By Charles Kumolu
STARRing vacantly as if in a daze, she beckoned with a wave from her hospital bed. The gesture was directed at Vanguard Features, VF, reporter, who stood a few metres away in the middle of the hospital’s expansive ward.
Her fixed attention soon gave way to consternation when it became obvious that the writer was being denied access to her by the hospital staff because he is a journalist. ‘’Sir, we are sorry you can’t see her.
You have to be taken to a senior person who may give you the needed clearance to see her,’’ a staff in the ward told VF. On that note, VF was led out by a female employee, while the patient he had come to see, looked downcast.
After consultation with several officers of the hospital, VF was politely informed that he cannot see the patient.
‘’We understand your interest, but we don’t allow media interview with our patients. You can talk to her when she is discharged. You are free to visit during visiting hours but not to interview her,’’ a senior official of the hospital said. The obviously disappointed patient later called VF on phone and it was then that an appointment was fixed for another day.
A few days later, VF paid a visit to her home in Amuwo Odofin Local Government Area of Lagos State. It was not easy for the downcast mother of two, who gave her name as Chika Elekwachi to give an update of her ordeal as she muttered in Igbo language, ‘’ke kwanu ihem nga ako ozo,’’ meaning ‘’what do I say again?’’
At that point, some visitors entered the living room, apparently to sympathise with her. While they commiserated with her in Igbo, they spoke disappointedly about the Police. Some of them shared ugly encounters they had in the past with law enforcement agents.
VF later engaged her in a conversation in Igbo language. This is the traumatising and horrible narrative as told by Elekwachi. “On July 19, 2015 at about 7 pm, I was driving along Old Ojo Road to my house in my Infinity QX35 Sports Utility Vehicle with registration number MUS157DG.
Park or I fire you: “In the vehicle with me were two friends of mine. On getting to Pako Bus-stop, a mini-bus with four occupants double-crossed us in a gestapo manner. This made me to suddenly apply the brake. At that point, occupants of the mini-bus, who were dressed in civil attire, jumped out of the bus. One of the gun-wielding men had a black branded police T-shirt.
I was ordered out of the car by the police who yelled, ‘’Park or I fire you’’. Another one spoke in pidgin English, ‘’Oga na pregnant woman o.’’ In response, the first policeman said: ‘’If na pregnant woman nko, I will kill her if she is not careful.’’ Before I could move, my front doors were flung open and I was pulled out of the vehicle.
All my pleadings that I was eight months pregnant fell on deaf ears, as they continued to beat me. I was dragged on the floor and eventually stripped naked.
The incident attracted a sympathetic crowd, whose pleadings were ignored because the men insisted that I would follow them to the station,” she recalled.
Continuing, Mrs Elekwachi said: “While I sat on the floor to cover my nakedness, having been stripped naked, the police men began to drag me; while struggling with them, I fell and hit my stomach on the floor.
Maternal trauma and placenta abruption
“The men were not deterred as they carried me to the station where I was dragged out of the vehicle. It was there that I got a phone from a passer-by and called my family to intimate them about my ordeal. It was at this stage that the Divisional Crime Officer, DCO, came out to know what caused the pandemonium outside, because I had lost consciousness.
I was then taken to Safe Hands Medical Centre, where I was diagnosed of maternal trauma and placenta abruption. As a result of that, a caesarean operation was carried out on me to bring out the baby, who died after four days in an incubator at Outreach Medical Centre, Satellite Town”.
Thereafter, the brutalised lady, who was not immediately informed about her baby’s demise, was taken to a government hospital in the area for further medical attention. It was at this hospital, that VF visited her for the first time.
Police stopped picking my calls
According to Elekwachi, her journey to the health facility was facilitated by the Police. She explained that the Divisional Police Officer, DPO, in charge of the station was sending police officers on daily basis to inquire about her welfare and also to offset some of her medical bills.
‘’The Police brought me to the hospital. The DPO was sending people everyday but the visit stopped after a few days. I needed to buy drugs that were prescribed for me but I did not see them.
I also needed to scan my stomach and chest but did not do so because the Police stopped coming to the hospital. My calls to them were also ignored. I didn’t see them until I was discharged,’’ she noted.
‘’The policemen who visited me at the hospital were concerned about my condition. One of them even informed me that those who brutalised me were sent to a place where a commercial motorcyclist died in a motor accident. They were sent there to ensure that the truck that killed the motorcyclist was not set ablaze. It was on their way to the scene that they assaulted me,’’ she said.
Orderly room trial
Continuing, she said: ‘’Since I was discharged the DPO has not called me. However, my relatives went to the station to collect the death certificate of my baby but it was not given to them. Rather a letter was given to them requesting me to come to their office in Ikeja on August 3, 2015.’’
The letter titled “RE: Orderly Room Trial”, dated July 31, 2015 has 4161/LS/SAT/VOL 3/369, Chika Elekwachi ‘F’ as its reference number. The invitation which emanated from the DPO’s office read: “I refer to the incident of 19/7/2015 along Old Ojo Road involving you and three Policemen.
You are requested to report on 3/8/2015 at 10:00 am to the Provost, Nigeria Police, State Headquarters Ikeja to give evidence on the matter. Accept my assurances of the Police Commissioner’s highest regards.” The invitation was signed by the DPO, Mr. Felix Ofili, a Superintendent of Police.
The orderly room trial seems to be sequel to the confirmation of the incident by the Lagos State Police Command and its promise to investigate the matter.
It also noted that the three policemen had been arrested, a development that was confirmed by the victim, who told VF that her friends who were with her at the time of the incident acknowledged seeing the offending men in detention.Not minding the concern displayed by the DPO, some of those who got wind of the incident are demanding a proper investigation and prosecution of the suspects according to the laws guiding the force.
One of such people is Elekwachi’s lawyer, Mrs. Franca Okafor of Akin Kajewa and Company. She has already written a seven-page petition to the Inspector General of Police and the State Police Commissioner.
Violation of fundamentalist rights: In the letter titled: “Protest Letter and Demand for Damages for Breach of Fundamental Rights by Members of Nigeria Police Force, the lawyer corroborated Elekwachi’s narrative of what transpired.
The petition read in parts: ‘’It is not in doubt that the fundamental rights of our client had been flagrantly and violently breached by men of the Nigeria Police and our instruction is to demand from you the sum of N2, 500,000 (Two billion five hundred million) for general exemplary and aggravated damages coupled with a public apology”.
It also warned that ‘’unless our demand in paragraph 10 is met within seven days from the date of this letter, we shall have no alternative than to enforce the rights of our client by the due process of law without further reference to you.’’ Also copied were: The Human Rights Commission, Area Commander, Area E Police Command, Festac Town and the Divisional Police Officer, Agboju Police Station, Lagos.
Some non-governmental organisations,NGOs, have also indicated interest in assisting Mrs. Elekwachi to get justice, should the police fail to do the needful. The Joint Action Against Gender-Based Violence, JAGBV, being led by Mrs. Jemima Abdulkarim is one of them.
She told VF that: ‘’Every necessary thing within the ambit of the law would be done to ensure that the lady gets justice. Police brutality in every sense must stop. We are not in this because she is a woman, anyone can be brutalised.’’ VF gathered that Elekwachi’s car and other possessions at the time of the incident are still in the custody of the police at Agboju Police station.
Incident not in isolation: This latest incident in Lagos is one out of many such occurrences in different parts the country. If news reports are anything to go by, Nigerians are on daily basis subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment by gun- wielding policemen who in the process violate the rights of the people as enshrined in Section 34 (1) of the Constitution.
Legacy of repression: Indeed, many families are still telling tales of woe, anguish and sorrow caused by men and women of the Police. That is why many people think the force has now become synonymous with violence, brutality and repression. Findings indicate that the outcome of such assaults are usually horrific for those who live to tell their stories, while some who die in the process add to the list of casualties.
Apart from that, the Amnesty International had for many years, consistently accused the Police of human right violations. In a report released late last year, the organisation accused the police of routinely torturing women, men and children using a wide range of methods, including beatings, shootings and rape.
In the report titled: Welcome To Hell Fire: Torture And Other Ill-Treatment In Nigeria, it detailed how people are often detained in large dragnet operations and tortured as punishment, to extort money or to extract confessions as a short-cut to solve cases.
Although the Police have steadily dismissed these allegations, so many Nigerians are not swayed by their denials.
Series of police brutality
VF recalls that in March this year, a 22-year-old staff of the Protea Hotel in Benin City, Chibuike Edeh, was allegedly tortured by the Police till he gave up the ghost. The incident resulted in protest by which shut down part of the capital of Edo State capital.
In November 2014, Mr Akhanolu Smart, was allegedly assaulted by a senior Police officer attached to the Ire-Akari Estate Police Station at Isolo, Lagos State, for daring to ‘scratch a policeman’s jeep’ while driving a tricycle commonly called Keke NAPEP.
The victim was reported to have had his brain affected as a result of the attack by the officer. Another incident that went viral on the social media in 2014, was that of a drunken police man, who was allegedly caught on camera brutalising two women near Union Bank at Lewis Street, Lafiaji, Obalende on the Lagos Island. The officer, identified Tafa Mohammed, got angry after the female food seller allegedly declined selling fish to him.
In May 2015, a trigger-happy Assistant Superintendent of Police, ASP, simply identified as Mohammed, allegedly shot dead one tricycle driver, Akeem Aranse, in Akowonjo area of Lagos, following a minor accident that led to an argument between the duo.
Mohammed was attached to the Disaster Management Unit of the Department of Operations, under the Lagos State Police Command headquarters, Ikeja. The circumstances may differ, but the underlying currents are the same: the victims were assaulted by gun- wielding men whose duty is to protect their lives.
Laws guiding human rights
While the laws regulating the activities of the Force do not in any way encourage assault, VF findings revealed that overzealousness of the men in uniform and systemic root are chiefly responsible for the misconduct. A retired Police Commissioner, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, told VF that: ‘’Presently there is no discipline in the Force. In our time we had discipline. And officers ensured that there was discipline among officers.’’
Conduct of policemen
Explaining how such affected the conduct of policemen in the discharge of their statutory duties, he said: ‘’ Unfortunately the officers who are supposed to instil discipline have become too close to the junior officers at the expense of hierarchical discipline. Now, you can easily find a senior officer shaking the hands of a junior officer. There is no Police law that encourages such.
The Police exist to ensure there is law and order in the society. What we are seeing in form of assault on people is as a result of overzealousness of the policemen in the discharge of their duties. They have become so overzealous to the extent that impunity has become their habit.’’
Indeed, VF checks also found some existing laws guiding human right violations, some of the laws as found in a report: “Police Brutality and Limitations of the Law”: include Section 46 of the CFRN 1999, the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2008 as well as the Rules of Law of the various High Courts and the Federal High Court and relevant case laws which are applicable and persuasive to the rules.
Absence of faith in orderly room trials
Even the Police have laws that discourage human rights abuses, but regrettably, the laws have failed to discourage violations.
In that light, Tsav, who also served as Lagos State Police Commissioner, stated thus: ‘’In the Force there are specified laws on how to arrest a suspect. Such laws did not say that the person should be beaten to ensure that the person is arrested. The law also says that any police man found guilty of an offence like brutalisation of an innocent person should be tried and punished according to his rank.’’
When reminded that Nigerians don’t seem to have faith in orderly room trials, he dropped a bombshell, saying: ‘’When an offending officer is being tried, some senior officers interfere. Even politicians also interfere with the process thereby frustrating the process of bringing the offending officer to book. Therefore, if there must be an end to Police brutality, the force should always bring an offending officer to book.