Following the recent killing of a Lagos football fan, Mr. Kolade Johnson, by stray bullets fired by policemen in pursuit of suspected cultists, spokesman of the Lagos State Police Command, Mr. Bala Elkanah, gave a controversial insight into why many youths are falling victim to police harassment which sometimes turns fatal.
Elkanah, in an interview with the BBC Pidgin Service was quoted as saying: “Tattoos and dreadlocks are strange to our culture, especially for Nigeria. Most times when you arrest cultists many of them have signs on them.”
As much as this candid assertion explains why policemen sometimes act strangely in their pursuit of alleged criminals, we consider it not only ridiculous but also a totally unfounded claim. The rank and file of the Nigerian Police, with the upgraded educational requirements for their recruitment, should know better than that. In the first place, tattoos and dreadlocks are parts of the Nigerian and African culture.
A lot of people wearing dreadlocks were born with them while others adopt them as their preferred hairstyle for reasons best known to them. Tattoos, on the other hand, exist in many cultures. It is part of body arts which are also expressed through tribal marks, signifying certain cultural and existential experiences of a people.
If our contemporary youths have opted to wear tattoos and dreadlocks as part of their personal fashion statements, they have the right to their choice, so long as in doing so they do not harm anyone. That cultists also like to wear dreadlocks and tattoos should not lead the Police to conclude that anyone who wears them is a potential lawbreaker. In the second place, the Nigerian Police was not set up to maintain “our culture”.
Its job is to maintain law and order as defined in our constitution and other extant laws. It is true that there are many aspects of our cultural practices which are generally frowned upon because they no longer have a place in the contemporary world. Many such practices are systematically being legislated out of existence, and the courts have followed up with verdicts to enforce the laws.
These include laws against social discrimination (such as the Osu Caste System) side-lining of women and widows from inheritance, among others. Other practices considered as taboo and unacceptable in our society, such as cultism, gay lifestyle, human sacrifices, killing of twins and others, are now adequately covered by law.
Let the Police face their constitutional duty of law enforcement and leave the maintenance of cultures to traditional rulers and community leaders. Law enforcement requires great skills in investigation and intelligence. The Nigerian Police obviously need more training so as to know the difference between policing, frivolity and impunity.