By Idris Aregbe
For an organization statutorily saddled with the responsibility of enforcing rules and maintaining law and order, the Nigeria Police has a natural proclivity for getting into the news for the wrong reasons one time too often, invariably bringing shame and disrepute to the force.
With the coronavirus lockdown in force across certain parts of the country, and phased easing of the lockdown in others, many Nigerians have been at the mercy of inept police officers who need little encouragement to terrorize, intimidate and extort, seemingly accountable to no one.
Several cases of ignominy by the police have been recorded since the COVID-19 lockdown. There have been reported cases of extrajudicial killings and dozens of complaints about the conduct of policemen across the country including Lagos, Ogun and Abuja.
In Lagos, a police officer was arrested after being seen in a video extorting money from a man who was going to buy food for his household. Another officer was demoted in Akwa Ibom state for assaulting a medical doctor during the restriction period. The tradition of stop and search and illegal roadblocks to extort money from motorists have flourished over the years, such that they now give tickets to motorists to identify who has paid and who has not, to the chagrin and utter embarrassment of the general public.
Cutting the picture of one big comedy house of errors, it came as no surprise really that the inspector General of Police in the country would enact his own law ordering men of the force to ensure that even those on essential duties, as exempted by the President and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the Nigerian federation, are molested and arrested during the curfew imposed by the president, in the COVID-19 fight. If anything it is utterly disappointing.
On April 27, when the president ordered a ban on interstate movements and imposed an 8pm to 6am curfew on the nation, he said categorically that workers on essential duties were exempted, a position reiterated by the PTF Chairman and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha, while announcing the extension of interstate lockdown and the nationwide curfew at the task force press conference.
However, the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, contrary to the directive by the President, on Tuesday ordered police commands not to exempt anybody, including workers on essential duties, when enforcing the ban on interstate movements and the nationwide curfew.
All over the world, the police force is known statutorily to enforce laws and not enact them, to maintain law and order, detect crime etc. This order from the IGP, overriding the President’s directive exempting essential workers during the curfew is therefore embarrassing, smacks of gross mediocrity, negligence of duty and a deliberate flouting of executive order.
Doctors and journalists do not work at cross-purposes with the police. Without even having to belabor the obvious, it is conventional global practice for workers on essential duties to carry on with their work during times of emergency including war. Just as the police force, the input of journalists and doctors during emergency periods are invaluable.
Many of the cases the police have had to work on before and during this period are cases that were detected by journalists. The place of journalists in the scheme of things in every society is clear and naturally geared towards the same goals the police seek to achieve, which can simply be summarized as a safe and better society.
There are several ailments that are as life-threatening as COVID-19 if not deadlier, but which have seemingly been relegated to the background due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. Many others have also erupted during this period. These are situations which demand constant medicare and presupposes movement for medicare workers.
Different hospitals have a different operational modes, and given the dire economic consequences of the lockdown, a number of these hospitals regulate their staff. Doctors are recalled at any time when there is an emergency and they have to move.
For that matter, how could we work at safeguarding lives by endangering them at the same time? The action of the IG negates all logic and amounts to throwing away the baby with the bath water. If anything, he ought to be more informed about standard global practices and abreast with given directives during this pandemic.
It is simply absurd that while doctors, journalists etc, considered frontline workers in the COVID-19 fight all over the world are encouraged for their bravery and commitment, putting their own lives on the line, our own emergency workers would be slighted and hounded by the policemen, in complete disregard to executive order and in ignorance and negligence of their statutory responsibility.
The release put up by Force Public Relations Officer, DCP Frank Mba, that the Inspector General of Police, IGP Mohammed A. Adamu has directed all Zonal Assistant Inspectors General of Police and Commands Commissioners of Police to give effect to these exemptions whilst enforcing the restriction orders, is a shade too late. The cat had been let out of the bag already.
The position of Mohammed Adamu as the Inspector General of Police has become questionable. His actions smack of high-handedness and ineptitude. At this juncture of the nation’s security scenario, the police force deserves better.
Aregbe is Lagos State All Progressives Congress (APC) Youth Organizing Secretary and Convener of Culturati.