The Nigerian police have taken a lot of flak for their botched attempt to humble Speaker Aminu Waziri Tambuwal. There has been a consensus of outrage about the abysmal hostility they exhibited in their siege of the National Assembly. Everyone, including the ruling PDP, has managed to contribute a critique that is both familiar and unique, but quite celebratory of possessed anger.
The spread of angst was caused by the real time transmission of that violation, with all the horrendous details. Absent the transparency, the particulars of that vandalism would have suffered the doomed fate of controversy. That incident would have been structurally Balkanized and reconstructed, in conjecture and fiction, and the kernel of its veracity would have gone extinct with conflicted telling and remembering.
So we participated as a live audience, articulated some rhubarb; clearly affirming the success of the Abuja theatre in emotionally engaging us all. But the excitation of our common temper had less to do with our reading of the section of the constitution that pertains to cross carpeting dynamics. Also, it had little bearing with love for the victim. Instead, our solidarity arose largely from narcissism.
Tambuwal’s humiliation reflected our own vulnerability to police aggression. That instance of brutality projected the similitude of our common experience. It effectively tallied all the episodes of our routine police harassment and flung them onto a vast attention-grabbing canvas.
The police treated Speaker Tambuwal like us. Except that this turned into a scandal because we happened to have taken offence because the police dared to use the (yard)stick meant for us on Tambuwal, the number four citizen.
The policemen stationed at the gate were indifferent to Speaker Tambuwal. They did not answer him when he called out to them. When he introduced himself, they ignored him; just like they are wont to ignore the voice of nobodies. They tear-gassed Speaker Tambuwal the selfsame way they make responsible football fans choke each time they have to access the stadium to watch the Super Eagles play. The police lied that Tambuwal had tried to invade the National Assembly with a band of miscreants; the same way they casually hatch frame-ups and make scapegoats.
The police was persuaded that Tambuwal, by the virtue of his defection, had forfeited his number four position in the gratuitous citizen ranking. They believed that the switch had automatically relegated him to an unidentifiable commoner. He had slumped to the pool of anonymous folk, those who are unworthy of courtesy because they have yet to earn the state’s elitist citizen number.
Obviously, the policemen who attacked him had a clear brief: to update the blissfully ignorant Tambuwal, in the most practical terms, that his entitlement to politeness and dignity had expired. It was some sort of baptism into the humdrum susceptibility of the low caste.
In a manner of speaking, the police were on a Red Cross charity-grade mission to give the butterfly who fancied himself a bird a beneficial reality check. Tambuwal missed sighting this barely concealed good intention. It could well be that smelling teargas made him less discerning.
To tell the truth, Nigerian police gave Tambuwal the standard treatment. The only real surprise in this case is the strange alarm that overwhelmed us: we permitted ourselves the leisure of pretending that what the police did was alien to their character. But we know better. Not many Nigerian with a modest faculty of recall can boast of having accumulated a preponderance of positive romance with the Nigerian police. If you venture to check, you will harvest an overwhelming population scarred by a police that they have now come to dread.
The average Nigerian policeman tends to be perennially angry and belligerent. It is often suggested that most of them labor under very poor job conditions. But that is no justification for taking out your frustration on your countrymen, many of who are in no better station in life. The fact that the policeman and the average citizen are actively negotiating survival with the same harsh environment should transform into a bond of unity. The policeman who discovers that the condition under which he is compelled to function prohibits decency need not progress as a bitter officer. He may opt for another legitimate means of livelihood instead of pushing a career in vengefulness and extortion.
We could go on swimming in the apparent politics that created the ugly Tambuwal scenario. But that would cost us a wonderful opportunity to interrogate the relationship between the Nigerian police and the Nigerian citizen. Instead of establishing discriminatory calibration, we should rather pivot to demanding a humane Nigerian Police: a well resourced police that respects every citizen; a police that knows its place; a police that is not amenable to the abuse of a vendetta errand.
If we apply ourselves to this quest, we would ultimately arrive at a time when a young musician would receive inspiration to write Fela’s unsung song. Fela had sung that water had no enemy but not that the Police was your friend.