Lawlessness As Police Go AWOL

What made SARS exceptionally life threatening was that it operated under the cover of law, the Nigerian constitution.

Nigeria's Police Inspector-General , Mohammed Adamu / Photo credit: saharareporters.com
Nigeria's Police Inspector-General , Mohammed Adamu / Photo credit: saharareporters.com

It is very likely that the Nigeria may never heal if justice is not found for the victims of the shootings at the Lekki Toll Gate.

Dozens of questions arise from the commission of inquiry set up by the Lagos State government, especially when it comes to the culpability of the state government itself in the tragedy that befell many peaceful protesters.

There is also the question of the legal powers of the commission, whether it has the authority to summon military personnel and whether the commission will get the support of the federal government in the quest for answers on what happened on the night of October 20, 2020.

But while the search for justice could help heal the country, those events and their aftermath are leading to a different kind of danger.

First, the state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu appears unable to shake off the incident and get back to coordinating and securing the state.

Even worse than Snwo-Olu’s withdrawal, is that of the police.

In the last weeks of the total lockdown imposed on Lagos and Abuja due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Nigerians got a glimpse of what the country would look like in the breakdown of law and order.

Armed gangs started to roam the streets of Lagos because there had been a reduction of police presence.

Some of the gangs were identified as the One Million Boys.

It was never publicly acknowledged by the government, but there is no denying that part of the reason the government moved to lift the total lockdown in spite of the fact the COVID-19 cases had not been eliminated was because of the tension that was building up on the streets of Lagos.

Homes were been invaded by armed gangs stealing food and valuables of innocent victims.

And it was only a matter of time before turf wars and skirmishes broke out between rival gangs.

In October however, some of these restless youths would find a way to express their frustrations and rebel against the state.

And while all the looting went on, and stolen goods are being sold on the streets, missing in action has been the Nigerian police, the original targets of the protests

And this time, the destruction was far beyond what anyone could have imagined.

‘Areas boys’ in their hundreds in many parts of Lagos now dress in new clothes, new shoes, sunglasses, use new phones and offer to sell to willing buyers, brand new televisions and other household equipment.

Who could they possibly sell half a million luxury hand bag to?

Where did they get all these from?

The goods came from the hundreds of shops that were looted in the aftermath of the shootings at Lekki.

Entire malls and even a whole street of shops where luxury goods were sold were looted.

Now, not only businesses remain ruined, countless number of jobs will be lost.

Some store owners have taken to social media to lament their losses, how their lives have been ruined and how they are now in debt.

As good number of these businesses may never recover.

And while all the looting went on, and stolen goods are being sold on the streets, missing in action has been the Nigerian police, the original targets of the protests.

The EndSARS protests have shaken the Nigerians state in ways that not only threatened the government but also continue to threaten social order.

The police have deserted the streets of Lagos. There are no signs they plan to return any time soon.

The Inspector General of Police is struggling to come up with ways to protect his men from the wrath of the people, or is it the wrath of area boys.

Effectively, they have absconded from duty and the Police Service Commission too is doing nothing about it.

The PSC has even gone as far as refuting reports that it could dismiss some of the officers that have absconded from work.

It could be out of fear for their own lives considering they have been on the receiving end of mob justice.

There are videos circulating on social media of police officers or security personnel being lynched and decapitated by enraged mobs.

Some of the videos are too gruesome to watch.

Life for many people in Lagos has turned a full circle.

Weeks ago, the state was not only over policed, but it was run like a police state with law enforcement agents choking the freedom and life away from young people.

They were harassed by the police, tortured and even murdered by the very men who were supposed to protect them.

The reality is that the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), the police unit that triggered the protests and subsequent social unrest across the country had started going the way of some police units in the Central American country of Mexico.

The police there operate like an organised crime syndicate.

The difference between Nigeria and Mexico is that the protests that gripped Nigeria later transformed into community vengeance against the police

What made SARS exceptionally life threatening was that it operated under the cover of law, the Nigerian constitution.

And the kind of protests that took hold of Nigeria in the last few weeks are a common fixture in Mexico, where every couple of years, specific killings by the police spark community outrage with people trooping out to the streets.

But then nothing ever changes.

In part, it’s because the country has one of the most corrupt police forces in the world.

Police not only have ties to organised crime, they are also known to kidnap, torture and even kill citizens on behalf of mobsters.

The difference between Nigeria and Mexico is that the protests that gripped Nigeria later transformed into community vengeance against the police.

And with the police afraid of going back to work in Lagos, lawlessness reigns on the streets of Nigeria’s commercial capital.

The traffic situation in the state is also as bad as it has ever been and there appears to be no end in sight.

In the absence of a police force with low moral and broken spirits, a new order could emerge in Lagos.

It could start with vigilantes roaming in the streets in the name of protecting their neighbourhoods as it happened during the lockdown.

It will later evolve into rival gangs or vigilantes engaging in turf wars, and in the end, they will control the streets.

Every citizen will have to answer to mob rule, the rich and the poor.

While acceding to the demands of EndSARS protesters, President Muhammdu Buhari tried to show support for the police and the many security personnel who have lost their lives in the aftermath of the protests.

But he also has to hold to account, the many people officers who have committed human rights violations that has led to this sorry state.

That aspect has been left to state governments, but in the end the Nigerian Police Force can only be clean up by the president.

Then there is there need to hold to responsible for the shooting in Lekki to account and get justice for the victims.

Just as crucial however is getting the police back on the streets of Lagos.

Without that, anarchy, social disorder will take hold of the state, and sooner or later, it will spread to other states.

Written by Shuaib Shuaib

Shuaibu, a former Editor of the LEADERSHIP Newspapers, is based in Abuja.

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