THE attitude of the leadership of Nigeria and its security institutions to the safety of the poor and vulnerable is condemnable. In the same system, the social structure ensures the securitisation of the rich.
While the tenets of the rule of law prescribe equality before the law, supremacy of the law and fundamental human rights, the practicality of these in Nigeria is gradated to one’s social position. The poor are worse off in security of lives and property, food security, health security, education security, road security, human rights security, among others. Impliedly, Nigeria is a country that is elite-designed, structured, formed and governed. Nothing implies a genuine concern to take care of the hoi polloi who are the majority. The masses occupy the flip side of the pyramidal structure of the goodies fondly labelled democratic dividends. Unfortunately, the masses’ support is sought during elections to enthrone the minority that mostly abandon them when they get into office. The elite minority mindlessly corner public patrimonies to themselves and their cronies.
In Nigeria, it is not only poor to be criminal; it is also criminal to be poor. Undoubtedly, there are differential treatments in who gets policed as against who gets secured. In 2017 alone, about 549 lives were lost to Fulani herdsmen and farmers’ violence (Amnesty International). The year 2018 may surpass this figure as over 200 have been killed within two months across Benue, Zamfara, Adamawa, Ondo, Kaduna and Taraba. In all these, the poor get killed while the care-less elite ‘condemn’ the killings. I draw on these to examine poor policing, policing the poor and the securitized elite in Nigeria.
This is because within and outside government, the Nigeria elite have secured their present and future. In government, they ensure they put structures in place that outlive them. These structures (in the police, judiciary, civil service etc) cover their tracks when out of office. Highly placed politicians allocate to themselves undeserved severance packages endorsed by the ‘ball-boys’ in the legislative chambers when leaving office. They use the structure they put in place to fight the system when being probed when out of office. Whenever their hegemonic control over the country is threatened, they form alliances to oust the incumbent to sustain their hold on the country, not necessarily to better the lot of the masses. In and out of office, they personalise public services. Imagine the lamentation of the Chairman of Police Service Commission, Mike Okiro, a former Inspector General of Police, that out of about 305, 597 policemen (2015 data), over 150,000 are attached to VIPs and unauthorised persons in the country. The people enjoying these security personnel included those who have left government in the last ten years! Yet, over 180 million individuals are to depend on less than 150,000 for the protection of their lives and property. They use the limited number of police left for the rest of us to protect their children and parents. Even Abdulrasheed Maina claimed to have been secured by the DSS when he came in through the ‘door of influence’. When the rich get kidnapped, they get jet-speed reaction and the deployment of the IGP Intelligence Response Squad to rescue them. When they have cases in court, they get soft-landing. The elite (most of them) are parasitic. They milk Nigeria; they hardly plough back and when they do, it is temporary and these are mostly in the months preceding an election year. They use the ideological state apparatuses to oppress the poor and make them perpetually subservient. To them, it is the poor that is dangerous and must be policed. That is why only the rich enter plea bargaining. To hell with the poor in jail!
Rather than focusing on poor policing, the leadership of Nigeria under President Muhammadu Buhari and other State governors is interested in policing the poor. Poor policing as against policing the poor is the inability of the police to check growing insecurity. Mis-governance is responsible for why herders are pampered and cows’ constitutional rights are enthroned. While the courts are quick to sentence a boy who stole N10, 000 to 15 years imprisonment, the same court granted a corrupt pension fraudster who cornered billions of naira into private pocket an option of fine of N750, 000! The same system polices the opposition party but allows culpable inner caucus members (Babachir Lawal, Maina) etc, in the process rubbishing its policing of public funds.
The institution that turned deaf ears to the intelligence reports supplied by the governors of Benue and Zamfara States alerting it to impending attacks mocks the victims by putting the blame on the law enacted to regulate people’s behaviour. Obviously, you are a criminal if the state thinks you are a criminal, and a saint at the pleasure of the state. The body language and the interest of the ‘oga at the top’ apparently endorse inequality in the Nigerian policing system.
Ideally, the nature of crime ought to determine how policing resources will be distributed. Nobody ought to tell the police that they need to strengthen divisional stations in rural areas. This is because, the police as an instrument of the state, is urban-based. The media thus beam light on happenings in the urban areas where they are based while many people suffer violence and criminality in the rural areas. Since 2009 when Boko Haram became lethal in its campaign, it has operated more in rural areas with its ‘homeland’ located in the remote spaces of northeast Nigeria. Kidnappers kidnap and take victims to forests using the waterways to get to their hideouts. Armed robbers return to the rural areas mostly after a major operation to keep a low profile. Fulani herdsmen carnages occur in remote rural areas where poverty is endemic and policing is scarce.
The have-nots are, therefore, at the mercy of the haves whose actions and inactions determine, to a larger extent, their life chances. The criminalisation of the have-nots on the one hand and the securitization of the elite and poor policing represent a contradiction. Apparently, the fate of the Nigerian poor is like that of the proverbial hen that lays the golden egg but becomes forgotten, malnourished and ill-treated.
Dr. Tade, a sociologist, writes via [email protected]