Sports enthusiasts may be familiar with the term “flat-track bully.” It originally comes from cricket but has crept into regular usage. It’s a term that describes a sportsperson who dominates inferior opposition but cannot beat opponents of similar or higher standing. Football fans can relate to this very well, like when they call Cristiano Ronaldo “Penaldo” after he’s scored a couple of penalties against a small team but fails to turn up against a more formidable team. Or Lionel Messi being called “Pessi” for the same reason.

With this background, we’d like to introduce you to the latest flat-track bullies in town, the Nigeria Police Force (NPF).

On March 7, 2023, the Nigerian police, via its official Twitter handle, put up a tweet condemning the use of dogs at polling units, citing the Dogs Act. The police described dogs as “offensive weapons.”

The “ratio” they got from that tweet tells you all you need to know. The police, being the flat-track bullies that they are, flexed their muscles over dogs while ignoring — forgive the irony — the elephant in the room (or their logo, whatever). 

In any case, law experts have refuted the police as having misinterpreted the law.

More importantly, however, this speaks to a Nigerian systemic disease, namely, the unusual focus on symptoms than the root causes. A brighter line of inquiry from the police should be, why do citizens prefer to carry dogs to their polling units?

Warning signs

Before the February 25 elections, there were signs that election manipulation would be rife. YIAGA Africa released a report showing states with a high risk of election manipulation based on six indicators. Lagos state alone presented a very high-risk level with five of these six indicators. They include INEC capture, tampering with the voter register, voter suppression, resistance to election technology and a history of election fraud. To varying degrees, these things played out. 

We’ve called out INEC for the shambolic way it handled the elections, but it would be completely unfair to lay all blame at their feet. INEC, for example, can’t provide security detail to protect ballots. This is the work of the police, and it’s to their shame that they also performed poorly.

The Financial Times of London reported seeing, with their own eyes, party goons invading PUs and armed men removing a presidential ballot box in Surulere. In Oshodi and Elegushi, election materials were destroyed by thugs in open view. All these happened despite the police assuring Nigerians that they had “state of the art” equipment to suppress unrest anywhere. 

In the face of these visible threats, the police and their “state-of-the-art equipment” abandoned their civic responsibility and pulled off a disappearing act that David Copperfield would be proud of. That’s a hallmark behaviour of a flat-track bully.

Will history repeat itself?

In the leadup to the March 18 governorship elections, we’ve seen reports of voter suppression and intimidation online and offline. Musiliu Akinsanya, the acclaimed ‘thug’ and Chair of the Lagos State Parks Management Committee, also known as MC Oluomo, has threatened Igbo voters, asking them to stay home if they don’t want to vote for the All Progressives Congress (APC). Dog-whistling, ethnic baiting and outright offensive campaign adverts have become the order of the day.

Curiously, the police spokespersons have been quiet on the matter. 

Based on these, is it out of reach to expect citizens to defend themselves with dogs when the people entrusted with that responsibility have gone quiet? As Stears recently noted, Nigeria has, over the years, adopted a Bring Your Own Infrastructure (BYOI) model, which includes election results, electricity and, with the latest developments, security. 

A call to action

It’s high time the Nigeria Police Force took some responsibility. Its slogan reads, “change begins with me.” The Nigerian police must be the change it wants for the better. One way to redeem its battered image is to ensure that troublesome elements who want to foment trouble on election day are clamped down on. 

No more flat-track bullying, arresting and intimidating innocent protesters as we saw during #EndSARS and empty press releases that do nothing. The Nigerian police need to show workings, and it needs to do so immediately.

We’ll be bringing you special coverage of the governorship elections as they happen across the country. To get live updates, join us on our WhatsApp by clicking the image below:



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