Sunday’s police action against members of the Ekiti State chapter of All Progressives Congress (APC) holding a peaceful rally left a sour taste in the mouth. An APC member was felled by police bullet, while the Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, was humiliated by police officers, who should be taking instructions from an elected governor in a normal democracy. The policemen disarmed Fayemi’s security details and arrested one of them, who was later released, in a brazen display of crude effrontery. A leading Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) member was later heard boastfully saying, “APC has been shown our Red Card.”
Some have since argued that the action was taken because Vice President Namadi Sambo was still in town. Bunkum! Was the protest violent? Was there a threat against the person of Sambo? Of course, the answer remains no. Even in Abuja, where Sambo and President Goodluck Jonathan have their offices and live, have protests not taken place there before? So, because a president or vice president is somewhere, there should not be protest? Where should there be protest in a democracy if not where Sambo, Nigeria’s Number 2 Citizen is? Democracy is about show of strength. Once there is no violence employed, there is absolutely nothing wrong with such. If this argument were to hold, we should then ask the PDP to stop all campaign activities in Ado Ekiti because an elected governor, who is also the Number 1 Citizen of Ekiti State lives and works in the town. Those canvassing this line of argument are lazy minds and stooges of the old order.
Nigeria’s is a young democracy, no doubt. And we have come a long way despite the challenges between 29 May 1999 and today. Till date, authority at all levels of governance in the country flows from the office of elected persons. That is part of democracy. But not the whole thing. Democracy, in its true sense, presupposes a situation where impunity – disregard for due process/rule of law – is not allowed, either by error of commission or omission. Impunity encourages disrespect for the laws of the land by persons in elected or appointive political office. If it persists, ordinary citizens will find no reason to seek redress in the court of law as law enforcement agents are often used by those in authority to perpetuate their impunity.
Nigeria’s First and Second Republics collapsed under the weight of impunity perpetrated by holders of temporary political power, who acted like sovereign monarchs. Official instruments of coercion, which should have been reserved for use on criminals, were deployed against perceived political opponents, forcing such persons and groups to resort to self-help in most cases. A Nigerian military, which knows that such could snowball into civil war stepped in in both cases to arrest the drift towards anarchy by a political class, who hardly consider the national interest above parochial ones. But for the intervention of the military on 31 December 1983, the anti-riot section of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) would have permanently changed its name to Kill and go, a name given to the merciless men in its cadre due to their scant regard for human lives in the service of a government that had lost all credibility at the time, but holding on to power using official terror and pecuniary baits as tools.
It was the same Kill and go mentality that was at play when the anti-riot policemen used live bullets on unarmed protesters in Ado Ekiti on Sunday. Common sense should have told those giving them directives from Abuja that the current odious security situation in North-Eastern Nigeria was ignited by the same members of Nigeria Police Force, who continue to display unprofessional conducts in the service of partisan political interests. For the avoidance of doubt, Boko Haram did not start as a militant organisation. Of course, like every other group, there were and remains extremists in its ranks, who were effectively put in check by its leader, Malam Muhammed Yusuf (may his soul rest in peace). It was a religious group with a practical demonstration of Islamic evangelism in a part of the country, where visionless leaders had bled (and continue to bleed) the states to almost a point of socio-economic death.
The masses – impoverished section of the populace – embraced the group and its teachings, which had a practical demonstration of welfare, in their thousands. Of course, the government moved in ‘to assist’ and ‘show support’ to the Islamic group – for strategic political reasons. Former Borno State Governor, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, who did the most ‘to assist’ Boko Haram later became the unfortunate catalyst for the group’s metamorphosis into a murderous organisation with no fear of God in any of its members given the scant regard they have for the lives of children and women, who are not even in combat zones. Today, the Boko Haram that took care of widows, orphans and the needy under Yusuf has metamorphosed into another organisation that regularly ensure the emergence of fresh widows and orphans, with scant regard for these set of people the Holy Qur’an admonished Muslims to take care of by any means at their disposal.
Sheriff allocated official slots to key Boko Haram members. Funds were also not a problem as he knew that the key to the grassroots for any election rested with the Islamic group given the large following it had. But shortly after, things began to fall apart as the group began to have its own life and wanted to chart a different political course from that of the governor. Persecution of the group and its members, using the police became the order of the day. Members regularly disappeared with their dead bodies discovered later. Detention without trial was common with wives and other close relatives being maltreated by the law enforcement agency on the orders of Sheriff. It was the beginning of a deep hatred for the police, which later transformed into regular attacks against its formations by Boko Haram. The police reaped bountifully, in a negative way, from being used in a partisan manner by the governor.
After police efforts to contain the initial violent response of Boko Haram to the official attack against the group failed, the military was brought in. And to the military’s credit, Boko Haram was contained within a short period with the group surrendering most of its leaders, including Yusuf. Even a former Commissioner for Religious Affairs, Alhaji Buju Foi, was arrested by soldiers and handed over to the police. But instead of interrogation and possible trial, he was executed by the police just as they did to Yusuf before him. There were other executions too – ordinary members and relatives of Boko Haram members, who the police claimed had either killed their men or attacked police stations. Due process was thrown overboard and jungle justice resorted to by a law enforcement agency that should have been a model for the military to copy from. It was the military that displayed professionalism and discipline, while the police acted like a vigilante group. The response of the remnant Boko Haram leadership, made up largely of extremists, who did not believe in Yusuf’s moderation was massive and swift. They had all along argued that a recourse to arms was necessary. Revenge, which is allowed in their beliefs, became a rallying cry – ‘avenge the innocents’ became a battle cry to the extent that close relatives of those killed by policemen became ready tools in the service of Boko Haram as suicide bombers. It was a new low in Nigeria. And all fuelled by a law enforcement agency with vigilantes in its ranks instead of professional men and officers.
There is always this mistaken belief by those holding political power at the Centre that legitimate attempts to get them out of office signpost definite threats against Nigeria’s continued existence. Loyalty to the office is often confused with loyalty to the person holding the office. The offering becomes more important than the altar. It was in that state that members of the Federal Executive Council could not carry out their sworn duty to Nigeria, when late Musa Yar’Adua became incapable of functioning as president. It took the argument and serious efforts of those being muscled today to get Goodluck Jonathan into office as acting president, and later as substantive one. The constitution is very clear on what the FEC should do. But the same absurdity that is currently playing itself out was adopted at the time in the bogus name of loyalty to the president – not loyalty to Nigeria.
But in the case at hand, those throwing stones from Abuja should not only learn a lesson or two from how impunity gave birth to virulent Boko Haram, same should be done about persons who behaved like them against the Western Region in the First and Second Republics. When those in power at the Centre descend on Yorubaland using official means of coercion to have their political way, they REGULARLY end up being consumed by forces greater than them inherent in those resident in these parts. From the First Republic till date, history is replete with the inglorious end of those who naively believe because they wield power at the Centre can ride roughshod over any part of Yorubaland. It has has never happened before without serious negative consequences for the person and his stooges. Strong-arm tactics by self-styled president, Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida failed in 1993. Even the iron-fisted regime of Gen. Sani Abacha collapsed under the weight of its own contradictions. And, Abacha gained death with it.
A sincere advice is for those saddled with the responsibility to begin to take a look at the NPF throughout Nigeria towards redeeming the police, thus this young democracy. For instance, former President Olusegun Obasanjo ensured the immediate disengagement of military officers who have taken up political appointments upon his assumption of office in 1999. The old man should have extended the same treatment to police officers who have a tainted record across the ranks. DPOs, DCOs, Area Commanders, CPs, AIGs, and DIGs among others under whose jurisdiction extra-judicial killings have taken place should have been thrown out of the NPF. These set of officers and men, who are many in the police, remain the ultimate pollutants in an organisation that is central to any democratic experiment in the country. For me, it is only in saving the NPF can we safely argue that our democracy is on course. Once citizens believe the police are engaged in partisan operations against them, anarchy as we currently have in parts of the North-East will result.