January 3, 2023

How lawyers can mobilise Nigerians to end police brutality

How lawyers can mobilise Nigerians to end police brutality



THE Nigerian Bar Association has condemned the brutal killing of one of its members, Mrs. Bolanle Raheem, in Lagos on December 25, 2022, by a trigger-happy policeman. The suspect has been arrested and detained pending his arraignment for murder in the Lagos State High Court.

The Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Usman Alkali Baba, and the Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Sanwoolu, also decried the killing and assured the Nigerian people that justice would be served speedily. To demonstrate the abhorrence of the government, the  Attorney-General of Lagos State, Mr. Moyosore Onigbanjo SAN, will lead the prosecution team. 

President Muhammadu Buhari also expressed shock and complete disapproval of the horrendous killings, even though they have been a common phenomenon under his administration. In the same vein, the presidential candidates of the leading political parties berated the Nigeria Police Force over the killing. It is worth noting, however, that these political leaders have not informed Nigerian voters about their plans to end extrajudicial killings of unarmed citizens by the country’s police and other security agencies if they win the 2023 presidential election. 

The cruel killing of Mrs. Bolanle Raheem provides an opportunity for the Nigerian people, led by lawyers, to address the root cause of the extrajudicial killing of unarmed citizens by law enforcement officers. On July 15, 1981, Dele Udo, a United States based athlete and a potential world beater in the 400 meters, was shot dead by a trigger-happy policeman at Ojuelegba in Lagos State. That was the beginning of the reckless shooting of unarmed citizens by armed policemen and armed soldiers on the roads. 

Since then, hundreds of young people and other citizens have been killed at illegal check points manned by drunk police and military personnel. The huge amount of money extorted from motorists via the check points is allegedly shared by police and military officers. Hence, the cancellation of checkpoints by successive Inspectors General of Police has never been faithfully enforced.

 It is pertinent to note that despite the demand of the human rights community for a fundamental reform of the curriculum of the police academy, the training of police cadets has remained as brutal as it was under the British colonial regime. Upon graduation, the recruits typically unleash violence on a society that had dehumanised them during their time in the police academy. Having been brutalised themselves, they derive pleasure from subjecting suspects to physical, mental, and psychological torture. During the interrogation  of a suspect, it is not uncommon for a policeman to threaten thus: “I will kill you and nothing will happen.” 

Without a doubt, the Nigeria Police Force is a neocolonial institution in every way. It is deliberately called a police force and not a police department or police service. The logo of the force pictures an eagle standing on two crossed staves above an elephant. Like an elephant, the colonial police force was set up to mow down the natives, suppress them, and extort taxes from them to serve British imperialism.

In 1960, the nationalist politicians who inherited political power from the British colonial regime decided to retain the police force and use it to oppress the people. Hence, the killing of unarmed citizens by police and military personnel is not punished  by the violent neocolonial state. Even monetary damages awarded by courts for unlawful killings of citizens and other forms of human rights abuse by police officers are never paid.

 Indeed, the payment of monetary damages awarded by courts is frustrated by attorneys-general who refuse to grant leave to garnish the accounts of the federal and state governments. As if that is not bad enough, some attorneys-general file nolle prosequi applications to terminate criminal cases involving highly connected murder suspects. The legal department of the police is always prepared to defend the unlawful killing of citizens by trigger-happy police personnel. Thus, the police personnel indicted for extrajudicial killings are promoted until they retire, while a few of them have risen to the highest echelons in the force.  

Whenever there are protests against the unlawful killing of citizens by police personnel, the government moves to douse tension by setting up judicial or administrative commissions of inquiry to probe the remote and immediate causes of the civil disturbance. But the recommendations of such panels are usually ignored by governments. For instance, after the EndSARS protests in October 2020,  the Federal Government and 28 out of the 36 state governments instituted judicial commissions of inquiry to probe various allegations of police brutality.  

After two years, the reports of the judicial panels have not been published by majority of the state governments. The few that issued white papers have not fully implemented the recommendations of the judicial panels. Apart from the payment of some monetary damages, the police officers indicted by the panels have not been prosecuted. Consequently, the brutalisation of the Nigerian people by the police and other security agencies has continued unabated.  

Even though the notorious Special Anti Robbery Squad, SARS, was disbanded in line with the demands of the #EndSARS protesters. In replacing SARS with  SWAT, the authorities promised that the operatives would undergo a retraining programme. As the retraining did not occur, the SWAT officers have continued to terrorise and intimidate the people unabashedly, like SARS. The implication of such official impunity is that the very many police officers indicted for extrajudicial killings of suspects and other citizens  have been allowed to remain in the police force to continue to perpetrate their nefarious activities. 

Not too long ago, thousands of professional armed robbers and armed political thugs were bribed and recruited to the Nigeria Police Force. When a former president became aware of the scandalous recruitment, he ordered that the uniformed armed robbers be identified and flushed out of the police. It is regrettable to note that the police authorities tried to do so but did not succeed in weeding out all the criminal elements from the police force. 

On a regular basis, kidnap, murder, and terror suspects are paraded before police commissioners. But the majority of the suspects are extrajudicially executed after the parade. The police claim that those who were charged with grave offences before the High Courts in the past and who were freed on technical grounds turned around to attack and kill the police officers who had arrested them. As a result, rather than prosecuting armed robbery and other dangerous criminal suspects, they are executed extrajudicially by untrained executioners in the force. 

The suspects are usually shot in the back to give the impression that they were trying to escape from police custody. Thus, it is difficult to sue the police service commission for the illegal killing of suspects that have been “wasted” by the police. After the execution, no postmortem is conducted while the bodies of the deceased are buried by the police at night.

 THE money and other assets seized from the suspects are never returned to the family members or friends of the deceased but are shared among police officers. Without any rehabilitation for the untrained executioners, they are unleashed on society with their guns. The uniformed murderers then turn around and use their weapons to kill members of the public, including their own relatives. Thus,  the brutal killing of poor citizens by police and other security operatives has become a routine occurrence. But we only complain whenever the unlicensed police executioners kill lawyers, doctors, journalists, and other victims whose killings trigger protests! 

In frustration, Mr. Boms Worgu, a former Rivers State Attorney General, stated that “the Banabas Igwes of the NBA assassinated pair we remembered the other day”That was long ago. There was Henry Ndionyenma Nwankwo, matchet by yet-to-be-apprehended men, right there in his chambers, less than two years ago.

In PHC recently, two colleagues were similarly dispatched. and many more. In all, nothing happened after they were mowed down except wailing and condemnations. Unfortunately, this addition will soon pass, and calm will return, only to be disrupted by another killing!”That is how we are.”

 Nigerian lawyers must ensure that Mrs. Bolanle Raheem does not die in vain like others who were dispatched to their untimely graves before her. Indeed, the best tribute that the NBA can pay to the deceased is to use her cold blooded murder  to mobilise the Nigerian people  to end police brutality in Nigeria. To start with, police checkpoints must be removed from Nigerian roads. The roads should be patrolled by combined teams of police and road safety commission officers.

 The use of arms by policemen on duty should be strictly regulated according to the service rules. No lethal options such as batons, tear gas, water, etc should be  employed in dispersing crowds.  

 In Femi Falana v Chief of Army Staff & Ors (Suit No. FHC/L/CS/1939/19), the presiding judge, the Honourable Railwan Aikawa, declared that the involvement of armed soldiers in the maintenance of internal security is illegal and unconstitutional. On the basis of the judgment, all checkpoints manned by soldiers should be dismantled by the Chief of Army Staff without any further delay.  

In the recent case of the State Security Service v. Godwin Emefiele (Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/2255/2022), the Federal High Court assigned and determined the case within two days because it pertained to the personal liberty of the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. The NBA’s leadership should prevail on the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court and heads of other courts to ensure that all fundamental rights cases are promptly assigned and expeditiously determined, regardless of the  class status of the applicants.

 The Anti-Torture Act of 2017 prescribes that any police officer or law enforcement officer who subjects a citizen to torture is liable to be tried and, if convicted, to imprisonment for 25 years.  If any person dies as a result of torture, the police officer indicted is liable to be tried for murder. The NBA should direct its human rights committees to take up all cases of torture meted out to citizens by public and private individuals in society.

The NBA should press the federal and state governments to release the reports and put the judicial panels’ recommendations into action.Otherwise, the NBA should adopt legal measures to compel the governments to implement the recommendations. Furthermore, the NBA should mount  pressure on state governments to enact laws for the establishment of human rights bodies for the purpose of protecting the human rights of citizens. This was the principal resolution adopted by the National Economic Council after the  #EndSARS protests. 

As a matter of urgency, the NBA should ensure that a legal practitioner is assigned to every police station to monitor human rights compliance in accordance with Section 66(3) of the Police Establishment Act 2020. The human rights committees of the 128 branches of the NBA should liaise with the National Human Rights Commission and the Legal Aid Council to ensure the observance of human rights in the country. 

The NBA should collaborate with state attorneys general towards the successful prosecution of police and military personnel who engage in the extrajudicial killing of criminal suspects and other citizens. At the same time, the unlawful killing of police officers by military officers and criminal gangs should always be challenged by Nigerian lawyers. 

The NBA should liaise with the police and military authorities to ensure that a human rights course is made a compulsory subject in all police colleges and military academic institutions. This is the best way to ensure that members of the police and armed forces recognise their constitutional responsibilities to protect the life and property of every citizen. 

Finally, it is submitted that unless the above suggestions are implemented by the relevant stakeholders in alliance with the Nigerian people, the callous killing of Mrs. Bolanle Raheem will only be an addition to the long list of Nigerians that have been killed so recklessly by security forces. And it will be enormously tragic for society.

  Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and human rights activist, wrote from Lagos