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Police abuse of power and limits of punishments

By Timileyin Omilana
17 April 2019   |   10:50 am
It is a common saying that the police is your friend. But in a country like Nigeria, the ordinary citizen thinks the policeman is anything negative but a friend. And there are genuine reasons for that feeling. The Nigeria Police Force authorities in Lagos have within one month dismissed four police officers for abuse of…

The Nigerian Senate passed the Nigerian Police Trust Fund Bill. Photo/Twitter/NGRSenate

It is a common saying that the police is your friend. But in a country like Nigeria, the ordinary citizen thinks the policeman is anything negative but a friend.

And there are genuine reasons for that feeling.

The Nigeria Police Force authorities in Lagos have within one month dismissed four police officers for abuse of power and awarded various degrees of punishments to 41 others.

The spokesman for the Police Service Commission, Ikechukwu Ani, last Tuesday, also said the force has dismissed nine senior officers and demoted another six officers for different cases of misconduct after the fifth plenary meeting of the commission, that held on March 26 and 27, 2019.

The reasons are not far fetched – the police notoriety defies human comprehension and reeks of outright incompetence, deliberate violations of human rights, extra-judicial killings and unbridled extortion.

The Nigerian police has an image that is far less than sterling. That unflattering image has been accentuated by the misadventures of the men and officers of the force in the last 12 months. In major cities like Lagos, youths are mostly the victims of unwarranted police brutality.

In less than fourteen days, police officers have killed, at least, two innocent Nigerians.

Police operatives from the Trinity Police Station, Ajegunle, Lagos, on Saturday killed a 20-year-old lady identified as Ada Ifeanyi; and the injured Emmanuel Akomafuwa suspected to be her beau.

The Lagos State Police Command gave Ada’s age as 20, and that of Emmanuel as 32.

Thirteen days before this, Kolade Johnson, the unfortunate 36-year-old youth was killed by the police in the Mangoro area of Ikeja, Lagos on the last day of March.

On March 28, 2019, a commercial motorcyclist, Ademola Moshood, was shot dead by a policeman near his Surulere residence when he allegedly refused to part with N200.

Also, on March 18, 2019, 18-year-old girl, Hadiyat Sikiru, was killed like Johnson by a stray bullet fired by a policeman in Adamo community of Ikorodu in Lagos.

Policemen killed two drivers at the Ibro motor park, Lokoja, in January 2019.

Last October, a harmless 31-year-old Nigerian lady, Anita Akapson, who just returned to the country after bagging a degree abroad, was killed by the police in cold blood.

A member of the National Youth Service Corps, Linda Igwetu, was killed by the police on July 3, 2018, on her way home from her place of primary assignment in the Mabushi area of Abuja.

On April 15, 2018, a wedding ceremony abruptly ended when unmotivated police officers shot two guests.

In fact, the list of the victims of police killings is endless.

“Professionalism is all that we ask, take off criminals in uniform off our streets and keep them out of the stations. We will no longer condone chaos,” the Covener of the #EndSARS Movement, Segun Awosanya, said.

According to Police Force Order 237, an officer is permitted to ‘shoot’ suspects and detainees who attempt to escape or avoid arrest, and according to Nigeria criminal law, it is unlawful to kill any person unless such killing is authorised, justified or excused by law.

Section 315 of the Criminal Code provides that any person who unlawfully kills another is guilty of an offense which is called murder or manslaughter, according to the circumstances of the case.

If found guilty, under the Criminal Code, any person who commits the offence of murder shall be sentenced to death by a court of law.

On the contrary, of several trials of police killings, the highest punishment has been a dismissal from the force while victims are arraigned in court.

However, a few of these cases see the trigger-happy officer being convicted.

The recent of one of the rare convictions was by an Oyo State High Court sitting in Ibadan on March 2018. The court convicted three former police officers, and sentenced one of them to three years in jail for collecting bribe from an armed robbery suspect, Badmus Akojode.

Also in March 2018, a Bayelsa State High Court sitting in Yenagoa sentenced a police sergeant, Jilla Lannubo, to death by hanging for the extra-judicial killing of Oruyegha Grand at Agudama on May 13, 2017.

The Nigeria Legal Defence and Assistance Project found 2,987 extrajudicial executions by police in 2004, but no force member was convicted.

The Police Service Commission, which is responsible for police discipline, routinely refers all extrajudicial police killings to the police for investigation, and the Commission’s quarterly reports to the President are not published.

The notoriety of Nigeria police is many. Besides extra-judicial killings, the unbridled police extortion is top-notch.

Youths have several times lamented on social media by sharing their torrid tales of extortion and wanton abuse in the hands of law enforcement agents meant to protect them.

From being harassed, threatened and led at gunpoint to empty your bank accounts to the near-death experience of a drunk officer discharging a live firearm indiscriminately.

Also popular for its check-point activities, most extortion occurs at police roadblocks, ostensibly put in place to combat crime.

These checkpoints are a lucrative venture for the police who routinely demand bribes from drivers and passengers alike. On many occasions, the check-points were abolished, but several illegal check-points abound. Some officers would say theirs are not check-points but ‘stop and search.’

The Guardian observed that between Iseyin, a city in Oyo State, and Ogun State’s capital, Abeokuta, there were more than ten checkpoints and nearly all of them collected money from drivers.

A 2017 report prepared by the country’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in partnership with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) with a focus on the quality and integrity of public services in Nigeria, shows that the Nigerian police is the most corrupt public institution in Nigeria, with judiciary in second place.

Similar sentiments were made by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) in a released in March 2019.

“A bribe is paid in 54 percent of interactions with the police,” SERAP said in the report.

“In fact, there is a 63 percent probability that an average Nigerian would be asked to pay a bribe each time he or she interacted with the police. That is almost two out of three.”

Nigerian Government has to find a way to curb these excesses. Tougher deterrents, a very public sanctions. Culprits need to be prosecuted and convicted by a court of law to discourage police officers from these brutalities and corruption while they perform their legal duties.