Since May 25, 2020, 350 cities in the United States of America (USA) have seen wild protests. There have been chants of racism. Inhuman treatment has been talked about. Police brutality has been underlined.
These reactions are normal. If a man, be he black or white, dies in the circumstances George Floyd did in Minneapolis, USA, nothing less is expected. There will be protest and condemnation. This is so because the story of Floyd’s death is one that touches the heart. His death was as cruel as it was wicked. It was a glaring example of man’s inhumanity to man.
This African-American went into a shop to buy a cigarette. He paid with a $20 bill, which the shop attendant said was counterfeit. The shop attendant called 911 and invited the police. The police arrived, got Floyd handcuffed and one of the officers pinned him down and knelt on his neck for eight minutes, 46 seconds. With the pressure on his neck, the victim complained of inability to breath. The policeman did not release him. Floyd pleaded and cried. He never got any respite. He called out his mother’s name in pain and agony. Still he did not get compassion. He died from suffocation, for a crime as little as paying with a counterfeit $20 bill.
Well, following the protests across the United States, the police officers involved have been fired and charged with second-degree murder as well as aiding and abetting second-degree murder. Derek Chauvin, the police officer who pinned Floyd down and stepped on his neck, causing his death, is facing charges of second-degree murder. Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, the other police officers who came with Chauvin to arrest Floyd, are being charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. The world awaits the outcome of their trial.
Some people have said Floyd was treated that way because of racism. The fact that he was black, they believe, made the white police officers to treat him more like an animal. Racism prevails in the US, with the blacks being at the receiving end. However, the tragedy of Floyd’s death is a signpost of wickedness. It is cruel for any police officer, black or white, to treat an accused, whether black or white, with so much cruelty and wickedness as Chauvin and his co-officers did Floyd. Even if Floyd resisted arrest, the fact remains that he was not armed and, having been handcuffed, there was no need for extreme force. He was at the mercy of the police officers, whose obvious hatred overwhelmed their sense of judgment and reasoning.
Floyd was a victim of undue police brutality. Pure and simple, the motive notwithstanding. Policemen, who are supposed to be professional in the discharge of their duty, in line with standard practice and rule of engagement, have, across the world, proved to be overzealous and brash in carrying out their duty. There is mostly the tendency to intimidate, coerce and suppress people by the police anywhere in the world. The reason could be racism, hatred, wickedness or drugs and alcohol use, among others. Their misconduct should be treated as a crime. Great that the US authorities saw the killing of Floyd as a crime and have taken measures to address it. However, President Donald Trump’s comments about the protests rocking the US is most unconsciounable. It is insensitive and therefore has hightened the tension.
Nigeria is no different. When security operatives confront supposed accused, it is with brazen intimidation. To stop a vehicle or someone, a policeman in Nigeria would raise his rifle and sometimes cock it, ready to shoot. To stop a fleeing, unarmed and harmless person, security officers in Nigeria would shoot at him, mainly with the aim to kill, not to stop him. Here, security operatives commit extrajudicial killings and sometimes get away with them.
Fifteen years ago, policeman at a checkpoint killed six Nigerians in cold blood in Abuja, in what is called the “Apo 6” saga. Ifeanyi Ozor, Chinedu Meniru, Augustina Arebu, Anthony Nwokike, Paulinus Ogbonna and Ekene Isaac Mgbe were returning from a nightclub on June 7, 2005. Instead of getting home in peace, they ended in body bags. They got to a police checkpoint that fateful night and, after a little argument, policemen opened fire on them. Four of the young men were killed on the spot. Augustina Arebu and Anthony Nwokike survived the volley of bullets at the checkpoint, but were later murdered by policemen at the police station the next day, with the excuse that they wanted to escape.
The police had branded the six victims armed robbers. It was later that a story was told of how a Deputy Commissioner of Police, who was allegedly eyeing the fiancée of one of the victims, ordered their execution. The motive for the killing was jealousy. Although the court eventually discharged and acquitted the Deputy Commissioner of Police, two other policemen were convicted and sentenced to death for the extrajudicial killing of two of the victims – Augustina Arebu and Anthony Nwokike. The authorities would say justice has been served, but the young men are dead and gone forever. No amount of punishment for those who killed them would bring them back.
There are other cases of police murder and brutality in Nigeria. We remember Dele Udo, a foreign-based Nigerian athlete who was murdered at a checkpoint in Lagos by a policeman. Policemen shot 22 years old Chukwuemeka Matthew Onovo in Enugu on July 4, 2008. He was shot near his father’s house and the police tagged him an armed robber. Kolade Johnson was a victim of unprofessional police conduct. He was shot by policemen from the anti-cultism unit during a raid in Lagos. Remo Stars FC’s assistant captain, Tiamiyu Kazeem, died at the hands of policemen from the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in Ogun State. The defender was driving with a teammate, Sanni Abubakar, and was flagged down by SARS officers, who later labelled Tiamiyu a “Yahoo Boy.” The officers insisted on taking the footballers to the station, even when they showed their identity cards to prove their profession. On the way to the station, the officers allegedly pushed Tiamiyu out of the moving vehicle for questioning them over the route they were taking to the station. He was hit by an oncoming vehicle and was certified dead at the hospital. There are legions of other cases.
We are talking about Floyd’s case and only seeing racism, but, if the incident were to happen in Nigeria, it could have produced the same result. Here, when people make reports at the police station, the officers tend to believe everything so reported. Investigations are seldom carried out before conclusions are reached. By the way the police and other security agencies act, the accused is presumed guilty until proved innocent. The story of people who approach the police first is believed, while the accused is seen as guilty and treated so. The accused is arrested and treated like common criminal, even in civil cases, only to be cleared later, without any effort to correct the earlier impression.
Good a thing, the police and other security agencies are no longer taking unprofessional conduct of officers lightly, as has been seen in some cases. However, there is need for reorientation of security officers. That a security officer has a weapon is not a licence to intimidate, molest or kill. Security work could still be done with nicety and the same result achieved. The conduct or misconduct of security officers will account for the respect they get from people and the society.
As the world mourns Floyd, we in Nigeria should look at our system and address the things that could make security officers to engage in undue brutality and extrajudicial killings. For the people, my advise is this: Respect and obey officers of the law. As the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, first president-general of Nigeria, once said: Only a fool will argue with a man with the gun.