Police as your f(r)iend
By Ikedi Isiguzo,
Chairman, Editorial Board
LITTLE Kaosarat Saliu was radiant in her new hairstyle. Last April 5 was a day to her third birthday – she never made the day. Policemen at a check point at Alapere, Lagos shot her to death. The little girl and her parents, who were in their car, had nothing to do with the incident that led to her demise.
They were returning from the hairdresserâ€™s, where her hair had been done for her special day. The police admitted she was shot in error. The target was a commercial bus driver who refused to submit to N20 extortion. Days after her death, the police was still threatening her father, for talking to the press, refused to release items seized from him including his mobile phone and held to the babyâ€™s corpse, which the family wanted to bury.
Deaths like Kaosaratâ€™s, at illegal checkpoints, are becoming routine. The police authorities connive in concealing the identities of the killers, transferring to other parts of the country, or refusing to prosecute them. The killing of Mohammed Yusuf and Alhaji Buji Foi, alleged leaders of the Boko Haram sect in Maiduguri is earning such killings new attention, but it would not last.
In November 1999, in Odi, Bayelsa State, soldiers retaliating the killing of 12 policemen killed over 250 people. The army again killed 200 people in villages in Benue State between 22 and 24 October 2001, in retaliation for the killing of 19 soldiers.
To date, the military authorities have not prosecuted any military personnel in connection with these killings, not minding the outrage that attended the operations in Odi.
Former President Obasanjo declared to a local television station in March 2001 that he had â€œno apology to makeâ€ over the destruction of Odi. â€œThis statement by the president is a clear signal that there is no political will to prosecute those in the armed forces responsible for human rights violations in Odi. It is a dangerous declaration that could pave the way for new incidents of similar nature,â€ Amnesty International noted in its report.
At the Lagos Command Headquarters, the new inspector general of the police, Mustafa Balogun, on March 11, 2002, directed police throughout Nigeria to return fire without seeking approval from superior officers when in â€œvery difficult situations.â€
The 2003 Human Rights Watch World Report noted that the police â€œitself stated that at least 225 criminal suspects had been shot dead between March and June 2002â€.Â In 2000, the Police â€œreported killing 509 persons and injuring 113 in pursuit of robbers in Lagos Stateâ€ according to a report the Nigerian Democratic Movement (NDM) State Department Human Rights released on February 26, 2001.
â€œThe Nigerian police have remained detached and oppressive of the people like its colonial antecedent. The Police have a wide ambit of power without accountability,â€ Dr. Oko O. Elechi, of the University of Wisconsin – Parkside, told an international conference at The Hague in 2003.
Former inspector-general Mike Okiro said during his first 90 days in office, that police arrested almost 1,600 suspected armed robbers and killed another 785. The figures suggested Nigerian police killed people at a similar pace as in 2003, the year it reported shooting dead 3,100 robbery suspects. Four years after the findings of the Justice Goodluck Commission on the Apo Killings; the consequent arraignment of policemen believed to be responsible for the killings before a Federal High Court; and announcement of compensation to be paid to deceasedâ€™s relatives, the police appears to have learnt nothing.
On 9 August 2006, the police paraded 12 robbery suspects, including a 12 year old, before the media and the public at the Central Police Station in Umuahia. The suspects, some of whom displayed gun-shot wounds, the police said, were arrested after an exchange of gunfire with the police in which four others were shot dead at Ohokobe Ndume, a community in Umuahia North Local Government Area. The police later killed the suspects and dumped 16 bodies at the premises of the Federal Medical Centre, Umuahia.
Authorities of the Federal Medical Centre buried the decomposing bodies a week after. Neither autopsies nor any investigations have been initiated on the deaths. The police in Benue State reported, August 20, 2006 that its anti robbery squad killed 12 armed robbery suspects in two weeks.Â Last October Modebayo Awosika was shot at a police check point in Lekki, Lagos.
A coronerâ€™s court found the police guilty of the murder. In April, the first coroner court sitting in Ikeja also held the police responsible for the death of a herbalist, Mr. Samson Adekoya. Another coroner court is trying to unravel the circumstances of the death of the late Editorial Board member of Thisday, Mr. Abayomi Ogundeji, who was murdered in Dopemu area of Lagos on August 17, 2008. The police said armed robbers shot him, but revelations at the inquest are gradually tilting to the police.
Ken Niweigha, a militant leader arrested in June was killed within 24 hours in controversial circumstances. Niweigha was the alleged mastermind of the killings of 12 policemen, which eventually led to the Odi invasion in 1999. The police paraded him before journalists. He was also accused of trying to kill the Bayelsa State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Onuoha Udeka and a team of policemen, coming back from Odi.
In a twist, Udeka told newsmen the militant leader, who promised to surrender ammunition in his gangâ€™s possession to the police, was gunned down during another battle between his gang and the police in Odi. He said a team of police officers Niweigha was taking to his hideout in Odi ran into an ambush the gang set. At the end of a duel, which lasted several minutes, only Niweigha was reported killed. No policeman sustained injury, according to Udeka.
Cries over extra judicial killings in the Niger Delta are largely ignored. The impression is that it is right for the police and other security agencies to kill as they please. Where the suspects slow down oil operations, a veritable threat to the well being of the authorities, the speedy wasting (the term for those so killed) of the suspects is good for the sustenance of the economy.
There are also chilling stories of â€œmidnight-interrogationsâ€ by the police, where they illegally terminate the lives of persons detained in their custodial facilities. Reports from ex-inmates of Special Anti-Robbery Squads (Monitoring Unit) Cell, narrated the practice of calling out specific inmates at about midnight for interrogation. Investigation revealed that many of those called-out never returned to the cell.Â The authorities have no interest in punishing those who are acting beyond their powers through these killings.
Mr. Phillip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extra Judicial summary and arbitrary executions, in a report embodying the outcome of an official fact -finding visit to Nigeria between 27 June and 8 July 2005, noted that: â€œPolice put forth various pretexts to justify extra judicial executions. When a victim is killed in custody, an attempted escape may be cited.
When the victim is killed before being taken into custody, his status as an armed robber may be cited. â€œ(W)hile armed robbery does plague much of Nigeria, the label of â€˜armed robberâ€™ is often used to justify the jailing and/or extra judicial execution of innocent individuals who have come to the attention of the police for reasons ranging from a refusal to pay a bribe to insulting or inconveniencing the police. â€œInquiries are often used for whitewashing purposes. One state Attorney-General could recall no case of prosecutions following such an inquiry. Their main purpose, he observed was to facilitate a cooling of the political temperatureâ€
A State uses the coroner system, newly re-introduced in Lagos State, to express its concern for the sanctity and value of human life. The United Nations Organisation, under its Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra- Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions 1989; recognises it as an established investigative procedure.
By Article 9 of the UN Principles, there shall be a thorough, prompt and impartial investigation of all suspected cases of extra legal, arbitrary and summary executions, including cases where complaints by relatives or other reliable reports suggest unnatural death.
Governments shall maintain investigative offices and procedures to undertake such inquiries. The purpose of the investigation shall be to determine the cause, manner and time of death, the person responsible, and any pattern or practice, which may have brought about that death. It shall include an autopsy, collection and analysis of all physical and documentary evidence and statements from witnesses. The investigation shall distinguish between natural death, accidental death, suicide and homicide.
The UN Principles also enjoin governments in Article 18, to ensure that persons identified by the investigation as having participated in extra legal, arbitrary or summary executions in any territory under their jurisdiction are brought to justice irrespective of who and where the perpetrators or the victims are, their nationalities or where the offence was committed.
Police Affairs Minister, Alhaji Ibrahim LameÂ suggested at a conference in Ilorin that to stem the tide of fatal incidents resulting from accidental discharge of firearms by police officers, anyone seeking to join the force would henceforth undergo psychiatric test before being recruited. Recommendations from the Ilorin conference included that international human rights standards on the use of force and firearms should be fully incorporated into police code of conduct and training and strictly enforced.
The National Assembly should make a law for police accountability regarding violence, crime control and law enforcement, which should contain provisions to ensure regular publishing and analysis of national data on police use of excessive force. The police should be required to keep detailed records on the use of force and to report publicly at regular intervals statistical data on shootings and other use of force.
In Shagamu, Ogun State, last December 12, policeÂ killed Mrs. Funmilayo Abudu, a 35 year-old poultry worker, claiming she was the leader of a notorious armed gang that robbed a bank that day. Mrs. Abudu, on her way to buy diesel for the farm, heard shots from battle between the police and robbers. She hid in the bush from where she alerted her office by telephone to secure the farm gates.
Police arrested her, ignoring pleas of her innocence, including the testimony of her boss, who identified her at the police station and confirmed she was on an errand for the farm.Â She was later decked with charms, paraded as an armed robber, shot and her body dumped on the street.
The police stuck to its story that she was an armed robber. Her husband, a vulcaniser is left to cater for their four young children. He has no means to fight for his blighted rights. Her killing, like many others, defies logic and defiles the Constitution, which in Section 33 (I) says only a court has the powers to deprive one of life.