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Retooling policing for professionalism, accountability

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The public outcry that followed the killing of Kolade Johnson and other innocent Nigerians early this year by men of the Nigeria Police, prompted the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu to visit Lagos in April, 2019.

The police helmsman, who was not happy with the unprofessional conduct of his men in uniform and the recurring incidence of misuse of firearms, used the occasion of his visit to commiserate with the families and members of victims killed by the trigger-happy police officers.

The Inspector General of Police vehemently condemned the extrajudicial killings by his men and warned them of acts that would pitch the Nigeria police against innocent Nigerians they were asked to protect.

In the case of Kolade’s death, The Guardian gathered that the policemen were looking for a man with curly hair or dreadlocks and in the process Kolade became a victim of wrong profiling. There are reports of persons who wear dreadlocks or other ‘funny’ outlook who have also explained their ordeal in the hands of the police and the question is: when has it become an offence to presume people criminal on the basis of their appearance and without verification? And so, barely three months after the Inspector General of Police read the riot act to his men, the killings continue.

Speaking with The Guardian on how best to retool the police force for efficiency and professionalism, the National Coordinator, Network Police Reform, Okechukwu Nwanguma wondered why any police officer would contemplate arresting a citizen simply because of the way the person is dressed or the hairstyle or because the person has tattoo designs on his body. He is of the view that the police should do more training and recruit only those that are mentally and psychologically ready to get into the force.

A Sociologist at the University of Lagos, Dr. Debo Ayobade likened the police behaviour to that of ex-convicts. To her, lack of proper education is another contending issue that the police must deal with. She stressed the need for the police to be subjected to more training to be up to date with the modern day policing.

She noted: “Apparently, the training is outdated. If you go to other countries, police officers are truly the citizens’ best friends. You see police officers doing their job professionally. By their manner of approach and the way they handle matters, you will fall in love with that profession.”

Ayobade, who is also a social worker, suggested that every police officer should possess a minimum qualification of first degree so as to avoid having in the system those whose behaviour is not remarkably different from that of area boys.

“It’s so sad. I think the Nigeria police needs reformation. So long they keep recruiting uneducated people, I don’t think we will get out of this mess. I think there will be more restraint, if they possess a first degree. As things are, I believe they rose through the ranks, and it was probably when they got there that some of them tried to obtain one diploma or the other,” she added.

The Programme Officer (Criminal Justice and Anti-corruption) Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Samuel Oyimafu Asimi, who advocated a holistic and policy level approach, applauded the Police Reform Bill, which the last Senate recently passed. According to him, the proposed Bill makes provision for and protects individuals’ fundamental human rights. He said: “The current Act is actually about 76 years old, which came into existence before independence. This is something that should be worked upon. Proper processes, as stated in the administration of criminal and justice Act should be followed.”

Asimi, who stated that the Inspector General of Police’s stance on police misconduct would make Area Commanders accountable and responsible for their subordinates’ actions, adding that mere pronouncement by the police boss was not enough but enforcement of the pronouncement to stop police officers from killing fellow Nigerians.

“Of course, we need enforcement of the pronouncement to stop police officers from killing fellow Nigerians. It’s a good step the IG took. What we need now is ensuring that it runs from top to bottom, so that officers at such different units as Special Anti-robbery Squad (SARS) and Special Anti-cultism Squad (SACS) among others, adhere to what the IG said. It’s disheartening that police officers paid to protect citizens are now killing them.”

The Programme Officer also called on the police boss to look into the non-payment of salaries, which, according to him, was the reason some police officers protested recently. “But funding is very critical. Remember that the police protested recently against non-payment of salaries. This shouldn’t be. Anyone that has witnessed police killing of innocent Nigerians, especially recently, would know that all is not well with the Nigeria Police Force,” he added.

For the Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer, Bala Elkana, the police had initiated various trainings on basic human rights, in collaboration with the Human Rights Commission and other partners. The training, he said, focuses on use of firearms and the condition under which they can be applied. According to him, every policeman in Lagos will undergo that training.

Elkana, who admitted that it was wrong for any police officer to kill anybody based on his or her appearance disclosed that it is also wrong to presume people criminals without verification. He said: “In such situations, officers are not even expected to shoot or harass anybody on the basis of how he/she looks or dresses. You may have strong reason to suspect an individual, but the highest you can do in that regard is to invite him/her for questioning. But that does not make him a criminal at all. He is presumed innocent until a competent court of jurisdiction finds him guilty. So, nobody should be subjected to harassment because of the way he/she looks, whether he is carrying dreadlock or has tattoo on his body.

“Everybody has the right to appear the way he/she wants. It is not a criminal offence, and until the law calls a particular thing a crime, you cannot call it a crime. The policeman who is a law enforcement agent knows the law to enforce. Is there any law that says you should not carry dreadlock hair/tattoo? If there is no law to that effect, then what are you enforcing?”

With the passage of Police Reform and Police Trust Fund Bills by the Senate, the Convener of ENDSARS Reform Police Movement, Segun Awosanya, believes it won’t be business as usual for the police.

He said: “Citizens will have to report whatever they see or experience at the hands of policemen. The Police will not be patrolling with guns any more, only with their communication gadgets or devices to call for backup, if there’s any need for it. There will not be room for them to carry guns to intimidate citizens or rob anybody. And for any police officer to arrest anybody, there must be a warrant. There must be prior investigation, not just on suspicion or you look like anybody that I don’t like. There will not be such things any more. Any officer caught doing that will face the law. So, there are a lot of things that will be put in place, based on the new law. But the law that is operational now gives them room to oppress the people, and it is difficult to liquidate because the law is not clear on human rights. It was promulgated in 1943, and wasn’t done in cognisance of human rights proclamation.”

Awosanya said the Police are themselves victims of the system, even as he reckoned that from the history of the Police, the Nigeria police officers don’t listen to pronouncements.

According to him: “From the past history of police, from Arase to Idris and Adamu, police don’t listen to pronouncements. The moment the IG left Lagos, they started their impunity all over again from Festac to Ogudu and everywhere. It was as if the IG never said anything. They were stopping cars for nothing and asking people for money. IG’s pronouncement could not do it, only the law will do it.”


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