For the Nigeria Police Force whose officers and men suffered huge fatalities, humiliation and wanton destruction of police stations in recent times, nothing could be more ludicrous as the recent directive of the Inspector- General, Muhammed Adamu, that officers should shoot when their life is in danger. In his morale-boosting visit to the Ebonyi State Police Command recently, Adamu told the officers and men: “When your life is danger, use your firearm.
You are not meant to kill but to maim. Shoot the suspect on the leg not on the heart.” While this might seem an effort to embolden the policemen whose morale has ebbed precariously in the wake of the hijacked #EndSARS protests that claimed about 73 lives, including 22 policemen and destroyed many critical security formations across the country, we believe that such order was unnecessary, having been enshrined in extant orders of the Nigeria Police Force.
Commendable enough, Adamu’s statement typified that of police boss who struggled to display regard for human rights and professionalism, while building on gradual return of orderliness in the nation after the riots. It is, however, noteworthy to state that use of force and firearms are last resort, a recourse only after all proportional means must have been exhausted.
For instance, the police officers are not ignorant of the combination of the United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, the fundamental human rights enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution and the Nigeria Police Force Order 237 which served as operational manual on the use of force and firearms. For the avoidance of doubt, through the ages, various philosophers have argued that self-preservation, protection of oneself from harm and destruction is the first law of nature.
This has become more relevant when policeman must be alive to protect others in the discharge of their professional duties. Needless to say, Nigeria has a disproportionate number of criminals in the country, as bandits, kidnappers, armed robbers, arsonists and murderers have recently displayed some forms of daringdo, temerity and braggadocio almost turning a nation governed by laws to a banana republic devoid of law and order.
The incineration of police stations, depletion of police armoury, looting of police arms, ammunition, uniforms and accoutrements, while policemen were forced to scamper for safety from irate youths in the name of protests smacks of criminality and it is unacceptable. Some of these weapons today have become tools in the hands of criminal elements unabashedly torment the society.
Peaceful protests are constitutionally acceptable measures of drawing government attention to unpopular policies and practices, as was seen in countries like the United States of America, Belarus, India and others this year alone, but devoid of killing of policemen or anyone for that matter, looting of armoury and sundry action which amount to crass criminality. Sadly, this hijack of the protests left in its wake, widows robbed of their husbands and flung into single parenting in the most gruesome manner, and children denied of fatherly care with the possibility of developing a warp impression of a country ungrateful for the service of their fathers.
Equally so, up till today, some wounded police officers are yet to fully recuperate from various degrees of injuries sustained during the protest. Similarly, thousands of other policemen are yet to recover from the vestiges of the incident, low morale, fear and apprehension over their safety on the job. Without obfuscating the concerns of police boss whose officers and men are yet encumbered by poor funding, inadequate weapons, personnel and character deficit, we hasten to warn that policemen should tread on the path of caution in the use of their weapons.
Police officers must learn from the factors which precipitated the protest and avoid transferring their animosity and aggression towards innocent Nigerians in the course of discharging their duties of protecting lives and property. All extant laws frown at indiscriminate use of lethal weapons and incivility to members of the public, but recommend physical efforts to dissuade, control and restrain suspect who resists arrest to ensure he faced the law. Such suspects can be immobilized or incapacitated, but shooting at mass is the last resort, permissible only when a felon aimed to kill a police officer or other citizen.
The recent uprising against the police, the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) for human rights violation and unprofessional conduct should engender significant improvement in police method of operations in all police formations and departments, anti-fraud, antirape, anti-riot inclusive.
The obnoxious era of ‘kill and go’ should be left where it belongs – relic of history and Nigeria Police must witness gradual regeneration and intelligence-led policing. The on-going police reforms, unlike the previous ones, must be implemented, giving them better salary, conditions of service and pension befitting of a nation committed to systematic development.