State Power: Concerned or Callous

by L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu

For Nigeria, the constitution says, “all powers within the republic belong to the Nigerian people and they are exercise on behalf of the people shall be affected only under, and by the authority of, the constitution thereof”. It proceeds “this constitution is, as the solemn expression of the will of the people, the supreme law of the federal republic and if any other law is inconsistent with this Constitution that other law shall, to the extent of inconsistency, be void”.

But Nigeria’s crumbling state cannot be patched together overnight. For decades, Nigerian leaders neglected citizen participation in government and shunned economic liberalization. Instead, they nationalized the country’s oil industry to fund extravagant social spending while shielding the established business community behind convoluted regulations and weak rule of law.

But, practically, the managers of the Nigerian state, political or anti-political have hardly bothered to live up to the anti-torture pledges that the state is bound to. The coercive organs of the state hardly miss any opportunity to inflict physical torture on the citizens arrested on various grounds lawful and unlawful, while the situation gets worse when it comes to the political opponents of the incumbents. The physical torture or violence on the body in other words is being used as a means of control over the soul of the political opponents, with a view to making the dissident submit to the will of the authority political or otherwise. It appears as if the authority in Rivers has a self-styled political agenda of its own, by creating a wider space for the coercive agencies of the state to use violence, psychological and/or physical, against those that the authorities find unruly. State Power, which keeps the constitutionally guaranteed democratic rights of the citizens in abeyance, after all, on the contrary, provides the authorities a sense of impunity.

The number of allegations, explicit and implicit, published and unpublished, of custodial torture has increased significantly since the State Power was imposed over the residence despite the past restive incidence. The incumbents have allowed almost all the coercive agencies of the state to exercise physical violence against a large number of people, sometimes in the name of containing law and order, sometimes combating financial corruptions and sometimes in the name of disciplining politicians, generating a pervasive culture of fear.

Despots the world over have shown time and again that when men serve the interests of tyranny, their usefulness ends when tyranny reaches fruition; at which point they become expendable. And irrespective of what these people may believe, it will not be those who openly dissent who will be the first to be exterminated. History shows that the first to be exterminated under tyranny are those who helped the tyrant achieve absolute power. They alternate workable contribution to using men in military uniforms to cause harassment, havoc and atrocities.

The state where I reside had low democratic content and there was no pursuit of democracy either through practice. The success of a regime was to be measured by the quality of power exerted and not the quality of democracy. That is why in all good intentions, the quite unnecessary political interventions were carried out and the system was introduced both in what was considered the best interest of the state. In the absence of democracy the state machinery couldn’t t become competent enough to protect the government and a new non-democratic force overwhelmed the foundational regime in Nigeria essentially weakening the democratic framework in general.

In fact, some top officers and those Nigerians who head government not only gave orders and expected obedience but they reaped the spoils of power. They greatly benefited from the state’s grossly unequal redistribution of land with which they sought to establish themselves as a new class of planters. It is true, however, that the attempt to restore the plantation system as not completely self-serving; it responded also to a question of survival, of generating the resources for a strong military with which to defend Nigeria’s democracy against the potential aggression of the politically drunk powers-holders of the time.

A deep-rooted political antagonism stands in the way of fostering democracy in a country where people in general are all for democracy. But unfortunately, our politics in recent years has evolved into a highly confrontational affair instead of being constructive engagement that could give democracy an institutional shape. It is more like opposition for opposition’s sake than ideological conflict. It is more a conflict over a desperate bid to assume power and run the government. Such political culture resulted in an unhealthy competition and confrontational relations between the winning and losing parties.

In each of these instances, initial police reaction has been to justify the actions of police officers. After long periods of stalling, details trickle forth pointing to police misconduct to include police brutality, excessive use of force, and misuse of the badge. And these incidents are but a representative sampling of incidents that have occurred; they are by no means the majority of incidents or isolated incidents in scope or nature.

Law enforcement uses the rising level of violence as justification for “use of force” procedures. What many people are not aware of is that law enforcement personnel are, on a systematic and on-going basis, being subjected to training that promotes the police state or swat team mentality that many law enforcement officers display; a war zone attitude of “us vs. them” — a perspective that promotes police brutality, misuse of the badge and criminal conduct with the knowledge and full support of more ranking personnel.

It seems that there are inter-connected, overlapping and inter-dependent groups that exist within the physical space but are not part of one cohesive whole as defined in modernist terms of the nation state. What could make this sort of discordance harmonious is, of course, functional democracy but in Nigeria, there is no sign that we are actively seeking that. Elections have replaced systemic and governmental democracy which is why our elections get better and better with each one held and the governance declines in equal measure between elections. It reaches a point where internal democracy within political parties is resisted by party members and the army emerges as a successful political partner in the never-ending sequence of governing coalitions.

What is missing from police training is that philosophy which promotes freedom — that officers serve the public not the state. When one understands systems philosophy, the type of governance Nigeria is quietly being transformed to; one understands that the government is no longer there to serve the people but to be served by the people. Law enforcement is no exception. The job of law enforcement is not to uphold the law but to uphold the state and that which augments statistic control and power. Because accountability under systems philosophy is not to the people but to the system, police misconduct is, in most cases, ignored. If the public outcry demands accountability, disciplinary action is long in coming and short on corrective action.

As with all other aspects of the “democracy” being implemented (rule according to the passions, opinions and prejudices of those in power), rule is by the majority with the rights of the minority at the whim of the majority (or those in power). Such a specious governance system is as short in its life as it is violent in its death.

When people justified the police brutality by claiming these were people who had “extreme” moral beliefs. These same people would do well to consider that their own moral beliefs could also be determined to be “extreme&

#8221; at some point. Those who are willing to sacrifice the sheep at the edge of the flock to the wolves by virtue of the fact that those sheep believe differently then they do, will soon face the wolves themselves, and wolves are not only vicious but non-discriminating in their choice of which sheep to eat; eventually they eat them all.

That which serves to suppress the rights of some serves to suppress the rights of all. People who believe that police misconduct is only served on others are deluding themselves. And people who act to suppress the rights of others serve, in the end, to suppress their own rights.

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