“Police is your friend,” so reads a common signage in police stations across Nigeria. Unfortunately, not many people are convinced by that slogan.
Indeed, right now, the endless wave of police brutality against innocent Nigerians is giving many citizens considerable concern.
Some of the victims recently narrated their tear-evoking ordeal to the reporter. While some survived, some others were unlucky as they did not live to tell their story after their encounter with trigger-happy policemen.
Many people have described some of the killings as unprovoked. Consequently, there have been anger, agony and unease in different parts of the country. Nigerians, irrespective of ethnic or religious affiliations, are calling on the authorities to swiftly rise and halt the dreadful trend.
On April 21, a young man was shot dead by policemen in the Iyana-Coker area of Ifo Local Government Area (LGA) of Ogun State.
The state police public relations officer, Abimbola Oyeyemi, who confirmed the incident, said that the commissioner of police, Bashir Makama, immediately ordered an investigation into the cause of the incident, which later led to the arrest of two policemen in connection with the killing.
The officers were said to have opened fire at a bus stop along the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway, killing the man. Some others were injured while scampering to safety.
The incident triggered some lawlessness in the area, as protesting residents blocked the expressway with bonfires made from old tyres. Vehicular movement on both sides of the road was disrupted for hours.
The Ogun shooting happened barely a week after a young woman was shot dead by policemen in Lagos.
Three weeks ago, Nigerians were again shocked when a young man, Kolade Johnson, was shot dead by a police officer near a football viewing centre in Lagos State. The killing sparked a huge protest, especially on the social media.
Though the policeman responsible for the murder has been dismissed from service and is currently facing trial in a court, many concerned Nigerians had expected that other policemen would show remorse and tread softly.
But that was not the case. On April 13, two young lover, Ada Ifeanyi, 20, and her boyfriend, Emmanuel Akomafuwa, 32, were shot while returning from a nightclub in Ajegunle, a suburb of Lagos. While Ada was confirmed dead on the spot, Emmanuel survived and was rushed to the hospital.
A victim of police lawlessness, Mr. Iyase Ogiso, told the reporter his experience with some policemen on patrol in Lagos last December: “I was in a commercial bus in Alimosho area when some policemen stopped our driver and delayed all of us in the bus for about 30 minutes. They ignored all our pleas. At the end of their argument, the conductor gave them some money in our presence.
“Just as we were about leaving, out of annoyance, I hissed and shouted ‘corruption.’ In retaliation, one of the policemen, who was near our vehicle, dragged me down from the bus and held me by the waist. As I was struggling to free myself from his grip, his colleagues came and the story changed totally.
“The first policeman said I wanted to snatch his gun. At this point, they had ordered the commercial bus driver to continue his journey. They pounced on me until I lost consciousness.
“When my people reported the incident the following morning at the nearby police station, the divisional police officer said he could not trace the patrol team, since I was unable to identify any of the men. One of my friends advised me to forget the case. He said I could be labelled an armed robber. It is an experience that I cannot forget easily.”
Many have canvassed that police operatives making arrests should avoid the shooting of unarmed civilians. Concerned Nigerians are recommending the need for proper training and retraining of policemen, particularly junior officers, to avert the incessant brutality.
Narrating his ordeal in the hands of some officers of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in the Igando area of Lagos State in late 2018, an editor with Saturday Sun, Mr. Chika Abanobi, said he was shocked and embarrassed when he was treated like a common criminal by the unruly SARS men.
Said he: “I went to a bank at Igando Bus Stop to make some withdrawal through the automated teller machine (ATM), but I didn’t know that some policemen were watching me from the other side of the road.
“Immediately I crossed the road, the four of them in mufti came after me and grabbed me by the waist. They started dragging me to a corner. The officers were so unruly. It was about 2pm and the people, who were passing began to watch the unfolding drama.
“They said they needed to search me even without showing me their means of identification. It was after I requested that they showed me their ID cards that one of them flashed his. When I demanded a search warrant, they became livid. They asked if l was to teach them their job.
“They kept pointing at my bag where l kept the money that I just withdrew. They might have thought that the money was much but it was only N40,000. While I was withdrawing the money, it took a while because the machine was only dispensing N5,000 per withdrawal.”
He said while the argument lasted, he remembered to quickly bring out his own ID card, which read “Press.” He said, upon sighting it, the four operatives disappeared in a matter of seconds without asking further questions.
Another victim, Babatunde Olusola, who said he escaped death by the whiskers in the hands of some policemen in Lagos, stressed that the police force was one of the major problems that Nigeria needed to tackle as soon as possible.
“I repair phones at Computer Village. As a result, I always go with two or more phones that belong to customers. I was going to work on that fateful morning when two officers stopped me and searched me. When they saw four expensive handsets on me, they slapped me, pushed me into their van and took me in another direction.
“One of the officers asked me to confess where and how I stole the phones. I told them that I was a phone repairer, but they did not believe me. I even told them to take me to Computer Village, where my colleagues could identify me, but they also refused. One of them threatened that they would soon take me to court and charge me for robbery.
“Although I was somehow scared, something told me not to negotiate anything with them. When they discovered that I was not ready to part with any money as others they raided were doing, they freed me in the afternoon. I had just N300 that morning. It was a terrible experience,” Olusola said.
While decrying the incessant killings and brutality by policemen, the team lead of Gavel, a civic technology organisation aimed at improving the pace of justice delivery through technology, has called for the immediate mental assessment of all police personnel in the country.
He urged the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mr. Mohammed Adamu, to be proactive in ending the trend of brutality and extra-judicial killings usually perpetrated by police operatives across the country.
He said: “With the increase in police brutality, police extortion and extra-judicial killings across Nigeria, we cannot afford to keep waiting until the next incident happens before action is taken. We need to stop sacrificing the lives of promising Nigerians on the altar of system inefficiency and lack of accountability.”
He said the mental test was important in order to sieve the force of “bad eggs.”
On his part, Adamu has also decried the incessant killings of innocent persons in Lagos by policemen, and described such acts as unacceptable. He recently made this known in Lagos while addressing officers and men of the command at the Police College, Ikeja.
He lamented that such incidents were pitching the force against the citizens they pledged to serve and protect.
“From January to April, 2019, Lagos State has recorded four incidents of misuse of firearms, which have resulted in extra-judicial killings of young citizens of this country and injury to others. More worrisome is that two of these incidents occurred within the last two weeks,” he said.
He warned that any police officer that insisted on remaining incorrigible by engaging in abuse of his or her powers or misuses firearms in utter disregard to statutory provisions would be arrested.
“The person will be investigated through our internal disciplinary machinery and, if found culpable, shall be dismissed from service. In addition, such personnel will be charged to court for murder or sundry offences, depending on his or her level of criminal liability in the instance.
“In the long term, rather than the use of firearms, we shall henceforth use technologies and weapon systems such as electro-muscular disruption technology, commonly known as taser, or stun guns by police,” Adamu said.