Saturday, 9th December 2023

Purging Nigeria police of extortionists, lawbreakers, and killers

By Eno-Abasi Sunday, Deputy Editor
01 January 2023   |   4:14 am
“I will kill you and nothing will happen.” “If you say anything again I will just waste you. I’ve wasted many of your type, so you will not be the first or the last.”

“I will kill you and nothing will happen.” “If you say anything again I will just waste you. I’ve wasted many of your type, so you will not be the first or the last.” These and many more obscene lines have become part of the refrain that some officers and men of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) bandy when they get berserk and try to ride roughshod over the citizens that they are supposed to protect.

Across the country, scarcely does a day pass by without a trigger-happy, belligerent policeman brutalising, robbing, maiming, or extorting an innocent member of the public that has the misfortune of crossing their path.

Day in, and day out, while responsible policemen are striving to discharge their responsibilities within the limits of the law, some of their counterparts are busy doing the opposite, circumventing the law, and sullying further, the battered image of the law enforcement agency.

At checkpoints mounted on major roads across the country, policemen conduct themselves as potentates, lashing out at road users in a very condescending manner while intimidating them with fully-loaded firearms. A good number of times, these offending policemen are either tipsy, heavily drunk, or under the influence of psychotropic substances.

It is also commonplace to see hordes of policemen in rag-tag garbs squeezed into commercial buses chasing after suspects, or swooping on suspects in black spots without proper identification.

Attempts by the Force Headquarters to drum sense into the rank and file have paid little or no dividend as the legion of outlaws in the police force keeps multiplying by the day.

From records that are readily available in the public domain, there is simply no crime in the nation’s law books that policemen, who are hired to prevent their committal, have not committed.

The Christmas Day shooting and killing of 42-year-old lawyer, Mrs. Omobolanle Raheem (who was four-month pregnant with a set of twin), by Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Drambi Vandi, from Ajiwe Police Station in the Ajah area of Lagos, lends credence to the fact that the force needs a serious purge. It was the second time in less than a month that a policeman from that station was killing a Nigerian extra-judicially.

Besides the triple homicide committed by Vandi, many are still horrified by the massive scale of human rights violations masterminded by policemen even though the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had gone around the country training cops on human rights best practices and how to mainstream human rights in law enforcement operations.

This sad development explains why well-meaning members of the public and civil society organisations (CSOs) are calling for a mental evaluation and thorough psychological assessment of cops to ascertain their suitability for the assignment.

Catalogue Of Misdemeanors By Law Enforcement Agents
FOR years, the flagrant abuse of human rights by the Nigerian Police Force, especially by a notorious unit of its police, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), which is now defunct, irked millions of Nigerians, as well as raised concerns in the international community.

As these went on, the pent-up emotions remained bottled, but a string of incidents, including unfair treatment, harassment, assaults, extortion, maiming, and killing of youths by rogue policemen, gradually opened the lid, and subsequently birthed the #EndSARS, a decentralised social movement and a series of mass protests against unwholesome behaviours by the police.

Before long, the social movement-induced protests metamorphosed into online activism, physical demonstrations (locally and internationally), marches, and civil disobedience.

By the time the Federal Government found the courage to disband the SARS on October 11, 2020, a large number of policemen and civilians had been killed, while some public and private structures, including iconic ones, had been razed down.

All these notwithstanding, the protesters demanded that the government should not just end SARS, but should also end police brutality as well as institute deep-rooted police reforms, in addition to transparent prosecution of all the officers involved in brutalising, maiming, and killing innocent citizens.

The late Mrs. Raheem

But from empirical observation, the brazen assault on the citizenry by the police has never abated for a single moment. This is confirmed by the avalanche of crimes committed by policemen in the recent past.

For instance, in July this year, some men of the Rapid Response Squad (RRS), Lagos State Police Command, were arrested for brutalising and extorting money from a bus driver and two others on Ojelade Street, in the Fadeyi area of the state.

A video clip of the incident titled, “Brutality: RRS police officers brutally assault the man and two others at Fadeyi, Lagos State,’ was posted by Connect Hub NG using the handle, @HubNGR.

Apart from the 34-year-old bus driver, Olalekan Okanlawon, whom the police extorted N50, 000 cash from, his friend, Adeoye Adebukunola. So also was their female company, Ibukunoluwa Oladele, who was also an officer when the policemen suspected that she was filming the incident.

In October last year, the NPF announced the sack of no fewer than 31 personnel within 18 months to rid the service of bad eggs. The dismissed personnel, predominantly junior officers, were found guilty of extra-judicial killing, extortion, robbery, assault on citizens, and other acts that run contrary to the force’s regulations.

According to the force, the dismissed officers committed the crimes between April 2021 and October 2022.

That round of sacking was done shortly after the Police Service Commission (PSC), on October 4, 2022, announced the dismissal of seven policemen over alleged gross misconduct.

Still, on October 13, the Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer, Benjamin Hundeyin, said that one Curtis Jack, who was accused of robbing a man and his brother of $5, 000 and N1.3m in Lagos, was equally fired from service.

Earlier in July, the force confirmed the dismissal of one Inspector Richard Gele, who was caught in a viral video boasting about extorting members of the public.

After he trended on social media, the Force Headquarters in Abuja invited him and he was de-kited on July 29, while Police Constable Liyomo Okoi, who was captured flogging a man, with a machete, in a viral video on July 31, 2022, was also de-kited on August 8.

The gale of sack that rocked the force did not deter a police officer from shooting dead his colleague in Abia State, following an argument on October 16, last year.

The deceased, Samuel Ugor and his assailant were from the SPU Base 15, Anambra State, both were attached to the lawmaker representing Isiala Ngwa South Constituency in the Abia House of Assembly, Ginger Onwusibe.

To further illustrate that the spate of sacks, suspensions, and sanctions has done little to restore sanity in the force, a police officer was recently caught on camera smoking a substance suspected to be Indian Hemp, while on duty.

Days after that, another viral video of policemen in official garb binging on alcohol equally made the rounds, eliciting a massive response from social media users.

In reacting to the viral video of the policeman that was smoking hemp, the spokesperson of the force, Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP) Olumuyiwa Adejobi, said on his Twitter handle @Princemoye1: “I think this is Kwara. PPRO Kwara to fish out this policeman and send him to my office at the FHQ immediately. Can u see this, too? It is a personal thing. I have said it severally that it’s not systemic. How can a policeman in uniform, on duty, be taking “Igbo.” Heee”

Also in December, a police inspector, Abu Matthew, allegedly stormed the Isuaniocha community in Awka North Local Council of Anambra State, killing an unarmed resident, Okafor Sunday Johnson.

Matthew, who is of the Administration Department of the Force Criminal Investigations Department (FCID), Abuja, is allegedly notorious for disturbing the peace of the Isuaniocha community.

In concert with his colleagues, he has been accused of mindless killings, unwarranted arrest of innocent citizens, and wanton destruction of property.

Another Extrajudicial Killing That Stirred the Hornets’ Nest  
“THE Police Is Your Friend,” is a campaign initiated by the force, and it was aimed at engineering abiding friendship between the force and the citizenry. But that campaign has been thoroughly abused by the actions and inaction of police personnel, who have been unrelenting in their onslaught against the Nigerian people.

The Christmas Day murder of the pregnant lawyer allegedly committed by ASP Vandi of the Ajiwe Police Station in the Ajah area of Lagos is one such case of an unprovoked assault.

In Vandi’s first appearance before a Yaba Chief Magistrate’s Court, last Friday, he was remanded in the Ikoyi Correctional Centre till January 30, 2023, pending advice on the case from the Office of the Lagos State Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

Chief Magistrate, Miss Adeola Olatunbosun remanded the alleged killer cop in jail following an application filed and argued by the Lagos State Attorney General, Mr. Moyosore Onigbanjo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).

The one-count charge filed by the AG’s office, and dated December 30, 2022, read: “That you ASP Drambi Vandi, on the 25th day of December 2022, at Ajah Road, along the Lekki Expressway, Lagos, unlawfully killed one Omobolanle Raheem, by shooting the deceased in the chest contrary to Section 223 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State 2015.

Unruly policemen engage in a fisticuff with loaded fire arms.

The AG, thereafter, applied for Vandi’s remand pursuant to Section 264 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Lagos, 2015, and also informed the court that the decision was to allow the police to conclude its investigations into the matter.

With millions of members of the public still expressing doubts that justice would be served in the matter, the NPF has been assuring all that whoever takes the life of another extra-judicially must pay with his or her life.

Force spokesperson, CSP Adejobi in a series of tweets, on Friday evening, in response to an agitated social media user who asked when the killer cop would be executed, said: “Well, I don’t know, the court will tell us. This procedure or CJS applies to all Nigerians, not only the police, or law enforcement agents. Whoever kills will be subjected to trial, and he will be killed.

“Even if the law permits to kill, one must use his firearms according to the law and principles. Because I am sure many here don’t know that the same law we have permits law enforcement officers to fire and kill, but strictly based on the stipulated laws and principles.

“In the police, we have Force Order 237 and generally, the UN-BPUFF, i.e., Basic Principle for Use of Force and Firearms. If one fire in line with these laws and principles, he will be justified. This still brings us to the saying that to every rule, there must be an exception, like Sec 33 of the CFRN, which says everyone has the right to life, but there are conditions when one’s life could be taken justifiably under the same law. Let’s know the law and be guided. Thanks.”

Poor Working Conditions/Environment Predisposes Cops To Irrational, Extreme Behaviours
OMOBAYO Williams, an occupational therapist believes that there is a relationship between poor working conditions and poor working environment, which predisposes them to irrational and extreme behaviours, as well as causes them to their frustrations with the public.

“A police officer may ultimately get tired from working under stressful conditions, but this is no justification for their excessive outbursts. This just serves to demonstrate that these officers lack the necessary skills for stress management and work-life balance. Even though they cannot be held fully responsible for it, the terrible working conditions experienced by both men and women in the police force and occupational stress are factors that contribute to their frustration. Their job is often dangerous. When combined with the previously mentioned factors, they may cause these policemen to make poor decisions sometimes. Even the average person tires easily and behaves unreasonably when under pressure.

“The average Nigerian’s attitude towards an unarmed police officer is condescending, we often forget that they could also feel stressed or weighed down.

However, not all police actions should be attributed to mental health issues or stress to avoid it becoming a trend or an excuse for bad behaviour, she stated.

Since increasing dismissals, suspensions, and warnings have failed to deter cops from wrongdoings, Williams said it may be time for police authorities to do something fundamental, including “starting afresh with adequate training and welfare, encouraging continuous development, and ensuring that each officer is subjected to tests that include both their physical and mental health. Programmes for stress management could also be set up for these officers. Also, coping strategies should be taught as part of the mandatory training that police officers undergo. There should be public participation in some police matters, and every officer must be made to be accountable.

To what extent can intense psychological/mental assessment help in weeding out deviant cops that have contributed immensely to polluting the system? Williams responded: “Psychological tests can be used to determine whether a person uses drugs or alcohol excessively, exhibits violent or aggressive tendencies, or engages in anti-social behaviours. To filter out the majority of bad cops, these tests can be administered throughout the recruitment process because of their capacity to reduce the intake of bad eggs into the system. Supervising officers can be trained to detect anti-social behaviours or changes in personality, especially junior officers.

“Why junior officers? They most likely have a higher workload; are more affected by occupational stress, and have less tolerance for the poor working conditions that they find themselves in.”

Research, Sociological Evidence Indicate Punishment Too Weak To Shape, Reform Behaviour
CLINICAL psychologist, Samuel Atilola, Like Williams believes that a connection exists between environment and behaviour. “However, this connection is not deterministic as it is quite obvious that people still behave differently even in the same environment. The clearest example of this is the family unit where every member still behaves distinctly despite the near uniformity of the immediate environment. What the environment does is make certain behaviours more likely to be expressed, and some more likely to be suppressed. However, which behaviour an individual expresses in a particular environment depends on their personality profile. It is because people differ by a personality that they also differ in how they are affected by their environments. But it must be noted that the more extremely defined the character of an environment, the more likely it is to successfully and repeatedly trigger certain behavioural traits, and suppress others.

“A police officer who kills, or assaults a civilian is most likely to already possess such traits as aggressiveness and impulsivity. And in a lawless and disorganised environment, such traits are privileged and given more free expression relative to other counteractive traits, such as self-control, and public accountability.

Also shedding light on why sanctions are not deterring bad behaviour among policemen, Atilola, who is also a psychotherapist said: “First, I doubt there’s a correlation between the number of erring officers and the number that gets punished. I think the latter is statistically insignificant compared to the former.

And even if there is a close correspondence between these numbers, behavioural research and sociological evidence have shown that punishment is a weak method of shaping or reforming behaviour. People only try to find means to escape, avoid, or adapt to whatever punitive measure is instituted as long as nothing is done about the underlying inclinations.

“Punishment also disregards elementary processes such as what goes into the recruitment procedures Hence, punishment is more or less a reactive rather than a preventive response. And it becomes difficult to consistently mete out punishment when there’s too high a number of infractions or rotten eggs. Punishment loses its potency.

The most strategic approach would be to screen potential recruits for certain sociopathic/psychopathic traits/tendencies and conduct background checks on them. This significantly minimises the proportion of bad eggs that find their way into the force. This way, even if the environment remains decadent and free-for-all, few officers are likely to be negatively triggered. The same is true in a reverse scenario. If the environment is well-structured and decent, it will still be ineffective in encouraging good behavior if the institution is populated with people with antisocial and psychopathic tendencies.

On the best way to reform the force, Atilola, who is of Pinnacle Medical Services said: “First, finding the right people to head critical departments within the force. ‘Right’ in terms of training, experience, exposure to best practices, and, most importantly, in terms of character. Character is a fundamental element that defines who we are, as well as predicts how we are likely to behave in any given situation. People who compromise too easily on fundamental principles, or who have no principle at all are easier to be replaced than to be reformed.

“Second, there should be a mass retrenchment in the NPF based on certain criteria (e.g. level of education, disciplinary record, etc). And then a new batch of recruits should be brought in based on some standardised criteria, including especially, assessment of mental and character fitness. Third, there should be a reliable, accessible, and efficient system of direct public feedback on police conduct or treatment. Officers of the Nigerian police should have their official profiles digitised such that with a name and a number tag (displayed on their uniforms), any member of the public can log a direct complaint to a centralised server about an errant officer with a swift response. For this to be effective, the likelihood of a police officer being wrongly punished must be higher than the likelihood of being wrongly acquitted. This is about the psychology of perception of probability. Fourth, it has been suggested by many that strategically mounted CCTV cameras would go a long way in checking bad behaviour. This is true because the mere awareness of being watched has a corrective and inhibitory effect on behaviour, whether good or bad. However, it is a different question if we have the administrative and regulatory sophistication to maintain this level of the domestic surveillance system.

Like many others, Atilola believes that a thorough, objective psychological evaluation, combined with subtle background checks, has about a 90 per cent chance of exposing individuals with significant psychological/behavioural risk factors. Those individuals who are most likely to a constitute nuisance and threat to private citizens would almost always be detected by thoroughly and carefully designed psych eval protocols.

“Any reform that will be recognised and applauded by the public would have to be organic, ruthless, and inside-out. Anything that wreaks of whitewashing, image laundering or scapegoating, or stopgap approach would certainly not cut it. This was what the so-called #ENDSARS reform was all about. It was a reactive and half-hearted exercise in public pandering and disaster deflection.