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By Olusola Bakare
WHEN the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) was established, the sole intention in the mind of the government was to provide internal security vis-à-vis protection of lives and property of the citizenry. The Nigeria Police, established to prevent and detect crimes, to apprehend offenders, to maintain law and order, to protect property and to enforce all laws and regulations – being the principal enforcer of laws in Nigeria, boasts of the largest workforce with 36 State commands grouped into 12 Zones, each headed by an Assistant Inspector General (AIG) and 7 administrative organs. The overall head of the NPF is Inspector General of Police (IGP).
Every responsible government must, as one of its cardinal responsibilities, ensure the safety of life and property of its citizens. According to section 14(2) (b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” Hence, it is through an establishment and maintenance of a well-organized and effective police force that the government performs this responsibility and provides a feeling of security to its citizens. Having been part of the relevant international treaties especially on human rights which include: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) 1966, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) 1966, International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 and the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel among others.
It is, however, ironical and disheartening to note that despite Nigeria’s allegiance to these international treaties, especially the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, the rising cases of human rights abuse have fearfully become daily experiences for Nigerians who have become so acclimatized to human rights abuse. This strange perception by Nigerians is prompted by the incessant rate of human rights abuses which always involve the police against the citizens. It must be noted that the military is also culpable in human rights abuses in Nigeria. Human rights violations started in the days of the military in Nigeria.
This article, like many others, is clued-up to x-ray the police brutality of civilians in Nigeria.
Cases of police brutality and violation of Nigerians’ human rights have indeed formed one of the ugly developments that have been exported outside the shores of Nigeria. In one of its recent reports, Amnesty International (AI) reported that in Nigeria, police officers have turned civilians into subjects of extortion, rape, torture and killings. The report added that sufferers of these crimes still wait endlessly for justice because the law against torture of civilians meant to provide justice, is not being enforced. It is heart-breaking that survivors of police brutality have risked everything to tell their stories and seek justice, while the relatives of those who have died, suffered the same fate. The AI urged Nigerians to take action to end impunity and demand the reform of the Nigeria Police.
On 30 April 2018, one Ugochukwu, a 32-year-old trader, was arrested at his shop by the police on the allegation that he paid a gang whose members had been blackmailing him. His arrest was one without a warrant. One would have expected that the police would perform their civic duties to help Ugochukwu trace his blackmailers, arrest them and bring them to justice. But, no! Instead, of the police to do that, they felt Ugochukwu had committed an offence by paying his blackmailers hence, the need to arrest him. The police officers requested him to part with a huge sum of N20,000,000.00 ($40,000) to free him. Ugochukwu was detained and tortured for six days. A mock execution was staged to break and force him to pay.
Still reluctant to yield to their threats, the police officers told him that they would end his life should he refused further to make the payment. They blindfolded, handcuffed and pushed him inside a car. The police officers drove around for more than two hours before he was abandoned near a borrow pit inside the bush. The police officers drew their guns and pointed them at him. Sensing that the officers could play out their threats especially at such a highly secluded place, Ugochukwu begged for his life as the leader of the police squad ordered for Ugochukwu’s execution. He heard the sound of rapid gunshots and passed out. By the time he finally came around, he found himself in the car and policemen returned him to the cell. They told him point-blank that he would not be so lucky next time. Eventually, Ugochukwu had to pay N6,000,000.00 ($6,000) to the officers the next day before he could be released.
This is just one case too many. For years, heap cases have been reported by the human rights organizations and the media who have documented incessant extrajudicial killings, torture, and other atrocities committed by officers of the Nigeria Police with nothing to come out of the reportage despite the existence of the law criminalizing torture which was passed in December 2017.
Officers of the Nigeria Police Force are infamous for torture and extrajudicial killings. The recent death of Hamilton Osahenhen Obazee who was arrested and allegedly tortured to death by police officers on 6th March 2020 in Edo State, sparked several demonstrations to demand the end of Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), an organ of the Nigeria Police known for its gross abuse of young Nigerians.
Many at times, one wonders if officers of the Nigeria Police are ever taken through modern policing practices as brutality, use of torture as interrogative technique and other wanton abuses of human rights have commonly been employed by them against Nigerians. In reality, the use of these inhuman and violent techniques has attracted public abhorrence, scorn, and condemnation to the Force by the Nigerians. Torture, being one of the most extreme forms of violence, resulting in both psychological and physical injuries, is sometimes considered as an indispensable interrogation mechanism for gathering strategic intelligence.
Studies have, however, shown that torture and other forms of violent abuses can have lasting negative effects on both survivors and perpetrators. Even in the police ranks, torture is considered as an ineffective way of obtaining confessions from suspects. This method is not only demeaning, it barbaric, too!
Despite state proscriptions against torture and custodial misconduct by the police, torture has been reported as being regularly used by the police across Nigeria, which is a major reason behind the death of many suspects in police custody (Amnesty International, 2014; 2015). As reported by the Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN, 2010), officers of the Nigeria Police Force habitually carry out summary executions of persons, accused or suspected of crimes; rely on torture as a principal means of investigation; commit rape of both sexes, and engage in extortion at nearly every opportunity. Article 5 of the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations’ resolutions 34/169 of 17 December 1979 is strongly against violent treatment of accused persons by the police or other law enforcement officers: “No law enforcement official may inflict, instigate or tolerate any act of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, nor may any law enforcement official invoke superior orders or exceptional circumstances such as a state of war or a threat of war, a threat to national security, internal political instability or any other public emergency as a justification for torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
A former Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Coomasie, once accused the NPF of “barbaric treatment of Nigerians” (Punch, 2016: 38). His statement was corroborated by some female ex-detainees who accused police officers of sexual abuse, including rape and using pepper spray on their genitals. Rather than carrying out an in-depth investigation into the allegation, police authorities debunked the allegation and described it in its entirety as “misleading, a clear misrepresentation of facts, unverified accounts and absolute distortion of the current situation in Special Anti-Robbery Squad [SARS] throughout the country.”
Worried by the incessant reports of systemic human rights abuses by men of the Police Force, an ex-IGP, Ibrahim Idris, while in office, once warned the police officers against torture and extra-judicial killings, saying “no policeman in the world had the right or authority to kill crime suspects” (Punch, 2016: 23). He admonished them to always respect the right of every Nigerian, noting that this was the way they could change the negative public perception about them. Police detainees are held in a variety of locations, including a grim detention centre in Abuja known as the ‘Abattoir’, where Amnesty International found 130 detainees living in overcrowded cells.
Despite public outcry against the systemic police brutality and its perpetual effects on Nigerians, it is unfortunate that the police are undeterred. It is disbelieving that the lives of Nigerians do not matter to the police that should supposedly be protecting them. Police protection of the citizens has become so unpopular among Nigerians because the Force is working in direct opposite of its core establishment purposes.
Just last week, the embattled former acting Managing Director of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Ms. Joi Nunieh escaped police brutality by the whisker as she would have been forcefully abducted by the police if not for the timely intervention of Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State. As early as 4.30 a.m. the battle-ready policemen had besieged Nunieh’s residence to forcedly gain entrance. If Governor Wike had not swiftly arrived at the scene, the police would have arrested Nunieh without any warrant. Were she to be an ordinary citizen without contact with anybody in the corridors of power, the policemen laying siege to her residence would have succeeded in illegally brutalizing or abducting her and the rest would have been a heart-touching story?
You may be aware that the brutality and barbarity with which George Floyd in faraway the United States of America was murdered are negligible compared to the gruesome extra-judicial executions and brutality by police in Nigeria. These cases and how innocent civilians in Nigerians are habitually being extorted, raped, tortured, and killed on daily basis by police officers who are members of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) have largely been part of the documentations of Amnesty International.
A friend had recounted his experience many years ago at the Bode Police Station, Surulere, Lagos State. He related: “no sooner had I climbed up the back stairs to meet a desk officer on duty than I saw a young man hanging upside down inside one of the dirty police cubicles. Blood was already gushing out and clotting on his nostrils. His face had turned red. He was gasping for breath. I spontaneously opened my mouth wide and began shouting to the hearing of everyone, “Release him! What did he do!”, “You want to kill someone.” Immediately the police officer standing in front of the victim quickly untied the victim and assisted him to stand in an upright position, thus enabling him to breathe properly. The officer obeyed because he sensed I was poised to do physical battle with the police for hanging a suspect upside down to suffocate him to death.”
The rule of law ought to reign supreme over the arbitrary and whimsical exercise of police power. The fundamental rights of Nigerian citizens including the constitutional rights of criminal suspects, detainees and even criminal convicts are unambiguously stipulated in our 1999 Constitution as amended. Every citizen should be presumed innocent until proved guilty by a court of law. Suspicion, no matter how probable or grounded, should not secure a criminal conviction. A police officer or any law enforcement agent, in a bid to detect crime or apprehend an offender, may stop any citizen for a search or questioning, but on the condition that he first identifies himself as a police officer by stating his name, police station and the grounds for the questioning or the search.
If the policeman fails to sufficiently identify himself as aforesaid, then the citizen is not obliged to submit himself for a search or questioning. Any person who is arrested or detained should have the right to remain silent or avoid answering any question from the police until after consultation with his lawyer. More so, any person who is arrested or detained should be informed in writing within 24 hours in the language in which he understands the facts and grounds for his arrest or detention. And where a person has been arrested either to charge him to a court or upon the reasonable commission of an offence, such a person should be charged to court within a reasonable time not exceeding 48 hours failure of which he should be granted bail pending appeal.
Lawyers and human rights activists, social analysts and journalists complain every day about police officers regularly demanding bribes, stealing, extorting money and engaging in different forms of brutality and abuse of rights. It saddens the heart that there are not many empirical studies to detail the manner of abuse and systematic brutality that arrestees are exposed to while in police custody. This may largely be due to the difficulty in gathering data on the subject matter from police departments across the country as a result of the “culture of silence” with which such matters are treated in our society.
Very recently, a brother, who I know so well, was stopped by policemen at Ogudu area in Lagos State. The officers collected his phone and ordered him to insert his password. This did not just happen. They threatened to shoot him if he refused to obey their commands. He was accused of being an internet fraudster because of his look. The police officers wrapped him with this allegation because he was wearing dreadlocks.
The police searched through his phone and found a conversation the brother had with a friend about some young boys who were involved in homosexuality. The police concluded that the boy was gay. He was, thereafter, taken to a secluded place. They threatened to kill him and dump his body in the bush unless he paid N500, 000. 00. Sensing the apparent danger and reports police brutality he had read, he feared for his life and offered to give them N50, 000 which they declined.
The policemen went further to force him to open the bank application on his phone to access his account balance where they found N265, 000 ($530). They then invited an operator of Point of Service (POS) into whose account, my brother was forced to transfer the whole N265, 000 and they gave him only N2,000 to transport himself home. The young lad was devastated and dejected. He professed his hatred for Nigeria, his country of birth, and resolved to do anything to get out of the country and never to come back, again!
Relatedly, an incident involved a friend who went to withdraw a sum running into millions of naira from an old generation bank. On his way out of the bank, he was accosted by a three-man police team on a trumped-up identity suspicion. The police told him that he appearance i.e. his look and dressing, was suspicious. My friend tried frantically to convince them of how responsible he was and where he was working all of which fell on the deaf ears of the police officers. On realizing the adamance of the officers to let him go, he was forced to ask what they actually wanted from him to which the officers replied that until he would part with a large chunk of the money with him.
Throughout the period of the drama, none of the passers-by could come closer to intervene and my friend, on sensing that the dare-devil officers could kill him and still take the money, feared for his life and eventually yielded to the demands of the officers. For months after the ordeal, he was traumatized and became psychologically perplexed as he couldn’t believe he actually went through all that in the hands of those being paid by the government to protect him.
Personally, I have been abused and my rights violated by the officers on patrol around Ogudu-loke, a middle class populated area of Lagos State. On this fateful day, I was driving home from work when I was stopped by a couple of police officers who claimed to be on stop and search routine in the area. During the course of the searching, one of them saw a deposit slip for the payment of N50, 000 (less than $200) which I made into my brother’s account for onward transfer to my aged parents in the village. I had made the payment two days earlier.
When they could not find anything implicating in my car, they picked the deposit slip and demanded to know who was it that I transferred the money to and for what purpose. This was despite the same surname present on the deposit slip and my Driver’s Licence shown to them). I explained but they were not satisfied by my explanation and asked that I should drive to their station to put down a better explanation in written form. They all got into my car as we headed for Ogudu Police Station.
On our way, they asked that I should pull over to settle the matter amicably which got me infuriated as I queried why should I when we were almost at their station. As I pulled over, one of them appealed to have a private talk with me. He asked that I should settle them so that they would not take me to their station but, I insisted and when he observed that I was not ready to do their bidding, he threatened to shoot me should I continue to waste their time. My heart was in my mouth as I sensed that I could lose my life! I quickly reconsidered my stance and had to do as ‘instructed’. At least, to avoid another heart-touching story.
So, giving the issue a wider periscope, it could easily be summed up that The Nigeria Police, because of their brutal and inherent abuse of the citizens’ rights, contribute in no little measure to palpable fears, loss of trust in the force and undesirable exodus of youths, the leaders of tomorrow, from the country as an escape route from police brutality and insecurity in the country.
Is it not metaphorical that despite the claim by the Police to being the friend of the citizens, the citizens do not feel an iota of genuine friendliness from the Police? In reality, the common phrase among Nigerians now is that “with Police as a friend, Nigerians don’t need an armed robber.”