Articles and Opinion

Police Brutality as a Threat to the Nigerian Democracy

The role of police is primarily to protect lives and property of all citizens. This is done through crime detection and apprehension of criminals. Nigerian police is a division under the executive arm of government that serves as an agent for the implementation of law. Before delving into the subject matter of the topic, it would be much appreciated to conceptually clarify the key terms and concepts inherent in the topic.

The police are a constituted body of persons empowered by a state to enforce the law, to ensure the safety, health and possessions of citizens, and to prevent crime and civil disorder. A police force may also be referred to as a police department, police service, constabulary, gendarmerie, and law enforcement agency. Police force have become seemingly ubiquitous in modern Nigeria. Nevertheless, their roles can be controversial as some are involved to varying degrees in corruption, police brutality, and the enforcement of authoritarian rule.

According to Emesowum Benedict, police brutality is legally defined as civil rights violation where officers exercise undue or excessive force against a civilian. This includes, but is not limited to physical or verbal harassment, physical or mental injury, property damage and death. Simply put, police brutality is improper use of lethal force or weapons by the police on civilians. Generally, police brutality is when the actions of the police is contrary to the provision of law that established them and the bureaucracy regulating their activities and notably when the act is tantamount to violating civil rights of citizens. Notable patterns of police brutality include; use of excessive physical force, threat of violence, human rights abuse, extra-judicial killings, arrest and detention by proxy, aiding and participating in crime, summary execution, interfering in civil matters.

Democracy is a form of government in which the people exercise the authority of government. It is important to state this widely known definition of democracy for better understanding. According to Abraham Lincoln, democracy is the government of the people by the people and for the people. It would be much appreciated to diverge briefly into the Nigerian Legal System. In the case of AMAECHI V. INDEPENDENT NATIONAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION & ORS (2008) LPELR-446(SC). The supreme court expound the principle of democracy as thus:

“Democracy’s world is rich and multifaceted. Democracy should not be viewed from a one dimensional vantage point. Democracy is multidimensional. It is based both on the centrality of laws and democratic values, and, at their center, human rights. Indeed, democracy is based on every individual’s enjoyment of rights of which even the majority cannot deny him simply because the power of the majority is in it hands. Roland Dworkin in A Bill of Rights for Britain 1990, Pages 35 - 36 stated:- ” …. true democracy is not just statistical democracy, in which anything, a majority or plurality wants is legitimate for that reason, but communal democracy, in which majority decision is legitimate only when it is a majority decision within a community of equals. That means not only that everyone must be allowed to participate in politics as an equal through the vote and though freedom of speech and protest, but that political decisions must treat everyone with equal concern and respect, that each individual person must be guaranteed fundamental civil and political rights no combination of other citizens can take away, no matter how numerous they are or how much they despise his or her race or morals or way of life.” Per Musdapher, J.S.C. (P. 104, Paras.A-G).

The topic of discussion “police brutality as a threat to the Nigerian democracy” can be expound to mean the possible effects of police brutality on the Nigerian democracy. In order to do justice to this topic, the major principles and aims of Nigerian democracy and democracy generally are to be identified.Generally, police brutality is a threat to the Nigerian democracy. However, it would be apt to stipulate the forms in which police brutality occurs and to divulge and bewray the threats each pose to the Nigerian democracy.

Democracy is an empowering type of regime because it empowers people to exercise personal and political rights. Popular rights constitute the first-order tool of democracy and serve as a major factor in measuring the effectiveness of Nigerian democracy. This rights are entrenched in the chapter 4 of the Nigerian Constitution. It includes; right to llife, right to personal liberty, freedom of speech, right to dignity of human person, right to private and family life and others. The police is an institutional feature of democracy that are instrumental to the functioning of the rights. Amusingly, the police are the ones who violate rights of citizens. Apparently, every form of police brutality such as; unlawful arrest and detention, physical and mental injury, excessive use of lethal force on civilians and others are directly in violation of fundamental human rights of citizens as guarded by the Constitution. Hence, police brutality is a major threat to Nigerian democracy. As of Wednesday 22nd of April 2020, premium times reported that a panel which comprised members of the National Human Rights Commission and Human Rights Law Services held a public hearing on police abuses in Nigeria where over 30 citizens shared their brutal experience with the police and revealed the way they were brutally treated.

Moreso, another foundational principles of democracy is the “popular sovereignty”. This implies that the ultimate power in a state resides with the people and this sovereignty is exercised by representatives elected by the majority. This subsequently gave birth to the “right to vote and be voted for” which is popularly known as “Franchise”. The police are saddled with the responsibility of maintaining peace and orderliness when the citizens exercise their ultimate power. Ironically, the police who are paid to maintain peace and avert violence during campaigns and the election are the ones unleashing violence on the citizens thereby posing a major threat to render Nigerian democracy ineffective in that aspect. SAHARA REPORTES, NEW YORK as of January, 6 2017 reported that six policemen were paraded by the police authorities for involvement in electoral malpractice during the preceding parliamentary re-run elections in Rivers State. The policemen through the illegal mechanism of police brutality took laws into their hands and opened fire causing panic in the crowd. They joined in storming port Hacourt city council Secretariat and prevented the movement of result to appropriate collation center designated by INEC.

Also, rule of law which can be defined as government bound to legal norms. The rule of law serve as the feature that make the defining feature of democracy, otherwise called popular rights effective. Police brutality is not bounded by any law and therefore is a threat to downturn Nigerian democracy and antecede anarchy in the society.

Furthermore, one other basic principle on which democracy was founded is the “Supremacy of law”. This implies that the law binds on all citizens including the rulers and that every actions and inactions of every one would be within the context of what the grundnorm generally known as the Constitution stipulates. However, police brutality is not established by any valid law in Nigeria thus brutal policemen act in contrary to the provision of the Constitution indirectly rendering them as being above the law. Thus, Nigerian democracy is exposed undoubtedly to major threat.

Police brutality in Nigeria is mostly triggered by the enforcement of authoritarian rule which is absolutely contrary to the whole concept of democracy. There are situation whereby policemen are deployed to enforce authoritarian decisions on the citizens. Obviously, police brutality in this situation is a major threat to disorganize and disrupt Nigerian democracy.

In conclusion, the above points have certainly established police brutality as a threat to Nigerian democracy which requires prompt attention from the concerned, both the individuals and the government have major roles to play in order to beat down the rate of police brutality on civilians in Nigeria.

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