By Ngozi Nwoke
One year after the massive #EndSARS protest against police brutality and extra-judicial killings in Nigeria, nothing has changed.
Even on the day set aside to mark one year remembrance of the #EndSARS protest, as well as honour innocent Nigerians, who lost their lives, protesters were seen brutally beaten by armed policemen.
The recent killing of a 14-year-old boy by a police officer clearly proved the numerous cases of extra-judicial killings by men in uniform. The teenager was killed by a stray bullet when a trigger-happy policeman opened fire during an argument with a truck driver in Alapere area of Lagos.
November 2 was a bad day for a 29-year-old man simply identified as Gift, who was reportedly shot dead during his birthday party by police officers at a popular drinking bar at Obimomba community of Umukwata clan, in Ukwuani LGA of Delta state.
Gift, whose wife gave birth three months earlier, was said to have been left bleeding after he was shot but was rushed to the hospital by his friends and was pronounced dead on arrival.
Thirty-six-year-old salesman, Edwin Briggs, and four of his friends were returning from a colleague’s birthday celebration at midnight on November 9, when their car was stopped by four armed men on mufti suspected to be police officers at Ojota bus stop in Lagos. An activity that seemed like a routine check quickly took a turn for the worse when one of the policemen opened fire on one of his friends and killed him.
The same was also the case of 18-year-old Monsurat Ojuade, who was shot dead by a policeman in her residence at Ijeshatedo, Surulere, Lagos in September.
Also, on October 29, an aspiring athlete, Gibson Udom, was killed in his prime by a policeman. His crime was that he refused to part with the amount of money demanded by the policeman at a police checkpoint in Lagos. He was on a visit to Nigeria from the United States.
On October 4, a woman was hit by a stray bullet when policemen were chasing a suspected criminal in a market in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. On October 16, the tragic killing of Nduka Onwukwe, a 29-year-old indigene of Orlu, Imo state, also exposed the brutality and extra-judicial killings by men of the Nigeria police force.
Nduka and his friend, Job Igwe, were reportedly arrested in a football viewing center on that fateful day by policemen deployed to the Imo State police command. While taking the two friends to the station, an argument ensued between Nduka and one of the policemen. Things got out of hand when he was brutalized and strangled to death by the policeman right inside the police van.
Following the death of Nduka, aggrieved men, women and youths demonstrated at Orlu, thereby forcing the police authorities to carry out investigations which showed that the policemen were on illegal duty on the day of the incident.
Job, who witnessed the gruesome murder, said: “I am lucky to be alive today. They attempted to also kill me to cover up their evil act. I have not recovered from the shock and sight of seeing my friend brutalized and strangled with bare hands by a police officer.
“After strangling him to death, one of them pointed his gun at me, threatening to shoot me if I didn’t cooperate with them. Our only crime was that we came to watch the football match and that was how we were picked.”
Despite the ban on the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), following the nationwide protest by Nigerians, witnesses say the disbanded SARS is gradually returning.
Residents of all the states have encountered untold harassment and violation of their fundamental human rights by men suspected to be SARS who illegally extort them on the road during their ‘stop and search’ operations.
A concerned Lagos resident, Uzoma Nwoke, condemned the unlawful killings and harassment from the police personnel, adding that the mandate of the police is to protect life and property of the citizens.
Nwoke said: “We decry the disturbing cases of police brutality and condemn in totality thze extortion, harassment and killings of innocent Nigerians by the police. We urge the authorities to ensure that police officers are given adequate training, especially on gun handling and educate them on how to build healthy public relations with Nigerians. They say ‘police is your friend,’ but unfortunately, the Nigerian police are the worst enemy to society as it is today. They should understand that their primary duty is to protect life and property of Nigerians. It is not their duty or right to take human lives in any way.
“The manner at which policemen pull the trigger on defenseless citizens they are meant to protect, has become extremely disturbing to the mental stability of Nigerians. There is an urgent need for training and retraining of policemen while stringent sanctions are placed on erring officers. Nigerians have suffered unbearable losses with the killing of their loved ones by trigger-happy policemen. To this end, we say enough is enough.”
Reacting to the reports on brutality and extra-judicial killings by men of the police, human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, a senior advocate of Nigeria, challenged Nigerian lawyers to stand up to their responsibilities to defend the constitutional rights of defenseless Nigerians, who have been subjected to unlawful detention and falsely accused by the police, describing their silence as consent towards the violation of human rights.
Falana said: “Nigerian lawyers are comfortable with impunity, abuse of the rule of law and violation of human rights by some of these policemen. We have a history of struggle for justice, struggle against the violation of human rights and struggle against injustice. Under the previous military regimes, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) stood its ground in protecting and defending human rights. That is no longer the case today. It is only when the rich are oppressed and arrested that you see lawyers shouting from the rooftop in their defense.
“There is human rights violation in Nigeria. Some Nigerians do not even know their fundamental rights. S o, they don’t know when their rights are undermined. The Federal Government should introduce human rights enlightenment courses in Nigerian schools.”
Similarly, child’s and women rights advocate, Ozioma Patsy Onyenweaku, noted: “It is disheartening the rate at which police brutality and extra-judicial killings are over running the country. It is this painful because the police is a structure of government entrusted with the duty to protect lives and property; to protect and respect citizens’ rights to life.
“The worrisome aspect is that some police officers would look one in the eyes and say ‘If you had tried moving when I had not told you to, I would have wasted you and nothing will happen’. Police, globally and under international law, are not permitted to use force arbitrarily. The police officers are to use force only as a last resort when absolutely to protect themselves or other people from clear-cut danger of threat of death or injury.
“Under our watch, police pull the trigger at the slightest provocation and in sheer show of power. The reason for the alarming rate of police brutality and extra-judicial killings is not far-fetched. What do you expect from a police force within a system where human rights are being trampled upon even more by the government itself?
“When a government tries caging freedom of expression and frowns at peaceful assembly, the government gets its way by endorsing heavy- and hard-handed police response at the sight of any protest, agitation and demonstration. This point is depicted in the case of the #EndSARS and IPOB and other agitation.
“An entrenched impunity fuels police brutality and extra-judicial killings. When unlawful killings by the police attract no consequence, as it is the case now, a deadly cycle violence is activated. Knowing that they can kill and get away with it empowers them all the more to unleash more on the citizens they are meant to protect. When the government, by its actions, seems to give kudos to the unlawful killings by the police, how then will the killings stop?
“It appears now that discrimination and racism have been incorporated into our law enforcement system. So long as we grow racism and other forms of discrimination, so long as we have insecurity, conflict, and impunity, the end to police brutality and extra-judicial killings, unfortunately, might not be insight. It is important to note that agitation and conflicts are normal and even healthy once they are within the bounds of the law. No one should be suppressed. Beating, unlawful killings, torture, unlawful detention, racial abuse, indiscriminate use of force at protests, agitation and conflicts are all violations of human rights. The only way to end police brutality and extra-judicial killings in Nigeria, is to get it right from the head – the government of the day.”
According to Amnesty International, 91 Nigerians have been killed by the police in the past one year. Study shows that reasons for the sad trend of police brutality and extra-judicial killings occurred during protests and many of which were unprovoked.
Some of the most prominent reasons for such killings, according to reports, include refusal to give bribes, argument and stray bullets.
Reports further stated that killings were recorded every month under the period reviewed.
There were no reports of killings by police in 15 states, which implies that there were recorded extra-judicial killings by police in the 21 states, including the FCT. Lagos State had the highest number of reported deaths caused by police extra-judicial killings.
Worried by the reports of extra-judicial killings by some policemen due to unprofessional handling and misuse of firearms, the Rivers State police public relations officer, Nnamdi Omoni, condemned the extra-judicial killings and unlawful extortions by men of the Nigeria police. He warned policemen to be professional and humane in their dealings with citizens as an alleged defaulter is only a suspect until proven guilty by the court of law.
He said: “There is no denying the fact that there are bad eggs in the Nigeria police force. That is a well-acknowledged fact. However, we must accept that there are still upright force men who practice professionalism and apply competency in their duties.
“What we do is training and retraining police officers. On the issue of carrying out disciplinary actions on erring officers, it may appear that they are not adequately disciplined, but the truth is that there are procedures to these things based on the ethics and conduct of the police force. The law of the force does not permit unprofessional conducts of a police officer.
“When there is a complaint or allegation against an officer or officers, a thorough investigation is first of all carried out to ascertain if the officer is guilty of the allegation or the level of his complacency in the complaint. If found guilty, he will be penalized depending on what the police law states based on his crime. Officers who deserve to be dismissed, are dismissed. Those who deserve to be jailed are jailed. This is also to serve as a deterrent to other officers. We have vowed not to allow erring officers to be unpunished if found culpable.
“Men of the Nigeria police are wholeheartedly committed to ensuring that life and property is protected. While we lay so much emphasis on police officers, who indulge in any form of misconduct, it is pertinent to also consider the living condition and welfare of these police officers. They are humans too and deserve care.
“Another key measure we carry out to curb police brutality and extra-judicial killings, is ensuring that all officers undergo psychological screenings to ascertain their mental stability before they are assigned a rifle.
“My sincere condolences go to every family who have lost their loved ones to police brutality and unlawful killings.”