The above heading is not strange to the average Nigerian; at least to those conscious enough to know the Afrobeat legend and activist, Fela Anikulapo Kuti. While the message of the song was clearly meant for the military regime of the day, whose brutality had cost the life of his mother decades ago, unfortunately, the story hasn’t changed even today; the nation’s security forces, especially the Nigerian police force are yet to relinquish their ugly trademark as they still leave the same thing behind; sorrow, tears and blood.
It is often said that young Nigerians have lesser fear for criminals and would rather have an encounter with them than operatives of the police force; a fact which is only proof that the police stinks of corruption and lawlessness and is an embodiment of oppression itself. According to amnesty international, within a year, there have been approximately over three thousand extrajudicial killings in Nigeria by security operatives with the Nigerian police force accounting for about seventy percent of those killings. The killings, oppression and brutality have always been a norm with this largely unprofessional institution right from time; the recent outcry and awareness that erupted in a nationwide protest only shed more light on the atrocities perpetrated by these men.
This article like many others shares some bitter stories about police brutality and extrajudicial killings as confirmed by Amnesty International and the Prisons Rehabilitation and Law Abiding Organization International (PRALARG INT’L), reminds us that these things still happen and hopefully, charge us to keep up in the fight against injustice in our dear nation.
As part of the resolutions on the recent nationwide END SARS protest, judicial panels were set up in different states to address petitions of victims of police brutality and so far the petitions and stories that have come out from these panels have been too tragic and have further confirmed the allegations of police brutality, human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings by security operatives in Nigeria.
Apostle Anthony Olaoluwa Kusimo who appeared before the Ogun Judicial Panel of Investigation
Apostle Anthony Olaoluwa Kusimo who appeared before the Ogun Judicial Panel of Investigation narrated how he lost his right leg to amputation after being shot by a Police Officer identified as officer Moshood. Apostle Kusimo, a 62-year-old man while narrating his ordeal to the Panel at Magistrate Court 1, Isabo, Abeokuta said, “On the 9th of February, 2012, two police officers accosted me around Iporo Ake area of Abeokuta in the afternoon and one of them shot me and they both ran away”.
According to the petitioner, “I was rushed to the General Hospital, Ijaiye, Abeokuta by neighbours. After I have received some treatment, I was asked to go for X-Ray the second day, to my surprise, I got arrested at the hospital’s gate by some officers of the defunct Special Anti Robbery Squad from Magbon, Abeokuta and was put behind the counter for 37 days, tortured with a hot iron and asked to confess that I was an armed robber which I refused”. Apostle Kusimo revealed that due to neglect and lack of proper care for the leg, it started producing maggots and smelling pus which later degenerated to the level of amputation in April 2012 adding that it was at the stage when the smell was unbearable again that he was freed to go back to the hospital.
“At this point, we had no money again to purchase drugs and pay hospital bills. I had to sell my uncompleted building which was ready for roofing for just N500, 000 to take care of the medical bills”, Apostle Anthony said requesting for government’s support in terms of compensation for the money spent on his treatment and to take care of his family.
Another petition brought before the Panel was that of Mr Gbenga Kehinde who was arrested on 7th October 2017 along with his three friends at Emuren, Ijebu Ode and were taken to Magbon in Abeokuta where they were accused of stealing fish worth 63million naira from a farm in Ijebu Ode. According to the petitioner, he and his friends spent almost three months in police custody with several daily tortures from Inspector Adam Abubakar for an offence they did not commit and as at now, the cases had been adjourned to 28th January and 1st February 2021 respective for further hearing and to get the accused police officers for their responses.
CHANGE YOUR THOUGHTS, YOU CHANGE YOUR WORLD
These are only a few of the countless cases of horrible brutality suffered in the hands of the Nigerian police and some are not even lucky enough to come out of it alive. There are the ‘He tried to escape’: suspects shot after the arrest. – Some NPF officers regard the killings of suspects, who they tag as armed robbers in detention to be an acceptable practice. Some police officers take justice into their own hands by killing “guilty” suspects. The police often claim that suspects were shot while trying to escape custody. Such claims are often highly implausible as it is unlikely that suspects indeed attempted to escape. Either way, such claims are irrelevant: the lethal use of force to prevent escape is prohibited under international standards unless there is an imminent threat to the police officer which is almost never the case.
It begs us asking the question “Are our police Officers well trained? Do they even understand the law that they are paid to enforce? Because it only becomes a pathetic situation when those who are empowered by the state to enforce the law are the ones who break it by killing those who they are meant to protect in the first place. Countless allegations have hence suggested that there seems to be some kind of trigger happy syndrome among Nigerian police officers.
At the slightest disagreement with them, the next thing you usually hear is “I will waste you and nothing will happen”. That is a very horrible thing to come from a police officer and it is even more horrible when you understand that he will actually waste you and nothing will really happen just like he has said and this itself betrays the very essence of policing. While the use of force and firearms may sometimes be permissible when making an arrest or preventing a person from escaping, the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials make it clear that firearms cannot be used unless certain additional requirements are met, including as a preliminary matter that there exists a grave or imminent threat of death or serious injury.
Do not mind anything that anyone tells you about anyone else
Principle 9 of the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms further states that: “Law enforcement officials shall not use firearms against persons except in self-defence or defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury; to prevent the perpetration of a particularly serious crime involving grave threat to life, to arrest a person presenting such a danger and resisting their authority, or to prevent his or her escape, and only when less extreme means are insufficient to achieve these objectives. In any event, intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.”
Nigeria’s Constitution and the Nigeria Police Force Order 237 (Rules for guidance in the use of firearms by the police), however, provide for much wider grounds for the use of lethal force than is permissible under international law and standards. These sections are being abused by some police officers to commit, justify and cover-up extrajudicial executions. Section 33 of Nigeria’s constitution; which guarantees the right to life, also permits an overly broad exception for deprivations of life. Under this section, when force is used “to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained”, any consequent killing does not constitute a deprivation of life. Escaping or resisting arrest is a punishable crime under the Nigerian legislation (up to seven years imprisonment); but perhaps lack of clarity, ignorance and unprofessionalism of certain police officers have enabled them to take advantage of this to shoot and brutalize suspects with impunity,
Sadly, brutality isn’t the only fear the average Nigerian is aware of when he comes in contact with the police; but embarrassment and deformation of human character is just another side of the cube. When one is fortunate enough to not get shot in an often hostile encounter, he is arrested and quickly tagged an “armed robber”; He is paraded as a criminal in front of the media and in most cases, the detainees have not yet been brought before a court of law. This contravenes the presumption of innocence as guaranteed by Nigeria’s Constitution and international human rights law.
There is also the part where they deny victims life-saving medical treatment. – The Nigerian police force has been called out endlessly on these allegations of neglecting wounded or sick suspects in their custody and even denying them needed medical attention. Amnesty International verified the story of one Christian Onuigbo, aged 28 and a father of one, who died on 21 March 2009. Two days earlier, on 19 March, he was shot by the police while parking his car in Jiwa, Federal Capital Territory.
He spent the night at Jiwa Police Station and was taken to hospital the next morning. Staff at the hospital refused to treat him without a police report, which was finally submitted at 4 pm. Christian Onuigbo died the following day; although his body is still in the hospital’s mortuary at the time, the authorities refused to carry out an autopsy.
Hospitals often refuse to treat people with gunshot wounds because the police insist that doctors receive a police report before treatment but as far as PRALARG INT’L could ascertain, there is no such provision in Nigerian law. According to the UN Special Rapport on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, “Nigeria police have systematically encouraged a practice whereby medical personnel will not treat individuals reporting with bullet or knife wounds before receiving police authorization hence many hospitals will not grant access to victims; and since permission is often delayed or withheld, many avoidable casualties occur.
Transferred to Abuja’ Enforced disappearances – Lastly, there have been countless cases of the sudden disappearance of suspects in police custody. It has become a trend that Nigerians now even understand what it all means for a suspect to be announced missing right in police custody. The police itself has found a way to tell such appalling tales by simply saying “he has been transferred to Abuja”. Despite the numerous allegations on this regard, almost nothing has been done about it and up till now families and loved ones who last saw their arrested relatives in police custody have no idea where they are; some for years, others so long they have accepted their possible death.
Such was the case of 44-year-old Uche Okoye who disappeared in police custody in June 2005. His family was told that he was “transferred to Abuja”. – “He is not in Abuja, they killed him! When they say they have transferred to Abuja, it means they have killed you,”
Uche Okoye’s brother said to Amnesty International. When the brother went to the police to find Uche Okoye’s whereabouts, he was also arrested. During his four months in State CID custody, he saw several people being taken out of their cells: “Often at midnight or at 5 am, whoever they would call, you won’t see him again… They once took six people from my cell and they never came back.” He believes that these people were also killed by the police.
Sometime in 2016, the Prison Rehabilitation and Law Abiding Organization International (PRALARG INT’L) handled the case of a woman whose brother was arrested by the Federal SARS unit of the Nigerian police force in Ibadan, Oyo state. When she went to their station at Adelubi to secure his bail; she was told it was a serious matter and she needed to bring a total sum of N350, 000 to secure his release. They would not even let her see him until the payment was made. She hurriedly made an initial payment of N250, 000 and paid them the remaining N100, 000 on the agreed date. Haven made the complete payment, she went back to the station to demand her brother’s release and she was surprised to be told that he had been taken to Abuja.
She quickly boarded a bus to Abuja and headed for the police headquarters there. When she got there she was told her brother wasn’t brought to Abuja as they claimed and the police officers over there directed her back to Ibadan in search for her brother and equally tipped her that there was already a possibility that her brother had been killed since it was their usual way of dispersing the families of killed suspects.
PRALARG INT’L was at the forefront of the fight to find out what happened to her brother and on one of the days of the draining movements, as it was becoming clear her brother had been killed in police custody, she suddenly fainted. She was rushed to the hospital and that was where her brother’s name coincidentally popped up in the hospital records. Apparently, his corpse had been deposited there by the police and no one had come for it but her story and the resemblance in their names prompted the hospital staffs to ask her about the body and she found out it was her brother’s whom the police had arrested days back and claimed was transferred to Abuja. Nobody was held responsible for her brother’s death up till now; no justice or compensation.
Enforced disappearances in Nigeria are rife. In the first days or weeks the following arrest, families are usually allowed to visit their relatives in detention. Later on, the police tell them their loved ones have been “transferred to Abuja”. Other times, the police simply deny any knowledge of their whereabouts. From the numerous cases of such nature handled by PRALARG INT’L, we too have been able to sadly confirm that “transferred to Abuja” is a euphemism for being killed by the police while in custody. In some cases, police officers unofficially told the families that their loved one was dead and demanded money from them to reveal the location of the corpse. In other cases, families of victims were even oppressed and just told to leave so they go in search of their lost relatives in morgues and dumpsites around the city. Yes! Suspects in police custody are being killed and just disappear before being brought to court.
Despite Nigeria’s national and international obligations to ensure that suspects are able to promptly challenge the legality of their detention before a court, and to hold a trial within a reasonable time, Nigerians are still made to go through such horrible experiences in the hands of our law enforcement agencies.
Conclusion – We have always known about these things; these stories are not strange to our ears and why we hope for a better Nigeria someday where we can all live without fear of being killed by those men at to protect us; we must, however, be ready to stand up and take responsibility of this change we seek. It doesn’t have to be a relative before you counter oppression. Parking your car to stand by an oppressed motorist by the roadside might go a long way to save his life. We also reach out to the leadership of the Nigerian police force; just like the demands of the recent ENDSARS protests have stated, there has to be a compulsory psychological test on police officers before empowering them with a weapon and such authority. The government of the day needs to understand that no nation fights its own citizen. Police training has to go beyond long-distance treks, pushups, aiming or the usual rigorous physical engagements. While those are important, there is a need for our police officers to be fully grounded in the knowledge of the law that they are empowered to enforce for how can a man teach what he does not know.
As an organization that believes in the complete respect for human rights and noble dedication to national development, we believe a good police force is an inexcusable catalyst for a great nation and hence our officers must be well trained to carry out their duties effectively without unnecessary brutality and killings and the sooner this is adequately addressed the better it is for the nation because as William Butler once said: “What the centre cannot hold, the head cannot carry; things fall apart”. The Nigerian people and its leaders need to wake up to the challenges of the day as regards security and the non-negotiable respect of human rights especially by members of the police force.
COMRADE AKINWUNMI OLAYEMI