The most common public relations message of the Nigeria Police Force is “the police is your friend”. You will see this on posters in almost all police stations. But this is a very big lie. Police are not friends of poor working-class people and youth.
They are instruments for enforcing the dictatorship of the rich bosses, presented as the rule of law. But the law is not neutral. Poor people are treated with contempt and brutalised when caught or suspected of committing crimes. But the super-rich who steal millions and billions of naira are protected by police orderlies. More than a quarter of the country’s 371,000 police officers guard the rich few.
The primary reason for establishing the police is not to combat crime. It is to keep the poor subjugated. That is why police are used to break major strikes and demonstrations by workers, students, and other poor people.
Police brutality is an integral part of policing. It is built into the way the police are meant to function. It is a global phenomenon.
Almost two thousand people were killed by the police in questionable circumstances across just over a dozen countries between 2018 and 2019. The list is topped by the United States with 1,146 killings.
Racism and “tribalism” are not accidental dimensions of police brutality. The most backward ideologies are fostered in the police to make them meaner, just as guard dogs are fed in ways that make them more aggressive.
In several countries, most police vote for far-right parties. These include the fascist Golden Dawn in Greece. Several security officials also facilitated the growth of far right and racist groups in the United States and other countries.
The colonial and post-colonial states in Nigeria have used the police to foster ethnic polarization. They were used by the British to smash anti-colonial resistance. One of the ways they did so was to use police from different ethnic groups in their bloody campaigns against the different peoples they conquered.
The use of police to coerce the poor has been increasing over the years. In 2017, the Nigeria Police Force was ranked as the worst in the world, in terms of police brutality. It is very likely that the situation will get worse if we allow it.
More and more working-class people and youth are getting poorer. Nigeria is now the poverty capital of the world. This will lead to fightbacks against hunger, demolitions of their homes, unemployment and worsening working conditions. The bosses will use the police to try break our resistance. But we can and must resist the state’s coercive instruments such as police, as we fight against our being continually exploited.
Anti-police brutality campaign has to be one of the key elements of our struggle for total liberation. We need to challenge every single case of police brutality. We must fight for justice for every person killed, illegally detained, or tortured. This fight cannot be restricted to the courts. We must protest on the streets.
We are many and they are few. When they see us in large numbers, they are also afraid. But a lesson to be learnt from the EndSARS revolts is that they could be directed to kill large numbers of people in attempts to stop our revolts from growing into revolution.
This shows that we must learn how to protect ourselves. The police have not been able to guarantee our safety and security, anyway. Organising self-defence against bandits, whether in uniform or not, is legitimate and necessary. Many communities in several cities have formed vigilante groups to keep out marauders.
These are largely made up of residents who take turns at night to patrol their neighbourhoods. But they are usually armed with just clubs, machetes and maybe Dane guns. These vigilante bodies need to be better armed as collective bodies. This will not only enable them to be able to better combat armed robbers but also serve as nuclei of self-defence in revolutionary situations.
It is however not enough to ensure that communities arm themselves. Revolutionary activists need to ramp up political education within working-class communities. We need to clearly show the connections between our state of poverty, policing and the bosses exploiting us. This must go along with stressing the need to fight back and building the confidence of the working masses that we can win if we fight.
We must as well point out the sharp inequality in the police force. While top-ranking officers are millionaires living in mansions, rank-and-file officers wear torn uniforms and live in squalor in over-populated barracks.
The monies being spent on these top officers (who also benefit immensely from corruption) must be drastically cut and used to improve the lives of the poor rank-and-file police.
But even as we agitate for improvement of the lot of the police rank-and-file, we must not be under any illusion, not even for one minute. Such agitation must be clear in its aim, which is to weaken the capacity of the police as an institution of coercion. The police are definitely not our friend. Our struggle for self-emancipation must include abolition of the police.
by Segun OGUN