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Beyond the police human rights desk

Posted by Guardian on 2006/06/24 | Views: 318 |

Beyond the police human rights desk


The launch, recently, of the Human Rights Desk in the Lagos State Command by the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Sunday Ehindero, is quite a good idea. For too long, the Nigeria Police have been perceived in negative light by the citizenry, and not without good reason.

The launch, recently, of the Human Rights Desk in the Lagos State Command by the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Sunday Ehindero, is quite a good idea. For too long, the Nigeria Police have been perceived in negative light by the citizenry, and not without good reason.

Contrary to its own slogan that the police is a friend, the experience of average Nigerians with policemen is one of brazen use of "force" and willful misuse of the authority and power conferred by the uniform. In this regard, arbitrariness, extortion, and extra legal killings top the long list of complaints that the public holds against this most visible arm of law enforcement. In truth, this organisation is in urgent need of redemption - of its reputation and its image.

The constitution empowers the president or any minister of his choice to give to the Inspector-General such lawful directions with respect to the maintenance and securing of public safety and public order as he may consider necessary..." It similarly empowers a state governor to so instruct the state commissioner of police but subject to the approval of the president or the relevant minister.

For a president, governor or minister committed to the "purpose of good government and welfare of all persons in our country on the principles of Freedom, Equality and Justice..." , the electorate would reasonably expect firstly, that the police would receive at all times only "lawful directions" that patently further "public safety and public order and secondly, that arising therefrom, the police should have little difficulty performing their duty with the utmost professionalism".

We regret to say that this has not exactly been the case in the past seven years of this administration. The Nigeria Police, too often issued unlawful directives, generally performed their role in the most unprofessional manner, offering themselves as a willing tool in the hands of undemocratic-minded persons and as an ignoble agent in the desecration of the Constitution.

At the launch of the Human Rights Desk in Lagos, the Inspector General made the apposite comment that "all the shackles of arbitrary actions that are not founded on the principles of the rule of law have become aberrations of the system". Unfortunately, the activities of his men completely belie this. Citizens are arrested, detained and even murdered with impunity, hard-earned money is extorted from commercial vehicle operators, and often, on the claim of "instructions from above", Nigerians' right to free assembly has been repeatedly abridged by the police. Furthermore, some of his men have committed despicable acts including robbery and serving as hired guns to intimidate opponents or escort contraband goods.

Against this background, we cannot but support any effort at self-redemption by the officers and men of the Nigeria Police. A reflective Ehindero rightly acknowledges that "society is dynamic and the art of policing cannot be an exception". This is a courageous admission that all is not well with the conduct of his men, especially in the present democratic setting. Mr. Ehindero was absolutely on course when he affirmed that policing in the present dispensation must be guided by adherence to the three principles of the rule of law, constitutionalism and human rights. So it is in modern societies and ours should not be different.

Indeed, coming from the highest level of the police, these observations are encouraging. To assure that the Police Human Rights Desk is here to stay, 34 policemen are already undergoing training for the pilot project. This idea should not be allowed to suffer the fate of earlier efforts such as the "police is your friend" campaign that amounted to no more than hollow sloganeering. If the Inspector General's laudable idea is to take root in the heart and mind of our policemen, it must be approached in its many dimensions.

First, Human Rights together with the Constitution should be taught as a compulsory subject in police colleges. From this level, officers and men will, learn and hopefully, begin to imbibe the culture of constitutionalism and human rights espoused by Inspector General Ehindero.

Second, a wholesale re-orientation of the officers and men of the Nigeria Police toward respect for the rule of law is called for. A civil society group is reported to periodically run short programmes to teach law enforcement officers the basic constitutional provisions. The police project stands to benefit from such a programme.

Third, it would be self-defeating for victims are to report to the police such human rights abuses as may be committed by policemen. Surely, the cause of justice is not likely to be served thereby.

Arising from its day-to-day contact with the people, the Nigeria Police has woefully failed to earn the trust of Nigerians as friend and protector. Therefore, if average Nigerians, commonly the victims of human rights abuse, are to actively and without fear participate in this project, then the human rights desk must not only be located away from police stations but be manned by trained lawyers who are not members of the force. We trust that, if assured of their safety, long-suffering Nigerians would cooperate to make this project a success.

Most men in the Nigeria Police are not exactly ignorant of the human rights conferred on the citizenry - including themselves - by the laws of the land. Indeed, under two lawyer-I-Gs, the police have been most brazen.

Even as we do not seek to justify their multifarious misdemeanor, it is clear that our policemen are themselves victims of a brutalisation of sorts. Everywhere in the world, the police are the citizens' first point of call in search of legal remedy, it is the state's first line of defence against breaches of the law and it is the government's primary instrument to maintain law and order. For these reasons, among others, the police earn and are accorded respect by the government and the people. Policemen receive decent pay and are generally well equipped to serve as confident and proud officers of the law. Sadly, it is not so here.

Poorly paid, and not even as and when due, poorly kitted and poorly motivated, often used to perpetrate illegalities by their government-employer, our "men in black" are thus denied the physical, emotional and psychological conditions appropriate for their role as friends and confidants of the people. Covered by the uniform of state authority, they visit violence with impunity, upon a defenceless public. If we are to derive the just and maximum benefits from the force, government must change its attitude to matters that affect the organisation. It must take the lead to empower our policemen materially and psychologically to do their duty; only then can we honestly demand the highest standards of professional conduct.

There is so much to do beyond the establishment of human rights desks. We urge the Inspector General to devote part of his energy to effecting a holistic and systemic cleansing of the force.

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Fay(Katy, Texas, US)says...

Actually translates to bravehearted.