The police must act within the law

The insistence by the Lagos State Public Advice Centre Director, Mrs Tola Akinsanya, that the Divisional Police Officer in charge of Ijesha Police station who last week shot dead an apprentice tailor be prosecuted was a call we wholeheartedly endorse. The impression is being unwittingly created that those who carry arms on behalf of the state are licensed to act above the law. There is therefore an urgent need to arrest the situation.

Across the country and almost on a daily basis, several of our citizens are molested and brutalised by the police, soldiers and sundry security personnel who carry on their duties with impunity. That should worry the authorities, especially at a period when criminals are also turning their guns against these agents of state with all its implications for our national security.

Several reasons have been adduced to explain the trigger-happy disposition of these men and women in uniform who have scant regards for the rights of the citizens. Such reasons include their conditions of service especially the meagre remunerations, the poor living condition in the barracks and low self-esteem. Perhaps for these reasons, many of these men and women were lending themselves to be used to settle petty scores, including with recalcitrant tenants. Yet nothing could justify the whimsical resort to lawlessness by officers whose primary responsibility is to uphold the law.

As we have argued repeatedly on this page, no matter the extent of provocation, a man or woman in uniform must not resort to taking the law into his/her own hands as such violates the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and other similar conventions and treaties of which Nigeria is a signatory. The government should therefore no longer continue to look the other way while innocent citizens are killed or maimed by agents of state.

However, we recognise the fact that majority of the personnel in the police and the security agencies are good professionals who are doing their jobs to the best of their abilities. But there are a few bad eggs among them who get away with serious infarctions. Indeed, it is the nonchalant attitude of the federal government towards investigating and punishing these deviants that has allowed a culture of impunity to persist. The Inspector General of Police therefore has the primary responsibility of re-educating his men especially in the area of respect for people’s rights and the sanctity of human life. The same goes for the heads of the other military and security institutions that bear arms.

First, there is a basic issue of protection of lives by law enforcement agencies. Tragically, this vital requirement of any civilised democracy is lacking in our country today. Second, these violations have so far not attracted any consequences for their perpetrators. To the extent that crime is inherent in every society, what deters perpetrators is the certainty of consequences and penalties. Since there appears to be no serious measures to bring these deviants to justice, it is little wonder that others are joining them.

This aspect is quite worrisome because the state, even with all its imperfections, remains the ultimate guarantor of our individual and collective freedom. If, by act of omission or commission, it fails to act as that guarantor, then anarchy is the clear and present danger. At a time like this therefore, we need to emphasise the point that one Nigerian life unjustly lost in the manner of these recent incidents diminishes all of us and corrodes the fabric of our society.

We hope the IGP and the heads of other critical institutions of state that bear arms can get the message.