Law enforcement agencies must be impartial in the discharge of their duties

The mixed and somewhat ethnic reactions to the recent violent clash between the Yoruba and Hausa in Ile-Ife, Osun State were another manifestation of how sharply divided Nigeria has become, particularly since President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office on May 29, 2015. What began, according to media reports, as a mere disagreement between two people, a Yoruba woman and an Hausa man, soon degenerated into a violent conflict that consumed no fewer than 46 lives and property worth millions of naira. Yet this was a community in which both ethnic groups and others have lived together in peace for decades.

In a rare display of rapid response, the police quickly doused the violence, made several arrests and transported the suspects to the Force Headquarters in Abuja, where 20 of them, including a traditional ruler, were paraded before the media. Ironically, the swift response of the police in dousing the violence and making arrests as well as the visit by the Minister of Interior, have drawn sharp criticisms from the populace, particularly among members of the Yoruba political elite who have accused the federal government of double standards.

The Afenifere, a frontline Yoruba socio-cultural group, complained that in a widespread violence between two ethnic groups in which several lives were lost on both sides, all the persons arrested were from one of the disputant groups, the Yoruba. It also queried the visit of the Minister of Interior, Lt. General Abdulrahman Dambazau to the Hausa victims of the violence, saying it was strange given the fact that in spite of the widespread killings of innocent Nigerians by Fulani Herdsmen in several parts of the country, particularly in Benue State, no such visit has ever been made to the victims by any official of the federal government.

While we commiserate with the families of the deceased and commend the handling of the crisis both by the Ooni of Ife and the Governor of Osun State, Mr Rauf Aregbesola, we restate the opposition of this newspaper to the use of violence as a means to settle conflict. Nigeria is a civil and democratic society that has a body of laws and institutions of state saddled with the responsibility of maintaining law and order. Consequently, anyone who is aggrieved must avail themselves of the use of those legitimate institutions to ventilate their grievances. We, therefore, condemn the recent violence in Ile-Ife and all others that continue to occur. And we support all efforts of the law enforcement agencies to bring the perpetrators of the violence to book.

However, we must caution the federal government and the law enforcement agencies to avoid conducts that could suggest likelihood of bias in the discharge of their responsibilities. It is important that in a multi-ethnic state like Nigeria, public confidence in the impartiality of state institutions is not undermined. To do that is to create the social conditions for strife and the concomitant inclination towards self-help. This definitely will not augur well for the country.

The federal government, therefore, needs to examine this widespread complaint of lopsidedness in the arrest of suspects of violence and treatment of their victims, and address them. More importantly, the federal government needs to be more decisive about the increasing spate of ethnic strife and communal clashes in the country. We certainly cannot continue with the bloodletting across the land.

While we agree with Governor Aregbesola that the crisis at Ife was purely a law and order issue, we are also mindful of the current problem created by the manner in which the police handled the aftermath of the crisis. That was why the intervention by the Ooni of Ife who has been calling on Yoruba leaders not to politicise the crisis is very helpful. But that will also necessitate that the police be more professional on the case, going forward.