The State Of The Nation: The Police State

The Freedom House in its 2009 survey listed Nigeria as one of the 62 countries in the world that is partly free. The survey measures include political rights, economic rights and civil liberties. What is instructive is that the survey was carried out after 10 years of democracy in Nigeria and at a time we had a president whose claim to fame was his “respect for the rule of law.” Unfortunately, not much in terms of freedom has changed in Nigeria since 2009.

The question is why does democracy, which ordinarily connotes freedom of choice, expression and so on, has very little impact in entrenching rights and liberties in Nigeria. The answer would surprise you: love.

Love And The Police State
The concept of the police state was first used in reference to Austria in 1851. Then it was used to refer to the National police that were expected to maintain law and order in Austria. By the 19th and 20th centuries, the term police state was used to refer to when the police or military were used too strenuously or to the point of repression.

Nigeria is a mystico-moral society where we attribute preventable deaths to the will of God. Being religious and moral go hand-in-hand and it is for this reason that, through the ages, untold hardships and cruelty have been meted out to people under the guise of ‘correcting’ them. The world has largely moved on from this phase but not Nigeria –although to be fair, Nigeria has plenty of company in this regard.

It is not surprising then that one of the most popular bible verses in Nigeria is “spare the rod and spoil the child”. This bible verse is so embedded in our national psyche that it should be our nation’s motto.

Interestingly, disciplining the child stems from love. It was love for “responsible journalism” that made the police arrest six journalists in October 2011 over the publication of a purported private letter from former President Olusegun Obasanjo to President Goodluck Jonathan, about administrators of government agencies. The Nigerian judicial system is not left out of this manifestation of love, as a magistrate court judge ordered the arrest of 12 journalists covering a coroner’s inquest into the death of 20 people in multiple crashes and accidents allegedly caused by a police checkpoint.

In Lagos State, the peoples’ governor Babatunde Fashola, has given his support to the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), to impose obnoxious fines on traffic offenders. This stems again from ‘love’ as these traffic offenders cause untold hardship on commuters.

Wait a minute, love of whom? A traffic penalty of N50,000 in a developing country like Nigeria is likely to lead to only one thing: bribery of the LASTMA official. So why does Lagos State continually increase traffic penalties when the internally generated revenue does not swell on account of penalties? Ha, to help the LASTMA boys; those unfortunate souls on minimum wage!

Well done Governor Fashola! LASTMA officials now hide in one-way streets and behind traffic lights to catch those, erring, nuisance traffic offenders. It is quite interesting that the bible also tells us about love of self and child, the former being a cause of the world’s ills. Unsurprisingly, the government loves us and imposes the police state on commoners but not the in-favour political class who don’t pay LASTMA levies and certainly do not go to jail. In fact, they have their own police escorts, taken off the streets to guard one man rather than the men, women and children in that area.

A Little Less Love
A little less love by government and a little more respect is what we need to guarantee freedom and rights in Nigeria. Imagine a country where you were so respected that you were not chased off the road by a siren-blaring police escort carrying a senior police/military/government official, who as far as you can tell, is not a national security priority and does not do any more than you in contributing to the nation.

Imagine a Lagos with reasonable fees and on-the-spot tickets and receipts given to traffic offenders. Imagine a Nigeria, where civil servants are so respected that the post of Permanent Secretary in a Ministry is not a political gift but the reward for hard-work and dedication. Imagine a Nigeria where the President was sensitive to the protection of lives and property and did not jet out of the country at every opportunity but stayed around to reassure you of his commitment to protecting you.

Yes, without a doubt, all we need is respect!

Michael Lawson wrote in from Lagos.