On Saturday, March 25, 2017, The Guardian newspaper carried a report as a rider on its front page. The title was, “Zaki Biam: IGP briefs, absolves Fulani herdsmen.” As of the time the story was published, I remember that I had bought the paper but didn’t give the report much thought. I was mostly carried away with the photo of the newly inaugurated Ojota Bridge which was the cover photo that the newspaper published on this fateful day. I once lived and worked in Lagos, and part of the experience of commuting to and fro work was that I had to risk my life on that mechanical skeleton. Most of us preferred arrest by LASTMA to using that bridge for fear that it might give way and convey us to an untimely death.
But with the killing of 73 and more people in Benue and others in Nasarawa State over grazing cattle on people’s farms, I had to run right back to that publication and look at it closely again. On page 2 of that publication and to quote the words right out of the paper as credited to the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris. In briefing Mr. President (concerning the killings in Zaki Biam in Benue State) Idris said: “No, I don’t think it is Fulani herdsmen. It was an activity of a criminal who is using some of his criminal gangs in the state to harass people. That, I have assured the governor when I met with him a few days ago.” Continuing, the IGP said he told the President that “we are police officers. Crime has no tribe; if you are a criminal, you are a criminal; we don’t look at crime in the identity of where you are coming from (sic).”
I doubt the IGP on that last part. French biologist and writer, Jean Rostand (1894 – 1977), once said if you kill a man, you’re a murderer; kill millions of men, you are a conqueror; kill everyone, and you are a god. I do not understand which among the statuses arrogated to killing of innocent Nigerians it is that the Nigeria Police intends to subject Nigerians. In the recent case in Benin City, Edo State, a policeman seeking a bribe from an innocent Nigerian and perhaps seeking to establish the police as a good friend reportedly thrust the adamant young man he was haranguing in the direction of an oncoming truck. He was hit and his head was crushed by the truck. Then, there was the case of a media aide who issued a press release on behalf of his principal. Apparently, because the content of the press release did not urge Mr. President to vie for a second term, the police immediately declared the media aide a “wanted man”. That as far as most Nigerians are concerned established the Nigeria Police not as a friend but as a sycophantic body seeking the perpetuation of the tenure of Mr. President.
But it was in the Benue case that most Nigerians believe that there must be a sinister plan to kill millions of Nigerians ostensibly from a temperament of an emerging conquistador. Otherwise, how can anyone explain that an institution saddled with the task of protecting lives and property and which generally wants to be seen as a friend of the people stands with arms akimbo, askance as hundreds of people are murdered in broad daylight and in peace times? If perhaps the Nigeria Police would be reminded how its antics would compare to certain events in the past, let me refer it to an article in the archive of the Microsoft Premium Encyclopaedia 2009. In that article, reference was made to the fact that Babangida overthrew Muhammadu Buhari because of the increasingly dictatorial nature of the Buhari military regime. The article said that there was suppression of critical commentary and of various interest groups that had gone against the pluralistic structure of Nigeria and its people’s deep attachment to personal freedom. “Particularly unpopular had been the Buhari government’s Decree 4, which forbade publication of anything that might ridicule or denigrate government officials. The decree had shackled Nigeria’s vigorously independent, increasingly sophisticated press and led to the arrest of a number of prominent journalists. Also bitterly resented was Decree 2, which provided for the detention of any citizen deemed to constitute a security risk. Under this sweeping provision, the Nigerian Security Organisation was given a virtual blank cheque to arrest critics and dissidents. The regime further alienated the populace by banning all public discussions of the country’s political future. In addition, the coup was precipitated by the conservative economic policies of the Buhari regime, the article said.
I quite believe that the Nigeria Police has contributed more to demonising President Buhari than anyone else. If the President does not do something about the police, posterity will consign him to the dustbin of history as a second-time dictator. A certain US politician, Al Smith (1873 – 1944), once said you can cure all the ills which democracy brings by giving the people more democracy. Buhari can cure the police with more democracy.