If there is any aspect that the Nigeria Police can at all times be rated high, their ability to round up scapegoats and unjustly label them as criminals will readily come to mind.
I often wonder if scapegoatism is one of the courses taught at the police college. Or could it be that the majority of the police have learnt by rote Leviticus 16: 8: “And Aaron shall place lots upon the two he goats ‘one lot for the Lord’ and the other lot, for Azazel’ for absolute removal.’ ” In this traditional sense, a goat will symbolically carry the ‘sins’ of the community and be cast into the desert.
In other words, the second goat will be unfairly blamed for the sins committed by the whole community and sent away to perish. Since then, the word ‘scapegoat’ has evolved to indicate someone who is blamed and punished for the sins of others.
To say the police are not genuine with most of their arrests will be uncharitable and amount to giving a dog a bad name to rationalise hanging it. But some of the arrests are also subject to doubt.
There have been cases where the police parade scapegoats to cover their deficiencies just to please authorities that they are actually working. A friend was once made a scapegoat by the police and his family was milked dry as they had to part with huge sums of money before the toga of an armed robber he was falsely dressed in was removed.
This was not a case of mistaken identify. It was well rehearsed by the police before they acted the script. The friend was one of those arrested at a wrong place at a wrong time.
The police had arrived at the scene of a robbery long after the robbers had left and to impress their bosses that they were on top of the situation, that boring cliché that means the exact opposite, innocent men were rounded up and some guns were brought from only God knew where as those seized from the innocent men turned robbers.
A painstaking investigation would have separated the wheat from the chaff. Perhaps there are so many men still languishing in jails for offences they knew nothing about. I am somewhat ambivalent whenever the police parade suspects after my friend’s horrific experience.
His experience was what resonated in my mind on Monday when the police in Abuja paraded some suspects who allegedly took part in the Ile-Ife mayhem when some indigenes of the town and members of the Hausa community were up in arm against each other.
The bestiality and savagery took the lives of at least 46 people with many more injured and properties estimated at millions of naira were lost to the avoidable carnage.
That the parade of the suspects has generated tension and wide condemnation is obvious but whether the police weighed the likely consequences of their lopsided arrest is what I cannot tell. If the crisis, which brought to the fore the sad memory of the intractable war between Ife and Modakeke was actually between the Yoruba and the Hausa, it is quirk of fate that only the Yoruba were paraded as the suspects.
The police had already concluded that the Yoruba were the aggressors while the Hausa were the victims. As far as the police are concerned, while the belligerent Yoruba stoke up the fire, the Hausa did not raise a finger during the mayhem and were as meek as lambs. Let me even agree that the police assumption is right. But part of their investigation should tell us who burnt the houses of the indigenes.
Were the 46 people that died from the crisis from the Hausa community? How true is it that a vulcaniser, an indigene of Ife, was beheaded and this was what heightened the free-for-all? How true is it that two of the victims were burnt alive? Although there are different versions of how the hostility started, all versions traced the genesis to a Yoruba woman and a Hausa man.
If the woman was among those paraded by the police, did the man grow wings and fly away from the community before he could be arrested? At a time when all the ethnic groups now sing songs of evil and hate just because of political differences, the obvious partisanship of the police in a sensitive matter like this can only deepen the existing deep animosity and mutual suspicion among us as a people.
Nigerians are now more clannish than before and the social media has provided the platform for people to spread hate, lies and deceits. Our violent desires and vicious circle of carnages are now easily predictable more than before.
How come the police have not used the same alacrity with which they arrested the suspects of the Ife mayhem to find the killers of Bridget Agbahime, the 74-yearold Igbo woman that was killed by some blood-thirsty individuals at Kofar Wambai Market, Kano,who unjustly accused her of blasphemy since June last year?
The best the Kano State government did was to arraign some suspects who were soon left off the hook because they were “innocent.” Perhaps she was killed by ghosts and we have been asked to go home, fold our arms and wait for the next vicious circle.
The perennial killings by suspected herdsmen seem not to be within the purview of the police and they appear helpless when it comes to arresting the killers.
The pernicious lies we have been fed with is that the killer men are from hell and we should continue to live with their atrocities and bear the brunt of government’s inefficiency to arrest and bring them to book. If the suspects actually committed the crime in Ife, why were they hurriedly moved to Abuja?
Whose interest is the police serving by this lopsided arrest? Even if they now hurriedly arrest some Hausa suspects, can we trust such as genuine or an after-thought meant to placate those who are aggrieved by the show of shame and obvious bias of the police? Can we trust the police with diligent prosecution when their first step towards resolving the issue is obviously faulty?
It is important that all parties involved in the avoidable incident should be adequately punished within the ambit of the law and the message should be clear that savagery and lack of respect for the sanctity of human lives are too grievous to be treated with kid gloves.
The lopsided arrests have dented the image of the police and have exposed them to criticisms that are difficult to fault. This could have far reaching consequences.
It is not too late for the police to retrace their step for the sake of peace and unity. Failure to do this will only give credence to George Orwell’s assertion in his classical allegorical fable that “all animals are equal but some are more equal than the others.”
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