#EndSARS: Police impunity and Nero’s guitar

AS I made to angrily start the car, he howled, “Move an inch from there! If I no waste you now and dem bury you today, call me a bastard!”

I froze. His voice clattered like pebbles jangled over one another. That word singed my flesh like a hot whiplash. He had his gun cocked on the instant, the right hand finger caressing the holster and the left playing menacingly on the gun’s midriff. His eyes dilated like a piece of red-hot coal. It was as if I had received a jab from a cruel nurse’s syringe. Or a hot punch to my chin that left me momentarily immobilised.

Slowly, I hopped out of the car, my mien sober in salutary surrender. “Officer, I am sorry,” I muttered in a very gruff but effeminate voice; and as if to underscore the huge shape of my contrite spirit, I repeated it again: “Officer, I am really very sorry.”

The Mobile Police officer had stopped me on the Lagos/Ibadan expressway. I was returning from a lecture at the International Institute of International Affairs (IIIA) in Lagos, and en-route Ibadan.

Inside the vehicle which I drove were two top editors of a Nigerian national newspaper, my friends, with whom I had gone to attend the lecture. We had been stopped by the police who demanded our “particulars.” With glee, I volunteered all he requested for, until he demanded for the Enhanced Central Motor Registry (ECMR).

Diffident and with a self-effacing righteousness, as if I were a scientist who had just discovered the vaccine to COVID-19, I made him understand that only a few days earlier, the Inspector General of Police had announced that possession or not of an ECMR should not be part of the bother of police on stop and search duty.

Apparently grated by my diffidence, the policeman ignored me, shuttling arrogantly off to attend to another “customer,” armed with my vehicle particulars. Cross at his impudence, I had angrily beckoned on my colleagues, who, exasperated, had come out of the car as the exchange between the policeman and I seemed to be reaching its crescendo. “Hop in the car and let us leave this man!” I bellowed, as if I held the lever. And that thundering threat of wasting my flesh was the riposte, a threat which immediately reset my brain to its default.

My contrition got me a lecture on the psychology of the Nigerian policeman from the Mobile Policeman. “Come rain, come shine, I dey here. Small boys like you just dey drive cars up and down. You think me sef no like better thing? If I waste you, I will run away…” he tutored.

The event above happened exactly 17 years ago but its purport has lived with me ever since. While police brutality on Nigerians isn’t a new phenomenon, it has festered embarrassingly. Right since its establishment in 1820 by the colonial government, the concept of a conquering police which came to subjugate the colonies and instrument of repression and oppression have fitted the Nigeria police perfectly.

The Nigeria Police has gradually decayed up till this point where maggots wriggle out of its body. The height of its shameful repression of the people it was paid to protect and the ignominy ema- nating the refrom was the August 17, 2010 damning report on its atrocious policing by the Human Rights Watch (HRW). The report, illustrated with two fat-stomached but raggedly policemen with pristine guns barricading the road, had a danfo driver stopped by them saying, “O.C. nothing for the boys today, I beg because I no get change” and the police replying, “Bring am, we get change.”

It also lamented the “extortion, embezzlement, and other corrupt practices by Nigeria’s police.”

Today, Nigerians are on the streets to protest these abuses which range from arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention and criminalizing youthful manifestations. In the narrow world of Nigerian police- men, bushy, dreadlocked hair and I-Phone approximate crime.

There have been cases of physical and sexual assaults, torture, extrajudicial killings traced to the police and covered by the HRW reports. It is very rare to identify a home in Nigeria which had not suffered the casualty of the Nigeria police’s bestial policing.

Either they are unaware or simply blinded their eyes to it, attentions of police authorities or the Nigerian government at large, seem to have selectively skipped the pestilential extortion of money on the road and in police stations, as well as the gross criminalities emanating from those places. Police extortion is such a lucra- tive, though criminal venture, so much that allegations claim that the blood money proceeds from it are funneled right to the purses of top echelon of the force. In and out of police stations, policemen have become such notorious armed leeches who terrorise the people, squeezing out their blood and cash and detaining them at random.

As the #ENDSARS protest escalates, protesters demanding an expurgation of police Special Anti-robbery Squad (SARS) should know that SARS is a small fraction of the demanding task of purity we need in securing Nigeria. We must demand a total redraft of the Nigerian police architecture. The current equation is too iniquitous and prone to corruption and bloodletting. Though the newly promulgated Police Act 2020 is said to have redrawn the map of policing, I am not sure it has the power to melt the ice of the unmitigated avarice, bestiality and bloodlessness inherent in the heart of the Nigerian policeman.

To do this, we must start from the fundament of the crisis, which is the personal dignity of the policeman. How many of us have taken time to visit a Nigerian police station or barracks? In the last few weeks, I have been interfacing with the police in Ibadan, Oyo State and I can tell you clearly that no one who makes a home of the environment which the police live can ever forgive the Nigerian state. Horrible, as an epithet, cannot capture the rot therein.

Even animals should not be allowed to live in such environments. I presume that any child sired in such a place or even their parents will constantly hold Nigeria culpable and will ultimately have every cause to psychologically manifest animalistic traits.

This was why I was aghast at President Muhammadu Buhari’s reaction when, smoked out of his well-known lethargy by public angst at the animalism of the SARS and its aftermath of a volcanic eruption of anger of Nigerians towards the rank brutality of the police, in a Tweet, he merely off-handedly shoed responsibility of arresting the chaos to the IGP.

When that Tweet came out, what came to my mind was that Emperor Nero image of Buhari which Nigerians got from a viral picture of him sitting in the Villa, with his babariga hanged by the wall, a toothpick hanging out from his teeth, cross-legged and dead to all worries of the world.

No, Mr. President, Mohammed Adamu cannot arrest the police rot because he is the Chief Maggot feeding fat on the decadence.

It is your turf as President and Commander in Chief! It is this brand of escapism that Buhari is known by. The way it is panning out, the police may just be the route from where the much-talked about, anticipated explosion of the people’s anger at the rot in Nigeria may come from. Buhari should not play Nero. Nero, the decadent and unpopular Nero, you will recall, was not only playing music, literally fiddling with his guitar while Rome burned. Nero too was ineffectual as he outsourced Roman problems like Buhari is doing as Nigeria is burning over police brutality.

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