Opinion

The rule of lawlessness

By Owei Lakemfa.

I woke up on Sunday, January 9, 2022 hoping to spend a restful day. But a video popped up on my phone. Two radical youths, Kunle ‘Wiseman’ Ajayi and Banwo ‘Proficience’ Oladokun had been ‘captured’ by the Nigeria Police Force. As the victorious policemen conveyed their trophies in a bus, the courageous youths shouted their names, displayed injuries and complained they had been brutalized. As Oladokun showed his injured wrist, the phone was apparently snatched. The issue is not whether the police can effect arrest, but the process must not necessarily be brutal leading to unnecessary injuries or death.

On Boxing Day, December 26, 2021, the police decided to question a politician, Uche Nwosu on an issue. In civilised climes, an invitation would simply have been extended to him. Rather, the police waited for him to go to a crowded church, St Peter’s Anglican Church, Eziama-Obaire, Nkwerre Local Government, Imo State. While the service was going on, hooded policemen, shooting several bullets, invaded the church. The congregation including children, the elderly and officiating priests ran for dear lives. The invaders then abducted and dragged him into their waiting vehicles and sped off. Nwosu himself thought his abductors who partially stripped him and put a foot on his head, were assassins. He must have felt a little relief when he found out that they were policemen. But who says policemen cannot be assassins? Perhaps what saved him was that the video of his abduction went viral. As it turned out, all the police wanted was to question him about insecurity in Imo State where he was the gubernatorial candidate of the Action Alliance, AA in the 2019 elections. So, is there no lawful, constitutional and civilized way of inviting a person of interest or arresting him? Also, what sense did it make to use such amount of force including shooting in a crowded place? Are the police and the government so insensitive that they do not realise that invading a church premises full of worshippers can trigger a religious crisis in an increasingly intolerant polity?

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It should be pointed out that the gangster method of police arresting Nigerians is not limited to civilians. They also practise it against their own including officers. On Monday, July 6, 2020 the then Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFFC Ibrahim Magu, a Commissioner of Police, was on the street leading to his office. As the then anti-corruption Czar of the country, he had a complement of armed security. Suddenly, a vehicle blocked his convoy. A shootout might have occurred had Magu’s team not recognised their fellow policemen. Even at that, a shouting match took place before Magu agreed to go with the arresting team. As it turned out, a Presidential Investigation Panel headed by Justice Ayo Salami was sitting at the Presidential Villa and Magu was required to face it. All that was required was for him to be invited or summoned. On the other hand, a signal could have been sent to Magu’s boss, the Inspector General of Police asking him to report to the police headquarters.

One of the most bizarre and lawless cases of citizen’s arrest occurred in the Aso Rock Presidential Villa on July 11, 2020. It was during a nationwide Covid-19 pandemic lockdown. Mr Sabiu Yusuf, President Muhammadu Buhari’s nephew and Personal Assistant allegedly broke the lockdown order by travelling to Lagos.

The First Lady, Mrs. Aisha Buhari thought that her in-law should go into a 14-day self-isolation ostensibly to save the President, his family and aides from contacting the virus. When it did not seem this would happen, she decided to take action by arresting Mr Yusuf.

Mrs Buhari, her three children, Zahra, Halima and Yusuf and some of her security aides, led by her Aide-de-Camp, ADC Usman Shugaba, stormed Yusuf’s residence, House 8 of the President’s guests houses by the Pilot Gate of the Presidential Villa. In the process, gunshots were fired and but Mr. Yusuf was able to escape capture. The Presidential Villa is usually a busy place, shooting in such a security zone and the possibility of stray bullets hitting passers-by, could not be ruled out. The President’s wife might have had good intentions, but taking the law into her hands was not lawful. However, Mrs Buhari, rather than be remorseful, felt justified. Twenty four hours later, she released a series of tweets: “That Covid-19 is real and still very much around in our nation is not in doubt. Consequently, I call on all relevant Government Agencies to enforce the Quarantine Act signed by Mr President and ensure no one is found violating this law and the NCDC guidelines especially on interstate travel without the necessary exemptions for movement of essentials. Anyone who does that should at the very least be made to undergo a 14-day mandatory isolation no matter who the person is. No one should be above the law and the Police command will do well to remember that.” She then demanded that the police release her aides who were arrested over the invasion.

It is accepted that no Nigerian has immunity except those specified by the constitution which are the President, Vice President, Governors and Deputy Governors. Save for these, anybody can be invited by the police or subjected to citizen’s arrest. However, this has to be done in accordance with the law and the constitution. For instance, to brutalize or torture a Nigerian in the name of effecting an arrest, is criminal. One of the lessons the EndSARS protest taught Nigerians is that all citizens have fundamental rights to dignity of their person and life.

Unfortunately and perhaps due to three decades of military misrule, our security operatives in many cases, act in lawlessness manners just as thugs and touts would in the streets.

Every law is as good as the process of its enactment, implementation and enforcement; enforcing a law in an unlawful manner is criminal. Our constitution for instance assumes a person innocent until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction.

For instance, our laws prescribe the death sentence for armed robbery. But even if an armed robber is caught in the act, it will be criminal for jungle justice to be meted out or for the police to ‘waste’ him; that will be extra judicial, and therefore criminal.

A starting point of reform might be for all to abide by the Nigeria Police Act 2020 which directs in Section 37 that : “A suspect be accorded humane treatment, having regard to his right to the dignity of his person, and not be subjected to any form of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” To do otherwise, is to subject the country to the rule of the lawless.

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