Home » Stakeholders urge improved police-citizen interactions, decry attacks on cops

Stakeholders urge improved police-citizen interactions, decry attacks on cops

IGP Usman Baba

Assault on members of the Nigeria Police Force is becoming a trend in the country and the development appears to be unfolding after protests against harassments and assaults of Nigerians by cops held across the nation.

The protests against police brutality peaked in 2020 when youths called for the dissolution of the State Anti-Robbery Squad; a unit in the Nigeria Police Force. The protests tagged #EndSARS  later led to the destruction of public property in states including Lagos when they were hijacked by hoodlums.

Days after the video of a police officer harassed by a woman in Lagos State started trending on the Internet, that of an Abuja-based activist, Prof. Zainab Abiola, assaulting her female orderly followed.

Similarly, on August 26, 2022, a motorist, later identified as Billy Tokunbo, was also seen in a viral video assaulting a police officer in Lagos after he supposedly drove against traffic.

The manhandling and assault of cops are not limited to the above recent incidents.  Before now, the uproar has always been over the assault of citizens by cops. It, however, appears as if the turns are turning. Many people are not unaware of the new twist in the narrative.

The Internet went agog on Saturday, September 17, 2022, when the Force Public Relations Officer, CSP Olumuyiwa Adejobi, said no Nigerian has a right to slap a policeman if the cop slaps him or her.

This statement came after a series of attacks on policemen across the country and a video which surfaced online of a citizen dragging a rifle with a cop after an argument over seizure of his mobile phone.

Despite the recent attacks, those in the midst of the assault on cops appear unbothered about the law which protects policemen from any kind of assault.

The Nigeria Police Act Repeal and Re-enactment Bill 2020, noted, “Any person who assaults, obstructs or resists any police officer in the execution of his duty, or aids or incite any other person to assault, obstruct or resist any police officer or any person aiding or assisting such police officer in the execution of his duty, shall be guilty of an offence and, on summary of conviction before a magistrate, shall be liable to a penalty of one hundred thousand naira only or to imprisonment for a term of three months.”

On his view on the matter, a social commentator and businessman, Ridwan Olawale, said that the Federal Government caused the recent assaults against the cops.

He said, “Some few years ago, roads were locked down by youths seeking the proscription of a criminal unit in the Nigeria Police Force; the SARS. If you look at it, what the youth called for at the time has little or no implementation across the country because policemen still brutalise innocent youths and brand them criminals.’’

Olawale noted that it was important that the police themselves started ensuring that their officers were properly oriented to ensure proper policing that respects citizens’ rights while performing their duties efficiently.

He added, “If the police do not stop brutally, despite the laws backing their operations, they will most likely continue to assault them.  It might even get worse that the perpetrators would not be arrested. We are humans and we do understand that when we are left with no choice, we might make some bad decisions which would go against logic.

“The issues of phone searching still caused police assaults recently and this was part of the things that the police themselves have warned their officers against. If there is civility on the part of the cops and honestly, the citizens won’t have a reason to assault any law enforcer.”

Also speaking , a security expert, John Eweliku, noted that citizens had been pushed to the wall and their patience exhausted.

He said, “There’s a time for everything in life; time for humility, time for sensibility and others. In the past, the police have always had their ways because they wield the guns. People are becoming more enlightened, and due to the loopholes in the country, people now have access to weapons and this worrisome development has erased the fear factor.’’

Eweliku noted that despite the assaults, it didn’t mean that the citizens were right, stating that drug abuse by youths had now emboldened some of them to do the unthinkable.

He noted, “Many of our youths now consume hard drugs and this is why they do these things. Drugs take them away from their right state of the mind and they misbehave. It’s important that we start campaigns to let them know that these actions are punishable by the law.”

In his view, a public affair analyst and human rights activist, Wole Olubanji, explained that the attacks on the police were a result of the structural crisis in the country’s police system.

He stated, “It should not be encouraged that civilians attack policemen. They are also humans, regardless of the situation. This is a reaction to long years of exploitation by the police, however, two wrongs do not make a right.

“The average policemen on the street who are the bad eggs, assaulting and extorting people, wrongfully profiling innocent citizens, are products of the policing system in the country.”

Olubanji noted that despite having good police officers, many of them on the streets have questionable characters regarding how they relate with the public.

He noted, “The social welfare of the policemen also contributes to the developments and that should be first addressed and when this is done, we can now have policemen on the roads without seeing civilians as sources of illegal taxations. When the root cause of this acrimony is addressed, I am confident that we would have a better police-civilian relationship.”

For a professor of law and human rights advocate, Abdul Mahmud, it’s condemnable for civilians to attack law enforcement officers.

He said, “Civilian’s attacks or assault on policemen have not reached the level that is pandemic. However, it is condemnable. No matter the provocation, a civilian should not attack a law enforcement official. Both policemen who brutalise civilians and civilians who attack cops should be made to face the law.”

Besides, a lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, noted that citizens should be discouraged from attacking law enforcement agents.

He said, “When we see scuffles between the police and members of the public, it is basically the aggression or violence towards civilians. However, assaulting the police should not be encouraged. But if you are looking at it on the basis of proportionality, the incidents where police are being attacked were not comparable to the number of civilians who are tortured, killed, or extorted by the police in the country.

“Now, on the supposed punishment for assault on cops, I will draw your attention to the Anti-torture Act 2017, which criminalises the torture of civilians by law enforcement agents with stringent punishment.”

Effiong explained that the particular act of the parliament had not been implemented because to his knowledge, no policeman had been put on trial on the account of torturing a civilian.

He stated, “I would rather say that it is a distraction if we are laying emphasis on scuffles between police and civilians like the cases mentioned. The police have no business demanding the phone of a citizen without the warrant of a court. Why would a policeman do that? The reason why this unfortunate situation happens is because of the lack of confidence.

“Nigerians have generally lost confidence in the police and that tells why such things are happening. The solution is for the police authorities to rebuild confidence and ensure that their officers are in-line with the law and respect the rights of the citizens. When that is done, we can now start addressing the way the citizens engage the police even though I discourage such actions.’’

Effiong noted that there had to be a balancing act, adding that as long as the police officers continued to invade the privacy of civilians, there would be few instances where the civilians would want to fight back because there were limits to people’s endurance.

Police react

In his reaction to the issue, Spokesperson for the Lagos State Police Command, Benjamin Hundeyin, noted that it might be difficult to identify the cause of the recent assaults on men of the Force.

He stated, “I believe the focus should be on people orchestrating the assaults. Why are they doing that? The civilians should be asked what they have against the Nigerian police. One after the other, we have been prosecuting them. If others don’t learn, they will also face the same consequences. We are not doing more than that. It’s to serve as a deterrent to others who plan to do so. ”

Similarly, Force Spokesperson, CSP Olumuyiwa Adejobi, stated that the noticeable attacks on cops were attributable to a new wave of change.

Adejobi stated, “The breeze in civility and professionalism in the police incidentally has been taken for granted by some individuals who capitalised on that to harass and attack the police. It is easily noticed that today, the police are the one being brutalised unlike what we used to experience.”

He noted that for obvious reasons, the police would approach the situation by charging culprits to court.

The Force spokesperson added, “This will not debar us from being civil, focused and professional in discharging our duties. Nigerians are now supporting the police on this and we share the same ideology on this new trend which has been condemned in its totality.”

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