Citizen Tunde Abbas and police harassment at Onipanu

IT is rather unfortunate that some policemen have yet to learn any lesson from late last year’s #EndSARs protests by the youth which verbally  targeted the police because of their highhandedness but later snowballed into wanton destruction of lives and properties and unprecedented looting. If any lesson had been learnt, there would not have been any talk of another spectre of harassment and violation of citizens’ rights by the police so soon. The harassment of innocent citizens seems to have resumed, that is, if it  ever stopped at any point. For instance,  citizen Tunde Abbas was recently harassed and brutalized by some policemen at Onipanu in Lagos State. His  ‘crime’ was that he was filming  police brutality and harassment of one Kabir Mohammed. Mohammed, a driver,  was reportedly flagged down by the cops for a routine check; it was in that  process that some policemen verbally and physically assaulted him, then punctured and deflated one of the tyres on his car.  This violent and despicable conduct caught the attention of citizen Abbas and he decided to record it.  However, the police  unleashed violence on him for his effrontery and detained him for two days. Mohammed, the man Abbas sought to rescue from the ‘stranglehold’ of the police, was also incarcerated.

Happily, the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) Onipanu, Francis Ani, and his boys who engaged in the deplorable acts were busted on social media and there was  relentless  campaign for the release of the detainees. The combined effects of the fervent campaign for the detainees’ freedom and the fruitless effort at putting up trumped-up but unactionable  charges against Abbas, and the subsequent  rejection of the charges at a magistrates’ court compelled the police authorities to order his release, but not until he had been literally  made to go through hell in custody for two days. Mohammed was also released following the efforts of citizens who  stood up for him and Abbas, in popular resistance to their continued incarceration by the police. It is rather unsettling that some  policemen are always engaging in sickening acts and eliciting public umbrage. Even though public perception of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) has hardly been cheery, its image as a law enforcement institution is currently at its lowest ebb.  It is,  therefore, unthinkable that any of its officers and men in their right frame of mind could contemplate, let alone engage in, actions that could further drag the name of the police in the mud.

The nation, public and private  organisations and individuals  who lost loved ones and valuable  properties to the #EndSARs protests and the carnage that ensued after the protests were hijacked by hoodlums have yet to heal, yet the police, whose lawless actions triggered the national disaster in the first place, would seem to have gone back to their old ways. It is nonetheless gladdening to know that the leadership of the Lagos State command has weighed in on the matter. Indeed, the Commissioner of P/olice (CP), Hakeem Odumosu, has reportedly ordered the redeployment of the DPO at Onipanu police station and orderly room trial of policemen who harassed and brutalized citizen Abbas. This is really heart-warming, and it is important to note  that this is not the first time that Odumosu has taken prompt action against aberrant policemen under his watch. We commend CP Odumosu for his prompt action and urge him to endeavour to  always ensure that only  well-trained and disciplined officers with a track record of quality service are posted to strategic locations within his command so that he would not have the need to  resort to damage control time and again because his junior colleagues have breached the law.

Meanwhile, we urge that the instant case be painstakingly investigated: there should be no room for criminal recourse to esprit de corps;  and nothing must be swept under the carpet. The erring policemen must be diligently prosecuted and  served their just deserts if found guilty of violating citizen Abbas’ rights. This will serve as a deterrent to other outlaws in police uniform. Indeed, the CP is urged to use this case to send a signal to errant policemen and the message should be that violation of human rights under any guise will no longer be tolerated. It is evident that beyond the name change for Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) by the authorities in the wake of the #EndSARs protests, the entire police force is in dire need of comprehensive reform that includes, but is not limited to an in-built quality assurance mechanism that makes it easy to weed out bad eggs from the system before they wreak havoc on the society. The reform should not be limited to the popular call for  improvement in the welfare of the rank and file, which of course is important; it should  also  focus on reorientation of personnel to embrace modern techniques of policing and best practices in police-civil populace relations.

Again, there is  the need for value reorientation and moral rearmament on the part of  police personnel as they are part and parcel, if not at the forefront,  of the decadence in the larger society. The statutory role assigned to the police to protect lives and properties is so crucial that the institution cannot afford to continue to underperform by keeping a preponderance of misfits and undisciplined officers in its fold.

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