By Chimaobi Afiauwa
“They are useless, if I catch them, body go tell them.”
The above comment was heard in a viral video of newly recruited soldiers’ threatening to deal with civilians. This kind of unwarranted statement makes me ruminate if our uniform men are for us or against us? In his distribution of responsibilities in the society, ancient Greek philosopher, Plato outlined the operational responsibility of the security operatives, which he referred to as the ‘auxiliary’. As he puts it, “the auxiliary (security operatives) are like dogs, trained to be friendly with members of the society, that is, the citizens of the state, but fierce to strangers, especially aggressive ones.”
What is obtainable in Nigeria is the opposite of Plato’s assertion. Our security operatives have ceaselessly shown brutality to citizens, but friendly to foreigners. I recently read on the pages of newspapers how a man whose name was identified as Collins Osagie was brutally and callously beaten to death by five naval officers in Lagos. According to Sahara Reporter’s publication of August 21, 2020, Osagie’s crime was his amicable attempt to settle a dispute between a naval officer, Awosanya Olufemi, and a spare parts seller. The deceased had offered to pay N250 which was the bone of contention. However, unfortunately to him, he never knew that his pacifist-generosity would lead to his untimely and excruciating death.
I am sure in the minds of the naval officers would be these enraging thoughts: how dare this bloody civilian offer to pay back N250? Do we look like people that cannot afford such amount? What an insult! Osagie’s ordeal is an example of the everyday experience of Nigerians in the hands of security operatives who are supposed to protect us. Nigeria’s security agencies, especially the police, have a bad reputation of brutality, extortion and unnecessary harassment; thus, leading to the deaths of somewhat innocent citizens. An average Nigerian, indeed, wishes not to have any kind of encounter with the men on uniform. Of course, this has caused a dislocation of the relationship between the citizens and security operatives.
The Nigerian Police Force (NPF) Public Relations Department, for instance, knows that there is a strained relationship between the police and the public. Consequent upon this, there is this popular mantra of “police is your friend” aimed at promoting a working relationship. Sadly, however, this mantra sounds like an irritating cliche to the ears of many; for experiences of Nigerians in the hands of the police have so far proven otherwise. And the disconnection between citizens and security agencies, particularly the police, benefit criminal elements in the society; even as many persons with workable intelligence reports, fail to take it to the necessary authorities because of the fear of brutality and possible detention.
Life in Nigeria has become so agonising, miserable, brutish and short that one begins to wonder if the country is perhaps the allegorical ‘state of nature’ postulated by Hobbes. The contract, indeed, between the Nigerian state and her citizens has for long failed; and government, the machinery of the state shows little or no contrition for it.
Whereas the 1999 constitution as amended, clearly provides in chapter two, section 14 (2b) that: “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary responsibility of government”, the commitment of government to it and its justiceability, leaves much to be desired. In the political philosophy of a German scholar, Max Weber, it is for the sole reason of maintaining law and order, and the protection of lives and properties that the state lays claim to the monopoly use of force legitimately. This, of course, would mean that our law enforcement officers only bear arms in other to protect us.
However, in the process of enforcing laws, a handful of trigger-happy security operatives, who perhaps were over-zealous, have terminated the lives of many Nigerians. The Covid-19 lockdown earlier this year exposed the brutal nature of our security operatives. As reported by the National Human Right Commission (NHRC), law enforcement officers killed 18 persons. Ironically, as at that time, Covid-19 had only killed 12 persons, according to NCDC’s data. Indeed, at that point, it was saddening to know that the law enforcement officers’ brutality was even more fatal than the Covid-19 pandemic which necessitated the lockdown in the first place.
Incessant recklessness of the men in uniform, among many other things, has added to the of ephemeral nature of life in the country. Kidnapping, banditry, herdsmen attack, cultism and the hydra-headed insurgency of Boko Haram, have all become insecurity issues that claim the lives of Nigerians almost on daily basis. Worst still, all these security challenges seem to have overwhelmed the relevant security agencies, and citizens’ vulnerability to attacks have become unimaginable.
Apparently, though, Nigerians and the government in particular, in any case, appear to have gotten accustomed to the senseless death of her citizens and as such, death has been reduced to a matter of arithmetical and statistical reduction. Publicists of government and spokepersons of relevant security agencies have mastered the arts of rhetorically underestimating casualty figures in order to downplay the security predicaments of Nigeria.
When the Boko Haram terrorists, for instance, attacked the town of Baga of Borno state in 2015, government officials were in a quick to counter the estimated casualty figure as reported by local media. While the former estimated the number of deaths to be 2,000, on the contrary, the Defence ministry said the number was no more than 150. The ministry dismissed the higher estimates for death as “speculation”, “conjecture” and “exaggerated”. This kind of statement makes one to wonder if the sacrosantity of life is determined by number in Nigeria.
The country may not be at war, but the number of avoidable deaths of people, even in the hands of security operatives, is reminiscent to that of war. An investigative report published by Vanguard Newspaper on the 2nd of February, 2020, shows that no fewer than 320 citizens died needlessly from January 2020 till the date of the publication. A breakdown of the newspaper’s findings would reveal that about 10 avoidable deaths occurred daily in January. They mostly died in the hands of Boko Haram insurgents, suspected herdsmen and bandits.
But given the fact that Nigerians are known for abusing laws and privileges, the Nigerian state must not allow the spate of killings in the country to escalate to the level that citizens will resort to carrying arms, either legally or otherwise. And for this not happen, relevant security agencies must double up their efforts in the protection of lives and properties, instead of senselessly killing Nigerians at any slightest provocation.