RE: Lagos State judicial panel of enquiry and restitution for victims of SARS-related abuses (1)

(An address to Chief Taiwo Lakanu)

Before I proceed further, I must congratulate you on your well-deserved appointment to serve on the panel of enquiry and restitution for victims of SARS-related abuses. As a thoroughbred Lagosian, you know only too well what a joyful feeling it is to savour the great strides of those coming behind us and in the fullness of time surpass our own modest achievements.

You should grant me the indulgence to quote the great American philosopher Edmund Burke [1729 – 1797]

“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.”

Regardless, my humble contribution is rooted in historical context going back to 1953 when at the age of nine, I was conscious for the first time of what the police stood for – to preserve life and property by preventing, detecting and punishing crime. This was further circumscribed by the sanctity of life. In this endeavour, the police were critical a component of the supply/value chain in the delivery of justice with the judiciary at the apex.

we must decisively deal with the very serious issues being raised by our youth who can see their future going up in flames. They have so far been peaceful and unarmed. The prospect of their becoming armed is truly frightening

It was in 1953 that the Apalara murder case severely jolted Lagosians. The police swung into action with superlative detective work and thorough investigation. Swiftly, the culprits were apprehended and the trial commenced in earnest. The lawyers for the defence jousted with the Director of Public Prosecutions – C.O. Madarikan while the judge (an expatriate……) sat majestically in full view of all those who had come to witness confirmation that: Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done. This was at the St. Anna Court. There were no tardy delays or frivolous adjournments. When the guilty verdict was delivered, what prevailed was pin-drop silence; the shock and awe were somewhat deferred. The police were duly commended and their share of the triumph was properly acknowledged.

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The Appeal process commenced shortly thereafter. Again, the wheel of justice swung into action and matters were concluded expeditiously. The penalty for murder was death by hanging.

As confirmation that this was not a fluke, shortly after in 1955, it was a musician Israel Njemanze who had just vacated the stage (or bandstand) where he had been doling out pulsating music who was ambushed and slaughtered close to the railway line.

This time, the prosecutor was Sigismund Lambo. To cut a long story short, the police did their work with consummate zeal and diligence and the verdict of guilty was consistent with the evidence before the court. It went before the Appeal judge and it was duly upheld. Again, the credit went to the police for doing excellent footwork to bring the culprits to book.

Inevitably, the drama that engulfed the two murder cases delivered its own unique mythology which still lingers: “Jegede (one of the accused, and treasurer of Njemanze’s band) tabi o sun niwaju adajo?”

Translation: “Jegede, are you asleep in the presence of the judge?”

Actually, it was meant to jolt the accused:

“Are you sleeping while your fate is being determined?”

Obliquely, the same question is what we are dealing with right now (with modification in a different context). To frame the question differently:

“Are we sleeping in the presence of the retired judge who is the chairman of the panel?”

It is not only the fate of the police that is at stake. Rather, it is the survival of our civilisation. I can only speak for Lagos as I have not been mandated by any other part of our beloved country to speak on their behalf.

But we must ask ourselves some tough questions and demand frank answers. Have we not left it too late? Were we sleeping when Alhaji Nuhu Aliyu who had retired as Deputy Inspector General of Police before winning election into the Senate, in his maiden address declared in consternation?

“Some of those people I detained for ‘419’ fraud, drug trafficking; armed robbery etc. when I was in charge of Alagbon Police Station here!!”

We were all sleeping when Alhaji Musiliu Smith, a former Inspector-General of Police in his address at the National Assembly disclosed that policemen in Lagos had nowhere to live. The situation had become so dire that some of them were forced to take shelter as guests or tenants of gangsters and drug lords.

We have been compelled by bitter experience to learn from history and we must align whatever action we contemplate with what we did (or did not do) when we were faced with similar circumstances in the past.

For the sake of clarity, let us itemise what we are confronted with:

i.) Loss of lives at Lekki Tollgate. Soldiers opened fire on unarmed protesters.

ii.) Thugs and miscreants hijacked what had hitherto been a peaceful protest. Professor J.T.K Duncan (ex-King’s College; ex-University of Oxford; and University of Cambridge) at close to the age of 90 was filmed along with his children, their spouses and grandchildren amidst the protesters. (I disagree with the narrative that thugs and miscreants hijacked the protest. The thugs and miscreants had their own agenda and executed it saying they hijacked the protests suggesting the protest became the violent destruction and carnage that the thugs and miscreants visited on the City.)

iii.) The protesters have submitted their demand: “Five Plus Five”

iv.) What looms in the horizon is breakdown of law and order which could rapidly deteriorate into civil unrest/civil war along ethnic or religious lines. (Another valid point why the protest should not be used interchangeably with the violence that ensued as a result of shooting at unarmed, harmless protesters)

That is why we have to be exceptionally careful with regard to our utterances and/or actions.

Let us a flashback to 1966 when Nigeria suffered its first bloody coup d’état. The new Head of State, General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi prevaricate over the court-martial of the coup plotters thereby paving the way for an even bloodier counter-coup which brought 32-year-old Colonel Yakubu “Jack” Gowon into power. The nation was without a leader for three days and our country was on the verge of breaking up. Miraculously, we survived the civil war that lasted from 1967 to 1970. What lessons have we learnt? We must not forget that the civil war actually started as “police action” against the rebels.

Again, in our moment of crisis, we are compelled to remember that it was the military that arrested Mohammad Yusuf, the leader of Boko Haram and handed him over to the police. He died in police custody. It was the failure to arrest and discipline the policemen/women who killed him that led to the fierce outrage by his followers. Both ISIS and Al Quaeda quickly joined them in fuelling the insurgency that has been raging for over ten years.

More recently, it turned out that the kingpin of kidnapping in Taraba State; Alhaji Hamisu Bala Wadume, was under the protection of a Lt-Colonel in the Nigerian Army.

It was while he was under police escort that he was allegedly released by soldiers.

In essence, we cannot afford to be tardy in identifying and disciplining all those SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad) officers and men who are guilty of serious crimes especially extra-judicial killings.

Simultaneously, we must decisively deal with the very serious issues being raised by our youth who can see their future going up in flames. They have so far been peaceful and unarmed. The prospect of their becoming armed is truly frightening. Are we ready for a shoot-out between them and the police and/or soldiers?

The matters with which we are confronted have acquired international dimensions and the searchlight is being beamed on our beloved but vulnerable nation.

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