LAST week, there was apprehension and outrage among the students’ community of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, as policemen attached to the Special Anti-Cult Unit of the Anambra State Police Command reportedly broke into Prince Godwin Lodge, a private hostel housing students in Ifite, Awka South Local Government Area of the state, in a bid to arrest suspected fraudsters. According to reports, because there had been robbery operations in the area in recent times, the students had thought that they were once more under the siege of robbers, until the policemen wearing jackets with the inscription SPAC broke the doors of some flats. During the invasion, which took place at dawn, the policemen allegedly burst into the room of a naked female student and beat her to stupor, asking her to identify the fraudsters in the hostel. Said the alleged victim: “They broke the door and came into my flat. They were beating me and I was naked.” The policemen further brutalised many of the students for claiming that they did not know any fraudster.
Naturally, the students union government reacted angrily to the incident. In a statement, the Public Relations Officer of the students’ body, Ikechukwu Dikeojo, said: “These unprofessional force men invaded our students’ lodges in the early hours of Sunday, January 22 around 4a.m with criminal intent. They harassed our students and forcefully collected their phones, laptops, money and other valuables.They even threatened to gang-rape one of our female students who raised the alarm upon noticing their plans towards her. Still, they took her phone, laptop, money and PS4 game. They forcefully broke students’ doors, thereby gaining illegal entrance into the students’ rooms simply because they claimed they were searching for Internet fraudsters (Yahoo Boys) in Ifite.” The students therefore handed down a 24-hour ultimatum to the Commissioner of Police to call the SPAC to order and return all the phones, laptops, PS4 game, and money forcefully collected from the victims “or face the full wrath of students.” However, reacting to the development, the Police Public Relations Officer, Ikenganyia Anthony, said investigation had commenced into the case, adding that the students union leadership had been informed to bring the victims to the command’s headquarters.
To be sure, policemen fighting criminality, even among students, is quite in order. However, given that the target area is a students’ hostel, the policemen ought to have liaised with the school authorities and the management of the said hostel in bringing the alleged suspects to book. If media reports of this sordid incident show anything, it is the fact that the SPAC men in question did not exercise due diligence before invading the hostel. It is terrible investigative tactics to invade a students’ hostel and beat up anyone in sight, with a view to extracting information about internet fraudsters. Even if the brutalised students knew the fraudsters that the police were after, nothing in Nigeria’s statute books permitted the police to extract confession through the use of brute force, and in such circumstances that could easily spark a demonstration or social unrest. Suspects can be arrested without innocent students being brutalised.
Time and again, stories of policemen beating ladies while they are naked and in their own residences have been reported in the media. This is so sad. Ladies, and indeed all Nigerian citizens, ought to be treated with dignity. Barging into people’s privacy and brutalising them without just cause is not policing; it is a gross violation of human rights. Invading students’ hostels in the dead of the night ostensibly in the quest to arrest suspects, forcing your way into their rooms by breaking down doors and windows and chancing upon innocent girls in various levels of nudity is utterly unprofessional and uncouth. Molesting innocent girls in their hostels cannot be counted as one of the unintended consequences of the onslaught on fraudsters. Even in war, there are conventions and consequences for their violation. The police ought to look for a more decent way of carrying out their duties. It is difficult to understand the kind of criminals within a students’ hostel that would warrant the invasion of mobilised police personnel at 4.a.m. It sounds patently insane that you beat up some people because you are looking for others, and this is why we urge parents and NGOs to take up this case.
It is significant that the police authorities have promised to investigate this untoward invasion. We expect the findings to be made public, such that the police authorities would be seen as not having authorised the ugly invasion. We also expect civil society and non-governmental organisations to take up the police on its promised investigation to ensure that the case is not allowed to be pushed under the carpet. It is important to incorporate necessary respect for dignity of citizens into the operational framework of police to prevent flagrant abuse of innocent people while carrying out duties. This is the way to ensure a more civilised and dignified approach that would elicit respect and cooperation from the society.
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