At a time for her to sit back and enjoy the fruit of her years of toiling, Mrs. Salami, mother of the late Lagos lawyer, Omobolanle Raheem, was dealt a mortal blow with the gruesome murder of her daughter. Omobolanle was her only child and she did all she could within her power to train and give her the best in spite of her poor background. She did not allow poverty to deter her from sending her daughter to school. Hawking on the streets of Lagos to give Bolanle a sound education was not a problem, after all, to eat an omelette, one has to break an egg. If she is not lettered, that should not stop Bolanle from having and chasing her dreams, and reaching the top of her chosen career. The young Bolanle, while growing up, wanted to become a lawyer, and mama did all she could for her to realise her dreams. Through hawking oranges and doing other menial jobs, she was able to pay for Bolanle’s education and ultimately secured her future, hoping that one day, all her sacrifices for her only child would pay off.
But her dreams, hopes and aspirations have been cut short by a trigger-happy police officer. Bolanle was felled, not on a battlefield nor sentenced to die by a law court, but shot at in her car on the streets of Lagos like a common criminal. What an uncanny way to die! Her mother walked the streets of Lagos to raise money for her education, and it turns out that the only child she wandered those same streets to raise met her untimely and painful death there. Worse, the tragedy took place on a Sunday that happened to be Christmas Day.
Perhaps, if the now-suspended Assistant Superintendent of Police, Dramdi Vandi, had waited a few weeks later before pulling the trigger on Bolanle, the anguish of Mrs. Salami would have been lesser. This is because Bolanle was heavily pregnant with twins and would have put to bed within a few weeks had she not met with her untimely death. The pain of Mama Salami would, hopefully, have been alleviated, as she would have been consoled by her two grandchildren through whom she would have relived pleasant memories of her daughter by her care of them. It is shocking and sad that one of many of the country’s trigger-happy police officers so recklessly dispatched three souls to God at the same time in one fell swoop.
The question on everybody’s mind at this disheartening scenario must be: “What was he thinking?” Was it the usual ‘accidental discharge?’ Was Bolanle rude to him? Was he high on some cheap alcohol or substance? Was it the driver of the vehicle that refused to stop when commanded to do so by the police?
An investigation team set up by the Inspector-General of Police, Alkali Baba would reveal all those issues in due course but one thing is certain – three lives that cannot be brought back to earth have been dispatched to the great beyond by Vandi, leaving behind pain and anguish of loved ones, including a five-year old daughter of the deceased.
This will not be the first time that armless civilians have been killed by the police and it doesn’t seem apparent that it will be the last. We will not stop calling for an introspection as a nation if we intend to reduce the number of victims of police brutality or to completely eliminate the scourge. In the first instance, we need to reevaluate whether those that are being employed into the Nigeria Police Force are those that should actually wear the uniform and wield guns. Many of those employed by the Nigerian Police have no business being there. And if we are serious about getting it right, we must begin to think of how to get out the unscrupulous elements amongst them and reform the organisation.
Most of the past attempts to reform the police were mostly inspired by senior police officers who are there to ensure that they protect their jobs and make their own money before they retire. It is, therefore not surprising that the police grew rapidly from a relatively effective and efficient force inherited from the colonial era to a brutal, grossly inefficient, ridiculously ineffective, and deeply corrupt state institution.
The role of the police in maintaining internal peace and security cannot be overemphasised. In Nigeria, Section 4 of the Nigeria Police Act saddles the police with the responsibilities of detection and prevention of crime, apprehension of offenders, preservation of law and order, protection of life and property, enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged, and performance of such military duties as may be required of them. How well the police have performed these statutory functions is an open report card that neither the police, the citizens nor the nation is proud of.
Apart from the worsening security situation in all parts of the country due largely to structural deficiency, inadequate funding, poor intelligence gathering, lack of modern policing equipment, low morale among officers and corruption, cases of human rights violations by policemen are rising with the affected officers rarely held accountable. Despite the age-long mantra, ‘Police is Your Friend’, public trust in this vital state institution for the maintenance of law and order is almost nil in Nigeria today. This is because the Nigerian police have a notorious reputation for inefficiency, bribery, brutality, and human rights abuses. In other climes, police stations are havens of safety and the go-to institutions when citizens face security challenges. However, this is not the case in Nigeria, where citizens avoid police stations like the plague and some would even seek help from non-state actors rather than seek help from the police, all because of their notorious reputation. Due to the important roles expected of them in any society, we cannot keep quiet and continue to watch the institution go to the dogs.
One of the key steps to reforming the police, I believe, is to rebrand the institution. Attempts had been made in the past to achieve this, as seen in the change of uniform on several occasions, but rebranding goes beyond changing uniforms. It is about rebuilding their reputation by changing the perception of the citizens about the police. It is about rebuilding citizens’ trust in the police; making them see the police as their friends and maintainers of peace and order. This can be done through proper engagement with the communities, by building a civil police that respects the rights of the citizens, including suspects, and by ensuring that the police perform their statutory functions efficiently, effectively and with dignity while being well paid and given the needed tools to work efficiently.
The bane of policing in Nigeria has been insufficient funding. The poor funding of such a critical state institution saddled with maintaining law and order, which is a precondition for internal peace and security, has contributed hugely to the notorious reputation of the police. Due to inadequate funding, police are grossly ill-equipped to carry out their statutory functions. They are inadequately remunerated for the hazardous duties they perform and poorly trained for modern policing.
Therefore, there is the need for the police authorities to come up with a comprehensive training and reorientation programme for their personnel so that they can be in tune with modern policing. Their training curricula should be reviewed and syllabi focused on police ethics and conduct, human rights, gender issues, intelligence-driven policing, community policing, and the difference between civil and criminal laws, which should be designed and taught to all the rank and file. Also, the various training colleges should be rehabilitated and properly equipped, while the teaching staff should be drawn from experienced and qualified police officers and from university faculties.
Again, police welfare and conditions of service are major issues that successive governments have not been able to sufficiently address. Not only are the salaries of police personnel not commensurate with the hazardous duties they perform, they also work and live in structures that are not fit for decent human beings. Widows of fallen police officers also spend months demanding their husbands’ entitlements, while police officers injured in the line of duty are often left to their fate. As part of the reforms, police salaries scale should be reviewed to be proportional to the risk they take to keep other citizens safe and life insurance packages should be purchased for all personnel. Urgent steps should be taken to rehabilitate all police barracks to a standard that will be fit for human habitation. New barracks should also be built to address the accommodation challenges faced by personnel, especially in major cities.
Ordinarily, the police should be a disciplined institution, but Nigerians were enraged when they learnt that police operatives indicted for various human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, were still serving in the force several months after a presidential panel submitted the report that indicted them. This was brought to the fore during the #EndSARS protests, prompting the Federal Government to order states to set up judicial panels of inquiry to look into rights abuses by the police. Nothing emboldens anyone that wields power more than lack of consequences for actions or inactions. Therefore, one of the key steps that must be taken to reform the police is to hold to account, indicted officers for their acts of abuse, and it shouldn’t be a one-off exercise. The existing internal disciplinary processes in the force should be strengthened in all commands and divisions for thorough and prompt delivery of justice.
The Nigeria police operates a centralised command structure whereby all state commands take directives from the Inspector General of Police. Even, though the constitution makes state governors Chief Security Officers of their respective states, the commissioner of police are however not answerable to them. They are answerable to the Inspector General of Police, who is answerable to the President. Ironically, an IG who may not have visited the state in his career as a police officer gives directives on security strategies for remote communities that are hundreds of kilometers away from his office in Abuja. It is time for the Police to be decentralised while state and community policing be given the necessary impetus to thrive. It is the lack of state police that has given rise to regional security outfits like Amotekun, which have been hampered in their operations due to lack of adequate firepower. They are only allowed to carry dane guns while criminals that they are supposed to face go about with sophisticated weapons.
Many police formations across the country do not have access to modern equipment such operational vehicles, weaponry, body armour, modern communication devices, central registry for criminals that can be accessed real-time from all state commands, modern fingerprint detecting devices and biometric database of suspects and criminals among others. This should be provided for to assist the police in the discharge of their duties.
The gruesome murder of Bolanle has brought tears to Mrs. Salami, a mother that should sit back to enjoy what she had labored for over the years. It is hoped that the death of one of our own will prove one death too many, and would provide another opportunity for those in government to re-access the institution with the sole aim of reforming it so that the ugly trend is brought to a total end.
However, unless a comprehensive reform of the police is carried out, we may still be deceiving ourselves as a nation with little or no respect for the fundamental human rights of her citizens.
May the soul of Omobolanle rest in the bosom of the Lord.
I wish my readers a Happy and Prosperous New Year.
See you next week.