powers and authority. The IGP has to recognise the huge lapses in the procedures and practices as the men and officers enforce laws and protect lives and properties of citizens.

There is urgent need for clear operational manual on suspects-police relationship. A situation in which only the NPF men and officers know what to do with suspects is less than accountable and transparent. Cultivate a friendship in which citizens know what to expect and do such that both the NPF and citizens can appreciate one another. Anything short of this will perpetually keep the citizens in the bondage of the NPF. IGP Baba, reform and make the NPF a true friend of the citizens.






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