THANKS to a viral video by a concerned Nigerian, millions of people viewed the venom with which three policemen descended on an unarmed commercial motorcycle, okada, rider. A stray goat, that damaged a society’s essential items, could have been less punished.
Etched in the minds of many were the beatings, the lone young man’s attempt to stop the impoundment of his source of livelihood, against three men armed with a gun, a baton, and a long stick – an illegal weapon – that policemen issue to themselves.
The final moment was to come. With his futile struggles, the un-named okada rider seemed unaware of the depths of the drubbing he had taken. They hit him when it dawned on him that one of his tormentors had taken the motorcycle away.
Hands he had used to protect his face from damage gave way – he was drenched in blood that was gushing from his head.
In one more grasp of mindless pursuit, he ran after the two fleeing policemen who commandeered a tricycle to execute their escape. His feet were no match for their harried departure.
The victim rode his motorcycle in a restricted area. It was a punishable offence. Nothing in the endless laws to rein in Lagos’ lawlessness suggests that anyone should be beaten for resisting arrest of himself or his motorcycle. He was not armed. He had no chance against the three policemen.
Why did they have to de-humanise him? Why batter him without a care whether he lived or died from an offence that did not merit a death sentence? Are the police entitled to kill for an offence, where the suspect did not pose any danger to the police?
Most who watched that video shared the same emotional torment. They could not sleep. Their minds were debating whether the police in the video were human. And if the okada rider was listed as sub-human to deserve that beating.
Police brutality strips us of our humanity in ways that strike deeply if you witness it as a front seat spectator. The police leave one wondering if their training includes sessions in the pleasures of brutalising people, especially the weak, the voiceless, those they regard as nobody.
If they could deploy such violence against a lone young man, in broad daylight, in the presence of many witnesses, do we need to guess what it could have been at night or on a lonely road? Nothing has been done to deduct these inhuman habits from our policing.
The EndSARS protests were about police brutality. In fact, most of our uniformed organisations delight in proving that their uniforms are gateways to humiliate members of the public. The cases are countless, just as there are un-numbered instances of the authorities doing nothing, absolutely nothing, about offending officers.
The Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Idowu Owohunwa, on Thursday, visited the victim, according to an official statement of the Lagos State Police Command. “CP Idowu Owohunwa today visited the young man involved in this incident and members/leadership of Hausa community in Abattoir Market, Agege.
“The CP, who condemned the excessive use of force by the policemen in enforcing the existing ban on use of motorcycles in certain parts of Lagos State, has assured members of the public that the disciplinary measures already initiated against the men would be brought to a logical conclusion and the outcome made public.”
Could the fear of retaliations from the community have been the motivation for the CP to leave the comfort of his exalted office to Agege in unexpected haste?
Did the victimised young man file a petition? Unlikely. The police must have panicked on realising that the young man was somebody, he was not alone. He had a community. He was a human being.
Part of his community was the video recorder who may not abe a member of the Hausa community at the abattoir in Agege. The video recorder’s concern has served humanity well by pushing an issue the authorities deny to public glare.
CP’s hurried trip to Agege was a momentary dousing of a raging inferno. What has the Lagos Command done about other cases that are resting in files? Some of these cases have been there for years.
Does the Inspector-General of Police realise that police brutality is a growing national enterprise that deserves more embracing solutions than the pervading practice of reacting, depending on who was involved? He cannot join the pretence that the Abule-Egba incident is isolated or that Lagos alone has these challenges.
The mutual resentment between the police and the public cannot be resolved by practices that are devoid of humaneness. The victim stood there as CP Owohunwa addressed the community. A plaster on his forehead identified him.
Has he got proper medical care? Was his head scanned to evaluate possible damages? Did the police care about the consequences of the hitting of the head, years after we would have forgotten the incident?
A mumbo-jumbo that concluded the statement tells the position of the police. “The Command will continue to ensure that the rule of law is upheld, while not relenting in enforcing the laws of the land.” What rule of law or extra-judicial laws? Who would miss the threat in that line?
But the police were not always like that. I and John Ebhota, a photo journalist, were beneficiaries of police care years ago, when none of those in the police today was in service. On our way from a boxing bout that ended after mid-night at the National Stadium, we were trekking home, just two of us when a police vehicle stopped.
An officer asked why we were about at that hour. We told him. He asked us to hop into their vehicle. They dropped us off at our bus stop and wished us good night.
This was in 1979. We can see how much progress we have made in 44 years. Even the boxing that took us to the stadium, which was a month affair, no longer holds.
One major lesson from the Abule-Egba brutality is that doing nothing about the lawlessness of security agencies is not an option. The authorities have a lot to do to check the excesses of those they employ to protect us.
If all that the Abule-Egba incident achieves is that the CP instructs his men to be careful with the Hausa community, hopefully not only in abattoir, Agege, then there would be less people to brutalise and more hope that the police can be weaned of their huge appetite to batter those they should protect.