ON January 1, tragedy struck in Benin City, the Edo State capital, as two men were allegedly gunned down by drunk policemen in the early hours of the day. The policemen reportedly committed the crime at Kings Square, Benin, causing passers-by and in particular the families of their victims untold agony and despair. According to eyewitnesses, the policemen were celebrating the dawn of the year by firing gunshots into the air at their station opposite the Oba market. Apparently, they had opened fire on the victims in error.
Sadly, one of the victims reportedly died on the spot while the other breathed his last moments later, having been unable to get medical attention. According to media reports, the state governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, in a quick and timely reaction to the incident, mandated the state police command to get to the root of the matter and ensure that the killers were made to account for their actions. This is certainly a step in the right direction.
It is indeed saddening that law-abiding citizens minding their own businesses were mowed down by police revellers on New Year day. The victims, who must have been happy and excited at witnessing another year, definitely had dreams and aspirations, but those expectations were cut short by those paid through their own taxes to protect them. Of course, police officers and men being human, it would have been unthinkable to expect them not to be in a celebratory mood on January 1. The point, therefore, is not that the errant policemen in this case were celebrating the New Year. Quite the contrary.
The point is that they chose to celebrate in a patently dangerous manner capable of threatening public peace. And it is revealing that in their revelry, they neither had the commonsense nor the decency to celebrate without indulging in alcohol while on duty, and without wielding arms. Pray, if bandits had invaded their station while they were drunk and senseless, how would they have repelled the attack? Why should celebrating the New Year lead to the shedding of innocent blood? What kind of celebration shelves reason and logic?
We marvel at a situation whereby policemen have the latitude to toy with guns and bullets. The dastardly event in Benin leads to a disturbing conclusion: the errant policemen would have had no questions to answer if they had not killed innocent citizens. Ideally, every arms-bearing policeman or woman is supposed to account for every bullet utilised in the course of duty, but apparently, things have fallen apart in the force and the centre cannot hold. There is no reason to suppose that the January 1 incident in Benin was the first time policemen in the country in general, or in fact even the killers in this case, had shot into the air in celebration, and without repercussions. In embarking on that dangerous exercise, they do not consider that their action could cause panic or even heart attacks for unwary citizens; they are in their own fairyland where the law is as defined by them. Surely, there is no self-respecting and progress-desiring society that operates in this manner.
To all intents and purposes, the Benin tragedy illustrates, once again, the breakdown of discipline in the Nigeria Police Force. It is therefore no paradox that, whether drunk or sober, policemen are a present and abiding danger to law-abiding citizens. Indeed, it seems that the more the public complains, the worse they become. This is therefore no time to preach at the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, and his men. It is high time the Federal Government, the state governments, the civil society and other critical organs of the Nigerian state demanded meaningful reform in the police. The force, as presently constituted, is not ready to enforce discipline. It therefore must be made to.
The Federal Government and the Edo State government must ensure that the victims of police mendacity in Benin do not die in vain. The perpetrators must be fished out and given a taste of their own medicine, as provided for by the laws of the land.