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Nigerian police – A (brutal) reality

By Oke Umurhohwo
23 December 2019   |   3:38 am
Anytime you visit a police station in Nigeria, you’re most certainly drawn to an inscription boldly pasted on their walls that “The police is your friend.”

Anytime you visit a police station in Nigeria, you’re most certainly drawn to an inscription boldly pasted on their walls that “The police is your friend.” But the weight of that inscription is mostly thrown in serious doubt by the conduct of personnel of the force. The sight of security agents, anywhere, should bring comfort and a high sense of safety for citizens but in Nigeria, the scenario is different.

The impunity of men in uniform has stirred so much distrust in the minds of citizens, that the average citizen has serious doubt if the police exist for their safety. Whether on the road or elsewhere, the police are becoming dreaded by citizens, who have seen those who should protect them turnaround to be their tormentor. That is something that has been going on for some time now and public outcry has received little or no attention from the authority.

Last year, the brazen abuse of privilege and unethical conduct of some Policemen ignited calls from Nigerians that the Nigerian force should be reformed to restore the lost confidence of the public. It got more intense early this year when men of Special Anti-Robbery Squad, infamously known as SARS, riddled the body of an armless citizen, Johnson Kolade, with bullets and ended the life of the promising young man. That incident worried almost every Nigerian and I recalled penning an article where I joined calls to #EndSARS ‘for all of us to be safe.’

But here we’re today and nothing seems to have changed. Wednesday, December 4, 2019, was yet another show of impunity by men in uniform, who not only failed in their duties to keep citizens safe but ‘‘abducted me and several other Nigerians without any justification.’’ With the abduction and infringement of our fundamental human rights, policemen who unjustifiably harassed us and hounded us in detentions without probable cause demonstrated a new low in the depravity of the attacks on citizens. That was one of the most terrifying moments of my life as I was left stupefied that people who are paid to keep us safe turned themselves into vicious elements. Before my unpalatable experience, I’ve heard stories of Nigerians unlawfully picked on the streets, beaten and extorted or maimed by the Nigerian police. On the spurious excuses of fighting crimes, police officers swoop on citizens and subject them to unwarranted assaults just in their usual practice of extorting them. That was exactly what transpired last Wednesday when police officer abducted me and colleagues without probable cause.

As usual, they refused any sensible explanation and even turndown several attempts to present our identity cards. They moved from street to street and round up anyone in their sight when there was no reason to suggest any wrongdoing. It was the most despicable thing I’ve ever experienced and it became so apparent that the impunity and uncanny attitude of the police have reached its peak.

Right in a Black Maria, I could count not less than 25 people who were in the same ordeal as me and my colleagues. It was a rough experience and one that I would never have thought would come from the police. This shocked me very much as I was vibrating right in the vehicle and when we finally got to the Lagos Task Force, it dawned on me that this was recklessness taken too far. From the ludicrous claim that we were “miscreants” as justification for abduction to the terrible condition of the cell we were forced to pass the night, it was clear that Police isn’t our friend. The maltreatment we suffered for doing nothing has once again brought to the burner the disturbing trend of impunity by a police officer. That police officers ‘raid’ streets for law-abiding citizens and hauled them in detentions when no crime was committed is something that should worry Nigerians. Quite disturbing that rather than securing Nigerians, the impunity usually displayed by policemen has posed them as the dangerous evil they are initially meant to curb.

It also makes clear that the authorities have failed to end impunity in the police force despite public outcry. This year alone, incidents of police harassment and brutality of citizens are too numerous to mention and more of such may still be happening as you read this. Yet, there has been little or no reprimand to serve as deterrence. While it is an accepted fact that the police can make arrests, the habit of using their force strength to oppress citizens without justification is an overreach that needs to be curbed. Brutality is a barbaric tactic that has no role in any civilised society and the Nigerian police should ease itself of people who went overboard in their unreasonable quest to extort Nigerians. The Constitution, which is the grundnorm of our society, very much confers on citizens, the freedom of movement and exercising such should not be a crime that put one in detention.

Understandably, my plight and those my colleagues suffered in the hand of policemen had intensified calls to end impunity. That is the necessary thing considering that Nigerians could no longer rely on their tormentor for their safety. Security should be done with responsibility, not becoming the same threat the people are running away from. Even as I write, the fate of many Nigerians who are hounded in detention is still unknown. We must #EndImpunity with the police before it is too late.

• Umurhohwo is a political analyst and strategist.