WITHDRAWAL OF ASSAULT RIFLES
The plan by the authorities of the Nigeria Police to introduce the use of rubber bullets to fight crime and quell riots, as against the use of regular assault rifles to which its personnel are accustomed, is a welcome initiative. This will likely give the Police a liberal face, or at least, a token of positive image among the populace. It is also in line with what is obtainable in civilized societies where rubber bullets are used by police to fight civil disobedience.
Acting Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mr. Mohammed Abubakar, who dropped the hint recently during a meeting with representatives of Police commands in Calabar, Cross River State, explained that the plan was an integral part of the reform to reposition the police and make it people -friendly.
Besides, the police boss says that the measure is in conformity with world best practices. The plan, Abubakar disclosed, would take effect soon. Part of the plan, he stressed, would be to disarm potential criminals before they could carry out any criminal act.
He however stated that the measure would not mean the re-introduction of road blocks, noting that 'road blocks are gone for good' in the country, while assuring that the police high command is interested in matters that will bring positive corporate image to the force. And the use of rubber bullets is one of such methods.
We applaud this plan. Indeed, the continued use of assault rifles, instead of rubber bullets, especially in cases of civil disorder and other non-criminal acts like street protests and demonstrations, has been an issue of public debate for a long time now.
Cases abound where policemen have turned assault weapons on innocent people, instead of criminals who they are supposed to apprehend.
For years, the police have been reportedly notorious for using assault rifles to extort money at checkpoints and for extra-judicial killings. This is in utter disregard for the rule of law and social justice.
Often times, these anomalies have defined the moments and actions of an average policeman in Nigeria. In some instances, these killings without trial, have been flimsily attributed to 'accidental discharge.'
We want to believe that the introduction of rubber bullets will bring about a measure of sanity in the official conduct of the police personnel. The Nigeria Police is in dire need of decent men and women not a crop of trigger-happy cops that turn against defenceless citizens whom they are to protect. We, however, insist that the use of assault rifles against criminals such as terrorists and other militant groups that pose serious danger to society should continue.
This has become vital as our country is currently under serious threat by many insurgent groups such as Boko Haram. Therefore, the use of rubber bullets in such cases would amount to a grave error of judgment.
We suggest that as laudable as this plan might be, it should be subjected to thorough analysis before implementation to avoid a possible boomerang effect. The use of rubber bullets should not be one weapon for all battles. It will help a lot if a test - run of two different scenarios is carried out to determine the efficiency and effectiveness, or otherwise, of the use of rubber bullets in a crime situation. There is need for the police authorities to ensure that this new plan is not misused. Failure to adhere strictly to the aim of the use of rubber bullets would defeat the purpose.
Our constitution recognizes the right to life of every citizen and that right should not be deprived intentionally, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which the person has been found guilty by a competent court in the land.
The plan to introduce the use of rubber bullet to fight crime can go a long way to humanize the Police Force, temper the psyche of its rank and file and make them conform to basic civil temperament and norms in the discharge of their duties.