Assault on women has increasingly become a social epidemic in the country. One of its latest victims, Tolu Adesh, had a rough deal in the hands of an irresponsible local government official in Ogun State, for refusing the team’s extortionist overtures when she was apprehended for violating the recent COVID-19 interstate lockdown. She was beaten up by the sadist official but the assaulted woman ensured the nasty encounter with the brutish official was recorded on video. The official, arrested and undergoing investigation for possible sanction, has been suspended without pay along with his other colleagues who abetted him. Adesh should seek redress and the Ogun State Government should ensure that justice is served.
Besides the physical attack, Adesh’s vehicle tyres were deflated. The untoward activities of these officials were not penalties for the lockdown breach, exemplified in the swift response of the transition Chairman of Ifo Local Government, Fola Salami. This show of shame came to the fore because of its video recording by the victim and its subsequent uploading online, going viral in the process. Writhing in pain, the woman could be heard in the video screaming, drawing public attention as she was being pummelled. Not even the presence of her husband could stir restraint from the unscrupulous LGA official. She said, “I started recording because I saw that my pleas were falling on deaf ears, while the officer called a guy to deflate our tyres. While recording, the man beat me, kicked me, pushed me and punched me because of N15,000.”
This is not only violence against women, it is also a clear act of impunity. Through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp and other social media platforms, Nigerians are quite often fed with a cocktail of professional misconduct of police personnel and soldiers while on duty: they harass, intimidate, extort, assault and kill believing that such illegalities will not be known. Non-state actors like bandits, armed robbers, kidnappers and civilians on one another, also engage in this growing debasement of societal values. But with social media, these barbarities are spiralling out into the open.
Violence against women and girls is a widespread and enduring form of gender-based discrimination. This was the case with the incredible torture of three women, which included a mother and her stepdaughter, for allegedly stealing pepper at a market in Ejigbo, a Lagos suburb, seven years ago. They were stripped naked, beaten and subjected to sexual sadism. Foreign objects laced with pepper were thrust into their private organs. The brutality occurred in 2013 but was unravelled a year later through the video that went viral. The public outrage that followed, especially the quest for justice by the Women Arise for Change Initiative group, resulted in the prosecution of 12 suspects. Social media activism unveiled the circumstances surrounding the death of a footballer, Kazeem Tiamiyu, during a questionable arrest in February in Ogun State. The police officer, the suspect in the murder, was promptly arrested for investigation. Also, last year, a video exposed a senator who slapped a nursing mother in an Abuja sex toy shop. The list is endless.
Social media work both ways. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have become platforms for seeking justice for what is unjust but obscured from public view. As the new normal in an age of Internet of things, citizen-journalism has increased public participation in information dissemination and fostering of awareness. Experts say social networking rapidly has become a valuable intelligence-gathering tool for law enforcement agencies, as well as a source of evidence for defence and prosecution personnel who search Facebook pages, Twitter feeds or YouTube videos seeking to discredit witnesses, establish law enforcement bias, track down evidence or establish associations between gang members. Often, perpetrators brag about their crimes on social networks, and child pornographers and sexual predators have been located and apprehended because of their online activities.
This should be encouraged by all levels of government as one of the strategies that can help in solving Nigeria’s worsening security challenges and human rights abuses in high and low places. Pierre Omidyer in a Huffington Post article argues, “These new and truly social channels have the power to radically alter our world.” Absolutely! This finds ample expression when the United States convulsed recently from the sickening racism of white supremacist police officers that resulted in the death of an African-American, George Floyd, in Minneapolis, late in May. It widened the #BlackLivesMatter movement and violent protests in major cities in the US and Europe. To its chagrin, the world watched a viral video where a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, killed Floyd with a chokehold. He knelt on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 15 seconds. With his entire body under a police vehicle, he agonisingly kept shouting: “I cannot breathe,” until he gave up the ghost. It was a most bizarre scene, the height of cruelty and disrespect for the sanctity of life. Summarily, the police sacked the four officers involved in the episode who are now undergoing trial for murder.
A similar official chastisement attended the pushing of a 75-year-old male protester of Floyd’s murder in Buffalo by two police officers also exposed in a viral video. In response to public outcry to this unending anomie, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that outlawed chokehold “unless an officer’s life is at risk.” It is part of a raft of police reform many Americans are clamouring for.
The deployment of social media in policing and crime detection has become global armour, which the Nigerian authorities should embrace. A survey by the Journal of Social Behaviour and Health among police officers showed that 43.3 per cent revealed that “unwarranted public criticisms of police officers is the major challenge the popularity of social media poses to police force.” However, the New York Police for instance, has a unit that monitors information or data on social media platforms, just as Australia’s organisations use social media to ramp up their community policing goals.
As other civilised societies have done, the Nigerian authorities should curb official lawlessness. Women and girls should be protected from men’s brutality. The WHO says men are more likely to perpetrate violence if they have low education, a history of child maltreatment, exposure to domestic violence against their mothers, harmful use of alcohol, unequal gender norms including attitudes accepting of violence, and a sense of entitlement over women. Social media provide unprecedented capacities to monitor and expose these abnormalities and the people against perceived injustice. In Nigeria, citizens’ audacity to expose criminality through this information technology device is a risk many people would be unwilling to take. The lady that the reckless Ogun LGA official turned into a punching bag dared to video-record his excesses because he is a civilian.
When the police and military are the culprits, the brutality could be more or even fatal. For this reason, there should be legislative support through laws to protect citizens from being manhandled when discharging this decidedly civic duty of exposing crime through this means. It is a veritable tool in intelligence gathering and unravelling of criminality the Nigerian state should give official stamp to continue to provide voice to the voiceless and defence to the defenceless members of society.