Taming the monster of extra judicial killings

MANY years ago in Lagos, a man who had been in the United States for long, came back to Nigeria but could not immediately locate his people. Thinking that a police station was a safe place to pass the night, he decided to check in. Out of innocence, he told the police officers on duty at the station about himself and why he needed to stay at the station till the following morning when he would continue to search for his family members.

During his chat with the officers, he freely talked about the years he had spent in America and how he looked forward to seeing his people. Shockingly, the man was allegedly killed overnight by the officers who dumped his body on the street, claiming that he was shot him because he was a suspected armed robber.

Unknown to the officers, the deceased had agreed with the cab man who drove him to the police station that he should come and pick him there the next morning. He also pleaded with the driver that he should help him to locate his younger brother since he wasn’t sure he would be found that night.

On getting to the police station the following day as agreed, the driver met his client dead. Meanwhile, he had located the address that the deceased gave him and quickly drove back to inform the family about the sad incident. Unfortunately for the police officers, the deceased’s brother was a top officer in the Nigerian Army. Furious, the brother rushed to the scene with some military officers and shot some of the officers on duty dead. This act led to a shootout between the police officers and the Army officers. It took the intervention of the then Lagos State military governor had to plead with the military officer to bury the hatchet.

Before now, there had been many reports of such senseless killings in Nigeria. Many Nigerians would not forget in a hurry the shocking murder of a Nigerian athlete, Dele Udoh, who represented Nigeria at the 1980 Olympics. He was shot dead at a police checkpoint in July 1981during an argument.

Another reverberating killing by Police officers that shocked Nigerians was that of six businessmen killed in Apo, area of Abuja few years back. Popularly called the Apo six, the men from the South Eastern part of the country and coming from a night out were said t have been killed at a road block mounted by policemen.

Recently, in rapid successions, several Nigerians were killed by uniformed men within five weeks. A young man and his girlfriend coming from a nightclub were reportedly shot by police. His girlfriend, shot in the stomach, died almost immediately. Also, a young man was killed by Customs officials along Ondo-Ore road for allegedly raising his voice against an officer who asked passengers in a commuter bus to come down for drug search

The case of one Kolade, a young man in Lagos whose life was cut short by a police officer while watching football is still fresh.

Professor Toba Elegbeleye of the Department of Psychology, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, told Sunday Tribune that there are obviously very important factors to consider in analyzing them.

“The nation has a problem. For police extra-judicial killings, we are still employing the laws handed down to us by the colonial masters several decades ago. None of these laws are time-compliant. We are living in an age where everything ought to have changed, especially archaic laws. We live in the age of technology, but how much of technology is attendant on a police job?

They are under-equipped and under-paid. How much does the police commission attract in the national budget? The issue of security, of which the police is a subcomponent, costs a lot of money. You do not get into any advanced country and find policemen drinking at beer parlour, and still carrying AK 47.

“Something is wrong with any authority which allows its policemen to show off with guns in public places. As of the time when most of the extra-judicial killings occurred, the police officers had no need to be carrying guns. A number of these officers do not even have enough training to carry these guns,” Prof. Elegbeleye told Sunday Tribune.

Arguing further, the don said brandishing guns was an assault on the psyche of the average Nigerian, as situation which should be remedied by the authorities.

“Except in areas where there is total breakdown of law and order in advanced countries, you hardly see a policeman carry guns around. Seeing guns being carried around is an assault on the mind of the citizens. But then, it is not the fault of the person wielding the gun, but that of the authority which enables them carry it. When last did policemen attend a seminar and workshop?” he queried.

Speaking further, Elegbeleye mentioned specific areas to be looked into as training, remuneration, preemptive policing, and welfare package, among others.

“If the police have constituted themselves into a power block that curries the respect of the public, they don’t need a gun. The uniform is enough. This still boils down to training and retraining. Until the mindset is changed through trainings, we are going to have more of these terrible situations on our hands.

“The policing we do here is sunk in power without brain. Our police force hardly understands pre-emptive policing, which prevents havoc. Theirs is retroactive where you only see them when the havoc has been committed. There is little in the area of research and detective work. They need to be trained on modern policing.

“The issues are: are they paid a commensurate salary that makes them happy at the job? What kind of welfare programmes are in place for them? It was recently revealed that Boko Haram pay its henchmen $3,000 per day or thereabout, while Nigeria pay her own security officers N1,000 per day. This money, when properly investigated, does not even come at the right time.

“The police force, which should be our solution in this era of insecurity, is now our problem. This suggests that we need police reforms. Security issues are money gulping. Instead of pumping the needed fund to education and security, we divert our financial resources to the National Assembly,” he asserted.

Another don, Professor Oyesoji Aremu looking at the issue form another dimension is of the opinion that most victims of extra judicial killings are left to bear their losses alone without any compensation.

“It goes without saying that families of individuals unjustly killed by police personnel are left to bear the trauma of the loss of their loved ones,” he said noting that “the Nigeria Police still has a lot to do in terms of the quality of its professionalism,” and that “the Police Force still harbour some ‘bandits’ in uniform.”

Prof Aremu also sees a deficiency in the method of what he called “the recruitment architecture in the Police,” which he believes should be overhauled and factors such as intelligence and soft skills should be taken into consideration noting that recruitment into the police force should not be a matter of physique and nepotism, just as he said that psychologists should be employed to assist in the recruitment process.

“Tactical and operational strategies are key to successful policing in the 21st century. For emphasis, police effectiveness is determined by the cooperation of the public. Maintaining cooperation with the public at all times would drive community policing, which is not yet a reality in Nigeria. If the country wants to really make the police to be service-oriented, then this has to be given a priority,” he said.

Activist, Comrade Mashood Erubami, who is also the President, Nigeria Voters Assembly based in Ibadan, decried the rising cases of extrajudicial killings in the country, noting that the culprits had not been adequately dealt with according to the law of the land, making the police authorities to show indifference in many of the cases.

“Legal restrictions against the police force committing impunity has been thrown overboard and unashamedly disregarded and ignorantly disobeyed without sanction from the police authority making the commission of the offence look like a normal part of police assignments. There are legal provisions in the Police Act, Criminal Act, Constitution, Professional ethics for the police force, international conventions and their covenants; which regulates the roles of the police, limits the use of arbitrary power, misuse of authority and mishandling of firearms in executing the law enforcement’s role of the police.

“From this regulations, extra judicial killings means all killings outside the due process of the law resulting from excessive use of force beyond the limit permitted by the laws, including torture, beatings, hash restraint action like iron handcuffing and leg chaining and subjecting suspects or victims to inhuman treatment, which, in most cases, have led to extra judicial deaths.

“Nobody has the right to terminate the life of others as stated in section 33(1) of Chapter iv of the 1999 constitution, where it states that “every person has a right to life and no one shall be deprived of his or her life save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he or she has been found guilty in Nigeria,” he said adding that “Police DPOs must be made to account administratively for the offences of police officers in their divisions who advertently commit the offences of extrajudicial killings.”

Barrister Olugbenga Makinde, while decrying the spate of extra-judicial killing in the country, however, regretted that the police force has become a haven for the good, the bad and the ugly, explaining that “to be a security officer, means that one has what it takes to do the job. A police officer is expected to be a gentle man, that is, somebody who, at the face of provocation, will maintain his cool because that is what their training requires. This applies to other security officers too.”

A senior police officer, while speaking with the Saturday Tribune on the condition of anonymity said that though extra judicial killings are not peculiar to Nigeria, Force Order 237 empowers the police to use firearms but that there are some conditions that must warrant the use of such, which includes a situation in which someone’s life is in danger

“If you check most of those cases of extra -judicial killings, the culprits were on illegal duties. They were in a hurry to do the job and leave the place as quickly as possible. As a result of this, they make irrational decision and in most cases with their firearms,» he said.

He also added that «when you see some of these policemen outside, how they handle their firearms is a cause for concern. Some of these killings occurred as a result of unprofessional handling of firearms by these policemen. For this he recommended training and retraining of officers.


Why killings will continue

Although cases of extra-judicial killings are vast, only few get recorded in law reports. Several factors are responsible for this. Sometimes, most police officers get away with this crime because there is this unwritten code of ‘esprit de corps’ among all uniformed men. They support one another and even when they are tried they are first of all tried according to their own internal laws, and even when the cases get to the law courts they take years before they are decided.


What the law says

Speaking further on the laws that protect Nigerians as regards extra judicial killings, another Ibadan-based lawyer, Tokunbo Fajuyitan, addressed the issue firstly from Nigeria’s law and from the United Kingdom’s jurisdiction from where he just returned to Nigeria.

“The right to life is provided for in the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria in section 33 that every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he or she has been found guilty in Nigeria. Furthermore, section 14 (2b) states that the welfare and security of the citizens shall be the primary purpose of government.

“Notwithstanding the above, and for various reasons beyond our control, sometimes, government officials who are saddled with protecting citizens’ lives are the ones violating this human right by way of extra judicial killings. These are usually officers of the law enforcement agencies. Also recently, the officials of our border patrol, the Customs personnel have been mentioned. Accidental discharge of firearms by security officers in the public and the use of lethal force in dealing with members of the public, who are often unarmed, are numerous and sadly, Nigerians continue to witness cases of gross breaches of human rights.

“Where state enforcement officials have been involved in extra judicial killings, the state or the agencies independent commission should investigate such suspicious killings, identify the officer(s) involved with a view to holding them responsible. The agencies must take firm action against their erring officers.

“Pending the outcome of the investigations, the officers involved should be suspended and relieved of their duties. Upon finally concluding the investigations, if found wanting, the matter could be referred to the independent service commission for disciplinary actions, and to the state prosecutor for the prosecution against the violation of human rights and the constitution.

“However, the responsible agencies’ reactions and remedies available to victims of extra judicial killings, including government reactions, are different in both the Nigerian and English jurisdictions. In England, the cases are first referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC). The officers, if found in breach of duty of care, will be recommended for discipline and can be discharged from service with loss of any accrued benefits. Criminal charges are also brought against the perpetrators of the breach of duty of care because in advanced countries, nobody is above the law,” he told Sunday Tribune.

—Additional story by OLALEKAN OLABULO.