Curbing The Excesses Of Nigeria’s Security Operatives

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Scarcely a month after the deadly clash between soldiers and policemen which led to the death of some policemen at 242, Recce Battalion, Nigerian Army, Bereko, Badagry, Lagos, another bloody clash between them was recently avoided in Lagos. The whole episode began when a soldier driving a Sport Utility Vehicle took the restricted Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lane and was accordingly apprehended by officials of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) and police attached to the unit. As it is to be expected, the soldier rebuffed all appeals to leave the BRT lane culminating, predictably, into his beating by the police. A colonel who was driving around the time was said to have apprehended the soldier for his act, but when he was about to be taken to LASTMA office, he was said to have called for reinforcement from nearby barracks. The result was commotion and confusion before the intervention of superior officers from both forces.

 

The issue of inappropriate behaviour among Nigeria’s security operatives has been with us for quite some time. There are countless incidences of security operatives behaving above the law. It is a common sight in the country, especially in the major cities such as Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kano among others, to see security operatives board commercial vehicles, at will, without paying fares. And if the driver or conductor has the guts to demand for fare, he could end up in an untimely grave or if he’s lucky in the hospital. Numerous Nigerians have been sent to their early graves through the dastardly activities of some of the country’s security operatives.

 

 

I remembered vividly an incident that occurred few years ago when a secondary school student was killed somewhere at Agege through the accidental ‘discharge’ from the gun of a trigger happy policeman who had wanted to shoot at a commercial vehicle whose driver refused to part with the N20 naira ‘toll fee’. It was such a gory sight. Imagine the pain, emotional and mental damage done to the parents of the dead student who must have toiled over her. It will also be recalled how Miss Uzoma Okere was brutalised by armed naval ratings attached to Rear Admiral Harry Arogundade in a most dehumanising manner as she was stripped naked in the full glare of the public for daring to fight for her right in November, 2008. If not for the intervention of the Lagos State Government in the court of law that secured judgment in favour of Uzoma Okere as the Court awarded the sum of N100 million damages against the defendants, Okere would have suffered in vain, as it is always the case.

 

The matter was instituted on the directive of the state governor by the Office of the Public Defender in the popular case of assault of Miss Uzoma Okere by Naval Ratings on 3 November 2008. The case is a land mark vindication of the rights of an innocent Nigerian against recurring assaults on innocent citizens by uniformed security officers.

 

It is difficult to understand why our security operatives behave the way they do. It is ironic that they take pleasure in brutalising the very people whom they are paid and trained to protect and secure. Some have claimed that it is the rigorous training that they undergo that inculcate in them the ruthless and bestial mentality they display from time to time. But, I think this line of argument is rather feeble and as such cannot stand the test of apposite scrutiny. It is inconceivable to think that the authorities in charge of designing the nation’s security operatives training programmes input civil disobedience as a course in their curriculum. I think the long years of military rule in the country has negatively affected the psyche of our security operatives as they tend to see the so called ‘bloody civilians’ as inferior creatures who are not fit to live in same place as them. The naked and blatant use of force which was the order of the day during the military era has simply refused to get out of their system even after twelve years of un-interrupted democratic rule. The police, on their part, have simply continued in their uncivilised mode of operation. I marvel at times when I see police officers, beating, slapping and generally brutalising people who have neither been taken to the court nor convicted.

 

It is high time our security operatives imbibed the culture of civility in their interaction with members of the public. They need to imagine what the society would look like if doctors, engineers, civil servants, and other members of the society behave in similar loutish fashion as they do. There is nothing that makes them to be above others in the society. They are not in any way more important than the teachers or lecturers for instance. The leadership of the various security agencies in the country should begin to re-orientate their members on how to behave in a civilized society. They need to redefine their role in a democracy.

 

Equally, it is important they understand the damage that any reprehensible act by them could do to the image of the country especially in the eyes of foreigners who come into country for various reasons. It is ridiculous to see some of them behave discourteously at various airports across the country. They need to be courteous while dealing with the people. This is the minimum that is expected of them. It is not negotiable.

 

More importantly, the authorities of the various security agencies need to take the issue of discipline more seriously. Security agencies are institutions that thrive on discipline across the world. Ours must not be an exception. Those that fall short of expectations should be shown the way out. There should not be any attempt to protect those that bring the image of the agencies into disrepute as this will send wrong signals among the rank and file. In this perspective, it is essential to commend the military authorities for taking the bold step of not only expelling the officer that recently contravened the BRT law in Lagos but also handing him over to the relevant authority for prosecution. This is the spirit of the new Nigeria that we are all clomouring for. This is the way forward. This is the path of honour.

 

•Tayo Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.

 

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