Beyond Reforming The Kill-And-Go Police

By Casmir Igbokwe

I had a brief encounter with a security man at Radisson Blu Hotel, Ikeja, last Thursday. As I drove to the car park, the man stopped me and said, “Oga, there is no space. But I can park you behind the car of someone I know. The problem is that I don’t have credit on my phone. If you give me ‘recharge card,’ I will call you when the man wants to leave.” When I eventually parked, I discovered that my car did not actually block any car. That was when the real meaning of this special ‘recharge card’ dawned on me. It also dawned on me that many individuals and institutions in Nigeria need reforms.

The Senate has kick-started such reforms with the passage of the Police Reform Bill. The recent upswing in the rate of killings by the black-uniformed men partly engendered the Senate action. Last week, for instance, Emmanuel Nick and Abdullahi Maimatarba, from Yola in Adamawa State, became the latest victims. These two men were in police custody over an alleged theft. Nick’s major crime was alleged stealing of a jerrycan of diesel near a telecommunications mast in Wurocheke, Yola. But rather than charge them to court, the police decided to take the law into their hands. They reportedly tortured the men to death.

To cover their tracks, the culprits allegedly deposited the corpse of 24-year-old Nick at the state specialist hospital’s mortuary. The deceased’s father, Kaino, has demanded justice for his son, alleging that police authorities in the state were conspiring to shield the perpetrators.

On his part, Maimatarba, a father of five, died at the state specialist hospital after policemen allegedly brutalised him. The deceased’s wife and mother alleged that the cops arrested him at his residence by 1am and took him to Doubeli Police Station.

According to Maimatarba’s widow, the police clubbed him on the head, and disregarded her pleas to allow him to wear his trousers as he was in shorts. The outraged youths in the area protested over this incident last Monday, chanting “one death too many.”

Late last month, it was the residents of Onipetesi, in the Mangoro area of Lagos, who went on the rampage over the killing of Kolade Johnson by the police from the anti-cultism unit of the Lagos State Police Command. The police team had reportedly visited the area in search of youths dressed wildly and wearing dreadlocks. One of the policemen allegedly shot Johnson from behind in a bid to disperse the crowd that had gathered to witness the raid in the area.

Police authorities in the state arrested the killer unit. After investigations, they found Inspector Ogunyemi Olalekan guilty of killing Johnson, dismissed him and also handed him over to the Criminal Investigation Department, Panti, for prosecution. The state’s Commissioner of Police, Zubairu Muazu, had called for calm and promised far-reaching reforms of the anti-cultism squad, especially in the area of respect for human rights and proficiency in the use of firearms.

The same Muazu also called for calm and promised some action when some police officers shot dead a 20-year-old girl called Ada Ifeanyi in the Ajegunle area of Lagos on April 13, 2019. The shooting also affected one Emmanuel Akomafuwa, who reportedly sustained life-threatening injuries. Like the Johnson case, the police authorities in the state have also arrested the five suspects involved and have dismissed one Inspector Dania Ojo, who they earlier declared wanted over the incident. The errant police officers were also said to have faced internal disciplinary action and would be prosecuted for murder.

Curiously, the name of one of the arrested officers is Inspector Adamu Usman. In June last year, another Adamu Usman was one of the three “dismissed” officers from Area ‘H’ Command in Ogudu, Lagos. This particular one was a sergeant. The officers reportedly manhandled one Mr. Ademuwagun Temitope Solomon whom they accused of being a fraudster. They sprayed him with teargas and, being an asthma patient, the man collapsed and developed an asthmatic fit. May God save us from the Adamu Usmans of this world!

The spokesman for the police in Lagos, Bala Elkana, noted that, within the last one month, the Lagos State Police Command had dismissed four policemen for abuse of power and awarded various degrees of punishment to 41 others. The dismissed cops were reportedly charged to court and remanded in prison custody. Earlier last year, the command dismissed eight officers, reduced the ranks of four and warned 28 others.

However, it appears the more the authorities try to eliminate the bad eggs in their midst, the more they replicate. Recently, an Akwa Ibom State high court sitting in Uyo sentenced seven persons, including three policemen and a woman, to death for kidnapping. The state instituted the suit against eight members of the gang in 2012. One interesting aspect of the case was that the plain-clothed operatives of the State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (SCIID) reportedly got the shock of their lives when they discovered that the first persons who approached the venue for the ransom delivery were their colleagues at the SCIID.

Worried by the crime rate among the men of the police force, the acting Inspector-General of Police, Adamu Mohammed, recently warned police personnel to shun activities that demean the image of the force. Mohammed, who visited Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos last Monday, following the recent cases of extra-judicial killings in the state, warned that any police officer who went out of his way to commit extra-judicial killing was on his own and must face the wrath of the law.

This is hoping that operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the police heard this warning. These SARS men systematically torture detainees to extract confessions and lucrative bribes. According to Amnesty International, the torture methods they use include hanging, starvation, beatings, shootings and mock executions. Their atrocities were such that Nigerians, two years ago, moved to the social media to campaign for the disbandment of the unit. Also, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, as Acting President, ordered the total overhaul of the squad last year. Even the police authorities, at one time or the other had regaled Nigerians with tales of SARS operatives undergoing training programmes in core police duties, respect for human rights and humane handling of suspects in custody.

In furtherance of this reform agenda, the Senate, last week, passed the much-awaited Police Reform Bill. The bill, according to the Senate, aims at establishing a service-oriented and modern police that would meet globally acceptable policing standards in a democratic setting. It is also aimed at establishing guiding principles such as efficiency and effectiveness, accountability, transparency, protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and partnership with other security institutions to ensure effective policing in Nigeria.

Some other aims include methods of dealing with abuse of weapons by police officers; establishment of community police and boards in all the states of the federation that will consist of broad representatives of the community and the state to ensure effective and participatory community policing; and the establishment of an independent complaint authority to effectively deal with public complaints against police officers.

Senate President, Bukola Saraki, said this was the best the Senate could do to honour those who had lost their lives along the way due to the fact that our laws at that time were not in line. The passed bill will still have to be transmitted to the President for his assent after the House of Representatives has concurred.

The Senate also passed the bill to enhance the funding of the police force. The Police Trust Fund Bill aims at ensuring that the federal, state, local governments as well as the private sector contribute meaningfully to the funding of the police. The hope is that the passage of this bill into law will provide the funding needed for training and recruitment. It will also help in tackling the large-scale corruption, poor equipment and poor welfare of officers and frequent killings of innocent Nigerians by the police.

We hope the bills will achieve the purpose and intent of the promoters. But judging from past efforts at reforming the security agency, I doubt if frequent bathing of a pig will transform the general perception that it is a very dirty animal. Police personnel are Nigerians. They did not come down from the moon. Hence, they cannot operate outside the culture of impunity that has been entrenched in our polity. And virtually all the security agencies have similar faults.

But we cannot get tired of initiating reforms. Beyond the police, we need to reform the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Department of State Security, the Customs and Immigration services, the armed forces, the warders, the judiciary, and the civil service. In fact, we need to even reform and restructure the National Assembly and the entire Nigerian system.

Happy Easter!

  • First published in the Daily Sun of Monday, April 22, 2019

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