By Jaime Yaya Barry
The village of Thampèreh has, over the years, had a very toxic relationship with its laws. Even though the village has a constitution or guiding principles for everyone to follow, the principles are sketched in the most confusing ways that only those who have the power to implement them tend to benefit from them. And since their establishment, many wonder if the laws were designed to give villagers power or protect those in power.
Thampèreh’s constitution guarantees many civil liberties. It gives villagers the right to protest, free speech, free movement, and the right to peaceful assembly. It also ensures that every citizen, regardless of the crime, has the right to a fair and unbiased trial. But as basic as these rights may sound, they appear among the most complex constitutional issues in the village. The complexity became an instrument used by state actors to perpetuate lawlessness on citizens in the name of law and order.
But “law and order” can only work when the law remains the basis for implementing the order, and where one fails, it provides a recipe for lawlessness from both state actors and citizens.
For the right to protest, villagers are mandated to inform the Inspector General of Police (the head of Thampèreh’s N.A. Gbada). The IG’s mandate under this law is to provide adequate security for protesters to hold successful protests without posing a threat to lives and properties. His role is not to decide whether citizens have a cause or valid reason to protest or not. He is to determine whether he has enough personnel to accompany protesters and, where he lacks such personnel, whether his approval will not threaten the village’s security. And this has been the basis for denying hundreds of requests to hold peaceful protests in the village.
Established in the year of the Lord, 1894, Thampèreh’s police force is one of the oldest police forces in the Green Kingdom yet remains among the most unprofessional and ill-trained police forces of our time. And some police officers may want to act professionally. But because the police’s powers and ability to enact justice come from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the head of the police can be hired and fired by the President at any time, “orders from above” will continue to overshadow their professionality. And to ignore those orders from above is to end up at Rotifunk.
That is why, despite currently having over twelve thousand (12,000) officers, the village’s Inspector General of police continues to deny citizens their fundamental right to protest, citing inadequate personnel and limited resources to handle large crowds of protesters.
Thampèreh’s police force has different riot control mechanisms, including a good number of officers using riot gear, water cannons, and teargas. But, for the most part, the N.A. Gbada’s only response to protests and riots is using live bullets. Even when protests often remain peaceful, they have always responded with heavy-handedness resulting in deaths and injuries, and on different occasions, arresting and locking up protesters.
And in recent times, the police have killed dozens of citizens and arrested several others, citing the failure to obtain permission before protesting. But not once have the police respected its side of the mandate to grant permission to a single group of protestors and accord them the needed security support to express their fundamental right as stated in the village’s constitution.
In several instances, citizens’ rights to free speech, free movement, and peaceful assembly have all been suppressed as many were arrested, denied bail, and detained beyond the mandated timeframe while subjecting them to inhumane treatment during detention before appearing in court. Political affiliation continues to influence the village’s justice system to the extent that a fair and unbiased trial is rarely guaranteed.
Recently, the police issued a press release as part of efforts to “ensure and guarantee better understanding and engagements with the police.”
But with the laws being transformed into instruments of lawlessness and perpetrated on citizens by state actors, the trust is broken. It is difficult for citizens to see such statements from the police as a move to guarantee better understanding and engagement between the police and citizens.
And as the village continues to struggle with its lawless laws, citizens will likely turn to lawlessness instead of the law. Because though both have never worked for them, one at least guarantees that they get their messages across, even if it comes with a considerable risky price to pay.