Police killings and Pidgin English: Dear Shogunle, just stop! by Buchi Obichie (Opinion)

Police killings and Pidgin English: Dear Shogunle, just stop! by Buchi Obichie (Opinion)

Editors’ note: In this highly charged piece, the writer, Buchi Obichie, takes Abayomi Shogunle to task over his tweet concerning the use of Pidgin English when communicating with police officers. She asserts that there is no justification for illegal acts; pointing out that the responsibility of the police is to protect and not to kill!

When we were younger, my siblings and I only communicated in proper English. In my home, it was an unspoken rule that none of us were to speak Pidgin English; whether in private or public. My parents didn’t communicate with us in Pidgin either and for most of our young lives, we hardly heard them speaking in Pidgin with visitors.

It was pure Queens English in the Obichie household.

It’s not as if my parents expected that we would never learn to speak Pidgin – we’re Nigerians afterall – however, they wanted us to master ‘proper’ English first. So, it was of paramount importance that in our early years, we were already fluent in the global language of communication.

As a result, I never did learn how to speak Pidgin fluently. Though I can speak fairly well, it’s still somewhat difficult for me to communicate completely in Pidgin. I can’t hold a full conversation in Pidgin…I would usually revert to ‘Queens English’ at some point.

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Now, I never really thought that my ‘Pidgin inadequacy’ would be so much of a problem…or that it could even lead to a fatal outcome; until this week, when Abayomi Shogunle of the Nigerian Police Force sent out an astonishing tweet.

In the wake of recent police killings in Lagos, Shogunle had tweeted to the effect that Lagosians would do well to communicate with policemen in Pidgin, to avoid problems.

Attaching a video of Tunji Disu, commander of the Rapid Respond Squad (RRS), addressing his men in Pidgin, Shogunle said communicating with policemen in a language they understand will aid better understanding.

His exact words were: “For now, don’t go and be speaking Queen’s English with them on the road. For proper understanding, talk to them in Pidgin, another way to avoid kasala.”

I was shocked. Well, not exactly, as nothing Shogunle says can really shock me anymore. Afterall, the man has a reputation for being controversial. But I was vexed.

On Sunday, May 31, a young man named Kolade Johnson was killed by a trigger-happy policeman as the security officer and his colleagues reportedly went in search of youths ‘dressed wildly and wearing dreadlocks’.

The young man, full of dreams and aspirations, left behind a child, grieving parents and family members; plus a loving fiancé and friends who adored him.

Not long after that, a 20-year-old young lady, Ada Ifeanyi, was also killed by some police officers attached to the Trinity Police Station on Akpiri Street, Olodi Apapa, Lagos, as she returned home from a nightclub with her boyfriend.

Ada's parents and siblings are still in mourning.

In both cases the victims were unarmed, innocent Nigerian citizens who were just living their lives, trying to ease stress and get some sort of enjoyment – Kolade Johnson had been out watching a football match – in a country where there’s really not much to celebrate about.

Is Abayomi Shogunle trying to tell us that speaking Pidgin English to policemen who were up to no good and obviously bent on mischief would have been enough to save Kolade and Ada’s lives?

Should the onus to ‘avoid kasala’ solely be on innocent Nigerians who have found themselves at the mercy of trigger happy policemen, through no fault of theirs? What about the security agents; shouldn’t they be responsible for carrying out their duties with knowledge of right and wrong?

As Disu rightfully pointed out in the video put up by Shogunle, police officers were taught in the academy, that it is even better to allow an armed robber escape than to kill one innocent person.

Were they not listening during classes? Or did they not understand that because the instructor was communicating in Queens English?

How does a responsibility to protect the populace and tackle criminal activities now translate into opening fire on unarmed, innocent civilians? Why do policemen even carry guns so openly and brandish them in the faces of the innocent populace at will? Is the country at war?

When Nigerians were screaming for an end to SARS over alleged illegal and inhumane acts, Shogunle was one of the loudest voices calling for the unit to remain. He even recently went as far as blocking a celebrity, Ruggedman, over the issue.

Now, we understand that Abayomi Shogunle feels a duty to defend the organization in which he serves. However, the key word here is ‘service’. In taking oaths to become policemen, officers assume the responsibility of providing protection for those they serve – the citizens. They are to protect…not to kill!

So there is no justification, whatsoever, for gunning down civilians like animals. Even if a person is found guilty of a serious crime, the decision to sentence to death lies with the judiciary…not with policemen.

This is really elementary police Standard Operating Procedure!

I just wonder how the parents of Kolade Johnson, Ada Ifeanyi and other innocent Nigerians whose lives were taken by trigger-happy policemen would have reacted to Shogunle’s words.

Will they have been angry at their children for not ‘saving themselves’ by communicating in Pidgin English, or would they be angry at the words of a man whose duty – like that of his colleagues – is the protection of lives and property from criminal elements? My guess is the latter.

The Nigerian Police Force has a long way to go. There needs to be a re-training of policemen and some sort of tests (and even surveillance) to ensure that they adhere to the tenets of the profession and stop going about acting like this is the Wild Wild West!

I would say this again: There is no reason for policemen to go about brandishing AK-47’s in peacetime. The government should consider equipping the Police Force with ‘tasers’ so that many unlawful deaths can be avoided.

So at least, if a policeman takes a reckless action – as some still would – it would not amount to a fatality.

And while we’re at it, maybe we should also consider body cameras for policemen on patrol. I know we usually say Nigeria is not ready for certain levels of technological advancement; however, in light of recent concerns, will it do any harm to start thinking of necessary technological upgrades?

Maybe if a man has a surveillance device attached to his uniform, it would help him process his thoughts more reasonably and not take any action that can jeopardize his career; keeping in mind that everything would be caught on camera!

Another thing: Why do some policemen on duty seem to have a penchant for drinking all sorts of intoxicating substances that rob them of sound judgment? When did it even become legal to drink on the job? And then they face innocent civilians in that state? Is that not a recipe for disaster?

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In any case, for a start, I am glad that the Nigerian Senate has now passed the Police Reform Bill. Hopefully, in addressing the welfare of officers, it would also raise the standards of the Force to what is obtainable in countries where respect and regard for the rule of law is sacrosanct.

But while we are at it, people like Shogunle would do well to stop making careless comments that incite, instead of comfort. This is a hot-button issue for crying out loud.

My parents taught us to speak Queens English and I’ll be damned if some person makes me feel as though this is a crime which could be fatal for me. Unruly, unprofessional and heartless policemen are the problem…not innocent ‘Queens English-speaking’ unarmed civilians!

NB: I do realise that in the midst of 'bad eggs', there are still some hardworking, professional police officers who adhere to the rule of law in the discharge of their duties. This piece is not to take away from their laudable service. They are the true heroes.

This opinion piece was written by Buchi Obichie.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of Legit.ng.

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