“When you have police officers who abuse citizens, you erode public confidence in law enforcement…”— Mary Frances Berry.
When news filtered in that the Ogun State Police Command had issued a shoot- at-sight order on suspected armed cultists and ritualists in the state, I had to double check to be sure I had heard right and to my relief, there was nothing wrong with my sense of hearing as it turned out that the Commissioner of police in that state, Abdulmajid Ali, did indeed order his men to kill ‘suspects’.
Just like every right thinking member of the society, I am positive that I am not the only person in shock over the absurdity of this order. The question on our lips should be: why would such an order come from a Commissioner of police at this particular point in time when our military is still enmeshed in the alleged brutality claims by Amnesty International and the Inspector General of Police is doing his best possible to change the public perception about the Nigerian Police?
This is a democratic dispensation where the constitution still reigns supreme, at least on paper, and how on earth could a man tasked by law to maintain public peace and order be the one seeking to throw the state into what Thomas Hobbes described with the Latin phrase as ‘bellum omnium contra omnes’ (meaning war of all against all).
In the works of the political scientist, A.V. Dicey, on the Rule of Law, he described the rule law as “ the legal principle that law should govern a nation, as opposed to being governed by arbitrary decisions of individual government officials”, someone like Abdulmajid Ali. The rule of law primarily refers to “the influence and authority of law within society, particularly as a constraint upon behaviour, including behaviour of government officials.”
The particular aspect I hold supreme in his definition and the one I think the CP should have consulted, is the one that talks about ‘the right to a fair trial and the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court of law’. Breaking it down for the Commissioner of Police, it simply means that those ‘armed cultists and ritualists’ remain innocent until they have been arrested, prosecuted and found guilty by a court of law. In a nut shell, the CP has just given his men the go-ahead to kill innocent people.
By also issuing the shoot-at-sight order, the Commissioner of Police in Ogun state has demonstrated that he lacks faith in the judicial system, thus the need for his men to rid the state of criminals at all cost.
While trying to justify the rationale behind the order, the CP said “the shoot-at-sight order will not amount to extra-judicial killing because the intention of armed criminals is either to kill or maim.”
Criminals and unwanted elements abound the world over and how will it look like if what every policeman does is shoot at them? So, once a suspected ritualist is caught with human parts in Ogun state, the next reasonable thing is to shoot him or her dead. No investigation. No need to find out about any accomplice(s), kill him/her on the spot and case closed. One less criminal. Many more accomplices out there.
There is a saying in Yoruba land that, ‘Ori bibe ko ni ogun ori fifo’ which literally translates as ‘cutting off the head is not the solution for headache’. One sometimes need to be is such a position as that of the CP to understand things. Cultism is indeed on the rise in Ogun state. From the Okada rider on the streets to the undergraduate sitting in class for lectures, everyone belongs to secret cult.
Oluwo area in Ogun state still remains a notorious place where cultists from different groups gather. These guys could be seen brandishing different colours of berets, looking menacing and ready to pick up a fight at any slight provocation. Many people have lost their lives as a result of clashes between rival cult groups in the state.
The various cases of ritualists in the state is also a major concern for anybody with human feelings. Recently, a corpse of a lady prostitute was dumped at Olomore in Abeokuta in what was suspected to be the handiwork of ritualists. And if things go unchecked, there might be more of such as Abeokuta is the new ‘Mecca’ for prostitutes.
But having said all that, the CP must have faith in the judicial system to help reduce criminal activities in his state. Criminals arrested, should be made to go through the normal process and their fate should be left at the mercy of the judge and not at the mouth of a gun barrel. All that is needed is for the police to come up with an airtight case against them.
The shoot-at-sight order is indeed a two-edged sword. It might put the fear of God in these criminal elements but it might also come back to hunt the Nigerian Police once there are cases of policemen killing suspects on the orders of the CP. No matter how passionate and eager the CP is about combating crime in Ogun state, he should remember that the rule of law does exist and Nigerians are watching. If care is not taking, he might end up turning his men to the same people he’s trying to fight. A word is enough for the wise.