Weeks ago, as 2012 climaxed, the airwaves and socialways were agog with pictures and words about the fatal shooting of over 20 kids (proper kids like the ones in nursery and primary schools here) in the heretofore peaceful Connecticut neighbourhood of Sandy Hook. Passions ran high in the USA as the layers of circumstances surrounding the event were peeled back like a chef toying with an onion bulb. The debate still rages till this moment – to introduce stiffer gun control measures or not. Some – no less than the National Rifle Association with its 4 million members – argue it is a Second Amendment-given right that will only be taken away over their dead bodies – no to tyranny or sniffs of it in the air! Many people, I suspect, shocked by the shootings of those Sandy Hook children especially (there have been other shootings e.g the Aurora shootings where another crazed human being opened fire on cinema-goers causing President Obama to cut short an engagement to visit the area), began a campaign of “never again”. If guns cannot be banned outright, something has to be done about who gets or does not get their hands of them; something has to be done about the types of guns available; something has to be done about the kind of ammunition available. Piers Morgan hung on to the issue like a hungry baby hangs on to his mother’s tits and is still sucking the life out of them as we speak. Understandably and as per usual, a good number of Nigerians also gave their two cents about America’s gun troubles. It’s no use discussing the crazily high gun death rates in the USA here, neither is it really necessary to discuss the very low gun death rates in the UK, where you, Citizen Joe and Jane, may not possess a gun.
Guns do a number of things, the most important and final of them killing. I was with friends (elder brothers really) on the way to work on one of Lagos’ good mornings when we spotted a strapping chap in a uniform carrying the insignia of the Nigerian Airforce stride menacingly out of his barracks AK-47 in tow. I wondered aloud why an Airforce man would be carrying such a gun – an automatic weapon capable of shooting 600 rounds per minute – in public. I broadened the scope of my loud musings by wondering why the men and women of the Nigerian Police Force carry automatic weapons in public. An argument immediately ensued. I was admonished to not think of Nigeria in terms of the UK, where men and women of the police do not carry guns unless absolutely necessary, or the USA, where the policemen and policewomen only carry sidearms in public. I was accused of naïveté, of ignorance of the special Nigerian situation, and of being one of those guys who insist on the slavish imitation of all things white and foreign. But the question remained unanswered: why do our men in black and our men in the military enjoy gun-toting in public so much?
Hammerson: Do you know why Americans love guns, Mr. Hertz? And it’s got nothing to do with all that phallic mumbo-jumbo, “cockin’ your gun.” No, Hertz, people love guns because America is a land of opportunity, where a poor man can become rich, and a pussy can become a tough guy, if he’s got a gun in his hand. Now, I’m hopin’ you’re not just a pussy with a gun in your hand.
Thus said Mr Hammerson, top honcho of a gun manufacturing company, to Hertz, reckless goon hired to generally tie up a few loose ends, in the 2007 movie called Shoot ‘Em Up. Now, I am not one to face a soldierman or an olopa in a fistfight. I’d almost definitely get beat up every single time. Whatever rationale behind a military punk carrying an automatic weapon in public is defeated this way: we, the public, are not the outside threats to the sovereignty of Nigeria you are charged to protect. What does a band of soldiers on a busy road in Ikeja achieve by carrying weapons of mass destruction (do the math: 600 rounds per minute)? Sometimes I look around to see if any Cameroonian gendarmes have infiltrated our border and have somehow managed to creep up to Ikeja or wherever and all I find are timid Lagosians.
The answer is simple: That gun is there as a means of terrorizing and intimidating defenseless citizens. Dear Defenseless Citizen, do you for a moment think that the policeman along your route carries that gun to protect you? Most times, he couldn’t give two shits about what happens to you; you can jump up and die for all he cares. The automatic weapon is there to strike the fear of God into your heart and the fear of death into your pocket so that whenever he feels like riding roughshod over you, he’ll do exactly that – ride roughshod over your quivering ass. Truth be told, those guys in various shades of black have the power to visit death upon you if they so wish and blame it on the devil or things like accidental discharges. And in Nigeria, you are never sure what is right: a purportedly dismissed man of the uniform may have just been transferred, to spare him the indignity of answering to those feckless muthafuckas of the press and public. They tell us he has been dismissed and we swallow the amala they have concocted for us with the abula they have concocted for us like gospel, shout our halleluyahs and move on with life.
To the best of my knowledge (which probably isn’t saying much) we do not cater to the mental welfare of our policemen. Imagine the many psychos with fancy guns who could be walking our streets claiming to keep ‘em safe! The Nigerian mentality itself is suspect. We love to flaunt power and tread on the backs of others whilst they lay flat on their faces just to make a statement. We flaunt affluence and influence to intimidate and impress. My father has more money, cars and houses than yours; my car is newer and better than yours and I know the DPO of this area personally. If I am a policeman with an automatic weapon (and a mandate to use it) issued by the state, I know I wield power over you and you had better bloody realize it. Or be shot.
Off the top of my head, I can recall that during the Occupy Nigeria palaver of January 2012, a young man who is immortalized with a cement bust at Ogba was shot dead by a DPO with fidgety fingers. In October 2012, a young attendant at a photography place in Abuja bid farewell to Mother Earth courtesy of bullets from the guns of goons who were supervising demolitions; three others were wounded. In November 2012, a banker and a guard were shot for the crime of not being the robbers who had done what they had to do and vanished an hour earlier. Early this year, as early as the year is itself, 35-year old Olusola Adegbeha was dreaming of a union with his no doubt very beautiful (eyes of the beholder and all) fiancée. A police man had other ideas and instead united him with his maker in heaven, only weeks from his wedding. Many other examples abound online and many more examples lie dead with the victims of the shootings, because this is Nigeria, where precious little indeed gets reported. Let us also hang it somewhere in our minds that many of the “criminals” the Police claims it has neutralized may not even be criminals at all and if they are criminals, they may not even be the sort that should be killed with guns, or even killed at all.
One of the sights that baffle me in Lagos are those of policemen all clad in black plastic, helmets and armor astride huge motorcycles zooming off to respond to no emergency per se. Another one is policemen standing behind a police van, legs apart like Cristiano Ronaldo about to take a freekick, guns aimed forward atop the vans in all seriousness like Cristiano Ronaldo in search of goals. Who exactly are these awesome displays of force designed to intimidate? The daring robber? Boko Haram? You? Me? Who?
And to top it off, sometimes in June last year, the President armed still more pussies with guns – the gentlemen and ladies of the National Civil Defence Corps. Guess what those gentlemen and ladies with do with their newfound prowess. Never mind; don’t guess.
Am I suggesting a radical departure from the ways we have understood and seek to promote and ensure safety? By all means yes. Will I elaborate here? No, because that’s corn for another mill for another production run but I am sick and tired of being intimidated because some prick with a menacing belly spilling over his belt with an even more menacing weapon has been converted from pussy to tough guy.