Opinion

Akin Olukiran: Law Enforcement And Face Masks, A Dangerous Precedence

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The recent gubernatorial elections in Ekiti and Osun States introduced a new level of notoriety to our law enforcement process, bordering on illegality. Some of the police officers deployed to these states to keep law and order, resorted to wearing masks. Why would law enforcement officers need to wear masks in the conduct of normal police duties? This is a practice you find in a thuggish police state where masked police officers use terror and intimidation to control political, social and economic life and not in a democracy.

I am hoping that our lawmakers will wake up to this political chicanery and diabolical incursion into our polity, of repressive and undemocratic policing method and nip it in the bud before the 2015 elections. In electoral supervision, our law enforcement officers should never be allowed to wear masks, mainly because in a case of police brutality or other unlawful action, the victim(s) could be prevented from being able to identify the offending officer(s). In cases where they are arresting drug dealers or dealing with organised crimes, for the protection of their personal identities, the wearing of face masks during such raids can be justified. This is why in a country like Mexico, for fear of the cartels, it is normal for the police to wear masks. For heaven’s sake, these are ordinary people of Ekiti and Osun States in peaceful corners of Nigeria.

It is important to note that a masked officer knows that his identity is concealed, so he may feel less inhibited about misbehaving — which could take the form of carrying out illegal searches and arrests, maltreating law-abiding political operatives, engaging in political intimidation and failing to follow the law and police regulations in various ways, or even just being more all-around obnoxious in dealing with the public. It is therefore no accident, that police in masks are so common in brutal dictatorships — where the lack of accountability and the fostering of intimidation, terror and greater brutality is the norm rather than the exception.

As far as I am concerned, any police officer carrying a gun, a name badge of the Federal Republic of Nigeria’s Police and acting with police authority should be willing to show their face, except in exceptional circumstances of dealing with organised crimes. There is something just plain creepy and undemocratic about having a whole bunch of intimidating, armed police officers running around in masks in peaceful neighbourhoods. The sight of our police officers in masks, looking like men of the underworld on the streets of Ado-Ekiti, Osogbo, Ile-Ife and Ilesa during the elections was an unnecessary show of terror and recklessness which should be curbed.

In normal days, the police already wear uniforms with hats or helmets which obscure their features and make it difficult for them to be easily identified. In the Code of Conduct and Professional Standards for Police Officers in Nigeria, there is no provision for masks amongst the accoutrements and uniforms worn by the police. An extract of the said CoC which covers Performance of duties as a police officer states “a police officer shall perform all duties impartially, without favour of affection or ill will and without regard to status, sex, race, religion, political belief or aspiration. All citizens will be treated equally with courtesy, consideration and dignity. Officers will never allow personal feelings, animosities or friendships to influence official conduct. Laws will be enforced appropriately and courteously and in carrying out their responsibilities, officers will strive to obtain maximum cooperation from the public. They will conduct themselves both in appearance and composure, in such a manner as to inspire confidence and respect for the position of public trust they hold.”

Without a doubt, the wearing of masks in the conduct of police operations during elections does not in any way inspire confidence and respect for the police force. On the contrary, it creates an atmosphere of fear, distrust and utter contempt for our security forces. This practice does not bode well for the future of our young and evolving democracy and must be stopped – irrespective of one’s political persuasion.

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Akin Olukiran – [email protected] – Twitter: @AkinOlukiran

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