Attempts by any ordinary Nigerian to justify Lagos State Police Commissioner Hakeem Odumosu’s conduct at the Brooks Estate, Magodo on Saturday are unfortunate, in my opinion.
The statement issued by the Police Public Relations Officer for the Lagos Command, CSP Adekunle Ajisebutu, is understandable. He has got a job to do and he must deliver. But for anyone who does not belong to the police to exonerate the commissioner of complicity in the ensuing fiasco is double jeopardy for the office of the Nigerian citizen, which Odumosu had wantonly violated, originally.
This point is not to conclude that security men hired by residents to maintain security at the estate may not have overreached. The truth is that the uniform does something to the average Nigerian. Like some opium that takes people to a level of inebriation, they may not even have imagined, any form of uniform is an intoxicant for many Nigerians. It doesn’t matter whether they are soldiers, policemen, customs officials, members of the civil defence corps, or neighbourhood watch, the uniform just gets into the heads of otherwise humane and reasonable people in this country. Given his education, experience, and high office, this is what one would have expected Odumosu to understand if he faced overzealousness, irritation, or even disrespect from the un-commissioned security personnel at this estate gate. Unfortunately, the man who should have set an example by displaying understanding and humility is the same one who suddenly lost his cool in the face of provocation. He has become the latest and most potent example of the intoxicating powers of the uniform. Someone said that the most significant test of leadership is the ability to restrain and not unleash the full force of one’s capabilities at the height of provocation; this is the essence of leadership. And it is where this accomplished officer dropped the ball.
There is another way Nigeria could have avoided this spectacle. And again, it’s in the court of the police chief and his aides. The protocol for most Very Important Personalities is deploying an advance party to places they plan to visit. This advance party, which usually comprises security and protocol aides of the VIPs, would arrive at the venue ahead of the scheduled visit, meet with whoever oversees the event, and, almost always, secure seats for their principal. Even the President/Commander in Chief of Nigeria’s Armed Forces, Vice President, and Inspector General of Police practise this protocol. This fact is evident even on the streets when these personalities visit Lagos. So, does the Lagos police commissioner have this protocol? If so, was the protocol deployed on this day?
The event of that day indicates that this may not have happened. And the non-observance of that protocol can only be due to one of two things. The first is that someone in the office of the commissioner was negligent, failing or refusing to do the needful before his boss set out for that apparently “all-important assignment.” The second possibility is that the Commissioner of Police and his aides just took it for granted that their paraphernalia of office and uniforms gave them the licence to go anywhere of their choice at any time.
This position would imply being a police commissioner means the office holder can trample on the rights of ordinary citizens at his pleasure and for no other cause than being the chief of police in the state! Even though this mentality aligns with the godlike mindset that uniforms, arms, and ammunition inflict on those who enforce the law in Nigeria, it is untrue as it is unacceptable in a democracy. We shall return to this point shortly.
The logic thereof is that if these men of power fail to observe their protocol, they will disregard all other procedures set up by people they consider to be beneath the commissioner’s office, as in the case of the occupants of the Brooks Estate. For example, do ordinary citizens who visit the Brooks Estate wait for an eternity before gaining entry? This is not likely the case since there haven’t been reports of such incidents being reported. If ordinary citizens do not suffer the fate Odumosu and his men suffered on that day, the only reason would be that citizens observe the essential requirement of getting residents to alert the men at the gate about their guests and after that, grant access.
Let us now assume, without conceding, that Odumosu and other public officers have unrestricted access to all facilities in Nigeria. Where is the place for humility and leading by example? As chief law enforcement officer in the state, Odumosu would have gained so much by abiding by the regulations of this residence and then proving his point later. This is more so in a country where police officers have acquired notoriety for violating the rights of citizens. Simply obeying the process put in place by residents of this estate would have shown that nobody is above the law. It would also be a check for policemen who imagine themselves to be superhuman on the strength of their uniforms. What Mr Odumosu did on Saturday was to set a precedent for citizens and police officers alike to flout regulations that people have put in place to maintain order in their environment.
It is unfortunate that this would happen on the watch of a man whose establishment cannot provide all-around security for citizens. If Nigeria were as secure and security-conscious as every modern society should be, residences like Brooks Estate would, most certainly, not need to put these stringent security measures in place. But the inability of the authorities to make people feel safe and secure in their country has turned everyone into emergency security experts, justifiably seeking nothing but the safety of their families and environment. Nigeria is the same country where most people are poor and hungry, where over 13 million children of school age roam the streets, and life becomes an increasing dilemma daily. Instead of the police chief being sober about the s failures, appreciating and encouraging these private efforts that make his job easier, he is throwing his weight around, allegedly arresting citizens indiscriminately. All of this because of a delayed meeting with a “strategic partner” (who could have given prior notice to the gate).
Now, is it correct to say that the Commissioner can enter any premises because he holds that office? Is it true that no facility can be private as far as the police chief is concerned? I do not think so.
Regardless of what any other law might suggest, Section 37 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999, as amended) says: “the privacy of citizens, their homes, correspondence, telephone conversations, and telegraphic communications is hereby guaranteed and protected.” No person, not even the President of Nigeria, could attempt to force himself into any premises, especially when no crime is being committed (as in the case of the police).
Ajisebutu’s statement went on about how Odumosu recently became an AIG due to his hard work and all. While one congratulates the AIG on his promotion and expresses gratitude for his service to the country, it must remain clear that he attained this professional height at the pleasure of Nigerian citizens. Men and officers of the law enforcement and security agencies in Nigeria must now perish the thought that law-abiding Nigerians are subservient to them. This megalomaniac complex is behind the constant harassment of people and misuse of office, which was evident in the arrest of people performing a legitimate duty on Saturday. The commissioner even allegedly ordered the arrest of a woman and her three children for daring to intervene! What would Odumosu have done if he had been slapped in the face by a citizen like French President Emmanuel Macron experienced last year? We would most likely be talking about dead bodies!
The most unnerving indication of the total disrespect for the rights of Nigerians is, however, the silence from quarters that are superior to the newly promoted AIG. By now, he should be answering queries for not just abusing his office and trampling on the rights of Nigerians but also bringing the Police Force into this level of disrepute. It is a sad irony that the man who should caution his subordinates and pacify citizens, who may have gotten the short end of justice from policemen, is the same who must now justify the misuse of power. Why would an officer of the Special Fraud Unit not seize a reporter’s office instruments and refuse to release them for days when his boss can order the arrest of anyone who purported to have humiliated him?
This attitude also explains why everyone, from airlines (which reschedule and delay flights for hours on end), to telecommunication companies and hospitals, treats Nigerians like second-class citizens in their own country. It is the sign of a country where leadership has fallen into the hands of power mongers without any idea of what service means. It is why Nigeria is falling and failing progressively, and the people remain pawns in the hands of the charlatans in power.
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