MEN of the Nigeria Police Force are once again in the news for the wrong reasons. On September 10, a day before the world marked the 19th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York, United States, which led to the death of thousands of persons of different nationalities, some errant men of the force chose the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, to unleash their own version of terror. The men, members of the notorious Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS), were in search of an alleged criminal, Mr. Afam Ugwunwa, on the fateful day. When they arrived at his residence in Wumba village in Lokogoma, Abuja, at about 5:00pm, he was not home but Corps Member Stella Ifeoma Abugu, his fiancee, was. Since their target was not in sight, they arrested his fiancée and whisked her away to their station. Ifeoma later died in the custody of the deranged officers, having been sexually abused, according to Cosmic Legal Consult, the solicitors to the Abugu family. The officers, who were said to have come from an unknown police station, were allegedly on illegal duty.
Section 14(1)(2)(b) of the Nigerian Constitution says that: “The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice.(2) It is hereby, accordingly, declared that: This Constitution derives all its powers and authority;(b) The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” But time and again, agents and agencies of government have observed this provision in the breach. In particular, officers and men of the Nigerian Police have over the years specialised not only in brutalizing but also serially annihilating citizens, many of them having committed no offence known to law.
According to residents and eyewitnesses, Ifeoma was whisked away by the operatives in a healthy state. However, on 15th September, information reached the family that she had died and her body had been deposited at the Gwagwalada Specialist Hospital. Meanwhile, according to the family’s solicitor, “our clients have gone to SARS office, Guzape, Abuja and made sensitive findings, including that the officers who carried out the arrest were on illegal duty. The matter has been transferred to Apo police division headed by DPO Usman for preliminary investigations, and investigative police officer (IPO ) Inspector Bulus is also investigating the matter currently.”
Instructively, the policemen knew that Ifeoma was not the suspect they sought for, yet they arrested her. The Corps member who was serving the nation at the FCT was treated like a common criminal and allegedly violated and killed in custody. No law in Nigeria permits a citizen’s rights to be trampled upon because of his/her relationship with an alleged criminal. Even if it was the alleged culprit that was apprehended, no law gave the security operatives the right to engage in extrajudicial killing. Only a court of competent jurisdiction can hand down the death sentence to an accused if eventually found guilty, and even then the law permits such a person to appeal the verdict right up to the apex court.
Ifeoma, whose traditional marriage was said to have been conducted already and who was only waiting for the ‘white wedding’ to be conducted later this year, has had her life cut short and ambitions aborted. To be sure, the litany of cases of brutality by men of the SARS do not bear repeating here. The brutality indeed led to the #ENDSARS movement few years ago. The movement is still trending on the social media. Sadly, though, the protests, rather than cause a decrease in the number of citizens callously executed and brutalised by this dreaded squad, seem to have further emboldened the operatives to commit acts of impunity, in part because only very few of them get punished by the police hierarchy. The impression being created is that even the Inspector General of Police lacks the capacity to rein in his men. We hope that this is not so. No one is safe when a dog gets lionised: it brutalises even its owner and is no longer useful as a means of security.
The ongoing investigation by officers and men of Apo station should be thorough. The culprits must not only be identified and shamed, they must also be dealt with according to the law. The story of the Apo six is still fresh in the memory of Nigerians. So is the story of Tiamiyu the slain footballer. This brutalisation of innocent citizens must stop. Officers and men of the Nigeria Police must be trained and retrained to identify civilians as people who must be protected and accorded due regards in a democracy. That is the only way Nigerians can truly begin to see them as friends. We urge the authorities of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), Ministry of Youths and Social Development, the Presidency and the National Assembly to work together and ensure that the culprits in this case get their just deserts.
We commiserate with the Abugu family. May they find consolation at a time like this when the world seems to be running on a reverse gear.
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