The Nigeria Police culture of impunity appears to have assumed a befuddling dimension in the recent times. It has endured for so long, but the recent hues and cries about the constant harassment of journalists, as well as frontline medical personnel by the men of the force assigned to enforce the 8:00p.m to 6:00a.m curfew imposed by the Federal Government to contain the spread of the novel Coronavirus opened a new vista.
Under the new order, the highest Police Command can now decide to choose which directive of the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces to implement or modify for effectiveness. This, by implication, was exactly what the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, meant when he told the Police Commands not to exempt anybody, including workers on essential duties, when enforcing the ban on inter-state movements and the nationwide curfew.
President Muhammadu Buhari in his first his address to the nation on March 29, had exempted health workers, journalists, as well as the staff of telecommunication companies from the lockdown earlier imposed on Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory.
The president also gave the same exemption to the inter-state travel ban, as well as 8:00p.m to 6:00a.m curfew in his second national broadcast. But the IGP, disregarding the president’s directive, gave the zonal Assistant-Inspectors General of Police and state Commissioners of Police a counter-order not to exempt anyone during a virtual conference. This was confirmed by the Force spokesman, Frank Mba, in a statement on Tuesday, saying there would be strict enforcement of the curfew and inter-state movement restriction nationwide. And so his men just simply threw caution to the wind and subjected innocent journalists and health workers on duty to undue harassment.
Regrettably, unlike the normal confessional warfare, these are the foot-soldiers confronting the unseen enemy threatening the entire humanity – Coronavirus. They are the unsung heroes of the present times, who have had to lay down their lives for others live. Even as ill-equipped as they are, they go out of their ways, working extra hours late into the night, to rescue those already infected by the deadly virus and also enlightening the public on how to stay safe.
For the benefit of highsight, the press is the only profession in Nigeria with a clearly defined role in the constitution. Precisely, Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended entrusted the media with the power to monitor governance and uphold the fundamental objectives and directive of principles of state policy, as well as citizen’s fundamental human rights.
It is in furtherance of its corporate social responsibility that the Nigeria media have been in the forefront of public enlightenment campaigns against the dreaded disease, while also putting the governments at all levels on their toes in the containment efforts.
It is either that the Police Command deliberately feigned ignorance of this or preferred to demonstrate lack of sufficient education on the importance of the media at a critical time like this or both.
Worst of all, the Lagos State health sector was thrown into another round of crisis due to the irresponsible behaviour of some overzealous police officers, which forced the Nigeria Medical Association to declare a sit-at-home order in protest against the harassment meted out to its members.
Other than the grim figure of committed health workers who had been dispatched to their graves in their bid to save lives, medical personnel on duty also have several tales of untold stories of harassment in the hands of police officers on parade. The most disturbing one, according to the NMA, was the case of an ambulance conveying an injured patient, which was prevented from moving to its destination while the attending health-workers were harassed and temporarily detained by the police.
A statement signed by the Lagos State Chairman of the NMA, Dr Saliu Oseni and the Secretary, Dr Ramon Moronkola, reads in part: “As a direct result of the conflicting directives of the government and the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, the NMA was inundated yesterday (Tuesday, 19th of May, 2020) evening of several cases of harassment and intimidation of doctors and other health-workers by officers and men of the Lagos State Police Command.”
In a clime where there is appropriate channel for restitution, the police can only take responsibility for the carnage that is likely to result from the fresh industrial action embarked upon by the frontline health professionals.
Now that the matter has been resolved with the IGP eventual acknowledgement of the exemption, Adamu needs to call his men to order and possibly organize a tutorial for them on the culture of civility, as well as the damaging effects of extortion on the image of the police and the country as a whole.
The 59-year-old Mohammed Abubakar Adamu was appointed Inspector General of Police by President Muhammadu Buhari on January 15, 2019 to replace Ibrahim Kpotun Idris (rtd).
Before his appointment, he was an Assistant Inspector-General of Police in Benin City, Edo State and was responsible for the overall management and operations of the NPF Zone 5, comprising Bayelsa, Delta and Edo states police commands.
With his Bachelor’s degree (Hons) in Geography from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, as well as a master’s degree in International Criminal Justice System from the University of Portsmouth, England, Adamu has a good standing to make a difference in the operational culture of the police by way of re-orientation.
But some analysts believe his rich academic credential has not been brought to bear on the overall conduct of the police.