By Rev Fr Angelo Chidi Unegbu
1) The police and military brutality, which was alien to Africans, has become a cankerworm in the Nigerian society today. Until this savagery is properly studied and tackled from the roots, police and military brutality, especially extra judicial torture and killings, will continue to be part and parcel of Nigerian body politics.
2) The origin of police and military brutality could be traced to the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade that turned what comprised the present Nigeria into hunting field for slaves. During this abhorrible trade, slave merchants handled those slaves like beasts. Humans were chained, stripped naked, part of the body chopped off, “waterboarded”, flogged and gunned down at the least provocation. There hardly existed a slave that hadn’t scars left by machetes, hot irons, gun shots or arrows on his or her body. Guns and bullets were used as sticks. Coercion, intimidation and brutality were the norm.
3) This was strange to many Nigerian tribes whose respect for life and human dignity, at that time, and when compared to other parts of the world, was equal to none. Among the Igbo people, for instance, capital punishment was unknown. The highest punishment among them was banishment. The late Msgr. Luke Ilonu told me in 2016, during an interview with him, that the first time they saw gun being used on humans was during the Nigerian-Biafra war (1967 – 1970). Before then, guns were only thought to be used for hunting animals and were never on humans; not even during tribal wars were guns used to kill humans.
4) It was however at the Berlin Conference (1884-1885), where Africa was divided by the European powers, that the use of police and military force/brutality was officially approved as part and parcel of governance. Since the African continent was partitioned not according to its people, race or tongue but according to its resources, the European colonial powers saw the use of force and intimidation as the only means of keeping these artificial nations together. Thus, without force and brutality the colonial project would not have succeeded.
5) Some bit of history: In 1901 as the Sultan of Sokoto heard of the presence of the English colonial masters he wrote them: “From me to you. I do not consent that anyone from you should ever dwell with us. I will never agree with you. I will have nothing ever to do with you. Between us and you there are no dealings except between Mussulmans and unbelievers. War as God Almighty has enjoined on us. There is no power or strength save in God on high.”
6) Lugard and his men ignored the threats of the Sultan believing on their military prowess and brutal force. In June 1902, as Lugard was moving to Bauchi, the Sultan warned again: “I have to inform you that we do not invite your administration in the province of Bauchi. …” In February 1903, Mr. T.N.L. Morland, Lugard’s military officer, replied to the Sultan’s two letters as follows: We are coming to Sokoto and from this time and forever, a white man and soldiers will sit down in Sokoto country. We have prepared for war because Abdu Sarikin Muslimin said there was nothing between us but war. (See D. W. Bittingers, “Sudan’s Second Sun-up” in Mbonu Ojike, _My Africa_, pp. 204 – 206). Of course, Sokoto fell to the brutal military fire of the British, and influential Sultan Attahiru was eventually killed alongside thousands of his followers at the Battle of Burmi, near present Gombe.
7) Any perceived opposition was dealt with brutal force. When women protested against unjust taxation in South Eastern Nigeria, 55 of them were shot dead in cold blood in 1929. And when the poor miners used civil disobedience to register their complaint, 21 of them were murdered by British guns in what is now known as the 1949 Iva Valley Massacre. Their regular trademark which they bequeathed to the Nigerian police is, to use Fela’s words, ‘sorrow, tears and blood’!
8) The experiences of the slave trade and the brutality of the Royal Niger Company (RNC) made it clear to the people that those threats from the British warlords were not mere threats. In Igboland such threats were always fulfilled. In Aguleri, a man broke into the store of the Royal Niger Company to collect oil with which to eat his roasted yam. The poor man cut the barrel of oil open with his machete and its entire content spilled on the ground. In retaliation, the RNC burnt down three villages, wasted many lives and rendered all the inhabitants of these villages homeless. Thus, the Catholic French missionaries nicknamed the English colonialists in Nigeria: _the African devils_. (See Celestine Obi, “The French Pioneers,” 1805 – 1905 in _A Hundred Years of the Catholic Church in Eastern Nigeria_ 1885 – 1985, p.50).
9) The most tragic thing that happened to Africans was that Britain and other colonialists recruited Africans into their police and army to dehumanise and kill their own people. In Igboland they recruited those men the Igbo people referred to as Efulefus. For non-Igbo, an Efulefu simply means a village fool. They had no real place in the Igbo society. It was among them also that the first warrant chiefs were chosen. They were used in the collection of taxes and to protect colonial offices and structures. Their duty was to do the bidding of the “Whiteman” and to sabotage their people.
10) The atrocities committed by the native police and military personnel is beyond imagination. They tortured, maimed and killed anyone who stood against the colonialists. No prisoner came back the same. Many who survived imprisonment came back with broken heads, legs, maimed or seriously sick. Many were killed for offences they knew nothing about. The police, warder and soldiers were highly feared by the people because they could release the trigger at the least provocation and NOTHING WILL HAPPEN.
11) In places like Igboland where the colonial masters ruled the people through warrant chiefs, who were the never-do-wells of the society, the colonial government protected them with police and military security who pounced on and crushed anyone who opposed them. Before the Nigerian Independence in 1960, the Nigerian police and military have grown into wild beasts that the people feared more than actual criminals. Little wonder the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) that was formed to tackle armed robbery ended up being more dangerous than criminals. Indeed, they’ve continued to play the same role for the colonial masters, namely, the maintenance of the colonial map via intimidation and torture.
12) At the beginning of the #EndSARS protests, the British government tried to deny any involvement with the Nigerian SARS till yesterday being 29.10.2020 when they confessed that since 2016 they have been assisting in the training and supplying of SARS with equipment despite many years of outcry against their brutality. Enraged by this confession, a UK MP, Kate Osamor said: “The government now needs to explain how and why it ever felt it was appropriate to train and equip security forces which were known to have taken part in torture and extra-judicial killings”. (See online _Daily Trust Newspaper_, 30.10.2020 with the caption “Nigeria Police: We trained SARS operatives, supplied equipment – UK”)
13) Any government on earth that masterminds the torture and killing of its own people is a fake contraption because no nation kills its own. As long as Nigeria continues to be a British creation and design, police and military brutality and killings will continue to be the order of the day. If we actually need an end to police/military brutality, corruption and misgovernance, power should be restored to the regions and Nigerian tribes. If that seems difficult, Nigeria should be peacefully dissolved via a referendum. _Ndu bu isi_ (Life is the highest value).