On May 1, in a viral video in the social media, Nigerians were treated to a bizarre drama as a policeman was at the receiving end of physical assault; he was filmed being slapped by a civilian, a lady, who alleged that the senior police officer first slapped her in Ibadan, Oyo State.
Inspector-General of Police, Muhammed Adamu, later commended the officer, the DCO of Eruwa Police Division, ASP Adeyemo Ogunyemi, for what he termed his restraint and professionalism in the face of unprovoked attack. In the video clip, a woman identified as Kehinde Afolake was seen assaulting Ogunyemi unchallenged and without retaliation while he was carrying out COVID-19 enforcement duties in Gbolagunte, Ibarapa, Oyo State. The woman also assaulted two female police officers, Inspector Ojola Abiola and Inspector Queen Eguaoje, and gave one of them a bite on Saturday, May 2, when they tried to arrest her.
The IGP noted that since the commencement of COVID-19 enforcement duties, a total of 27 police personnel have suffered attacks and assault from members of the public at different times and different locations. Many of these officers, he reiterated, were still in hospital receiving treatment from injuries sustained during the attacks. These include a female police officer, PC Ngozi Nkem, in Agbor, Delta State, who was seriously assaulted when a police team was dispersing a group of persons holding a birthday party in clear disobedience of the social restrictions and distancing orders.
Apart from the attack on the person of police officers, some civilians have equally carried out attacks on police assets and facilities. For example, two police stations and police quarters were attacked and burnt down in Katsina and Abia states, while 15 police vehicles/motorcycles were also damaged.
However, such instances of police officers being attacked are few and far between, compared to the acts of extra-judicial killings, brutality, extortion, and abuse of power by police operatives, especially since the Federal Government took measures to stem the spread of COVID019 in the country.
Last week, Fatimah Babashehu Liman alleged that operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) shot her cousin, Sodiq, in Abuja.
She said: “With deep sorrowful broken heart I write this painful story of what happened to my cousin today. As a Nigerian citizen, today I saw the highest order of abuse of office and cruelty by SARS officers.
“At about 1pm, SARS officers jumped the fence and entered my aunt’s house in Gwarinpa, Abuja, and started shooting. Sadiq was performing ablution for zuhr prayers. On sighting one of the officers shooting, he got scared, thinking they were armed robbers. Out of fear, he jumped into their neighbour’s house. One of the officers shot him in the hand, Sadiq was bleeding; the officer handcuffed Sadiq and one of the neighbour’s sons, took them in their vehicle. Meanwhile, the remaining officers broke the doors in to the house, brought out the remaining boys and her husband and started beating them up and took them away. After some minutes, some of the officers came back to the house and packed the bullets that were on the floor in an attempt to hide evidence.”
Last Thursday, former Commissioner for Education in the defunct Bendel State, Dr. Nosa Omoregie, collapsed and was rushed to hospital following shock he suffered after a team of policemen from the State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department visited his property at Aigbokhian Street, off Sapele Road, Oghoghobi, Benin City.
Olaoluwa Bolarinwa, 47, a father of two, fondly called Laolu, was arrested on March 26, in Ekotedo Iya Olobe, Ibadan, Oyo State, along with his nephew, Oreoluwa Abiona.
While Oreoluwa was released after parting with N10,000, the policemen detained Olaoluwa. A few weeks after Olaoluwa’s arrest, family members were shocked to hear that he was dead.
The suspect, an electrician, was allegedly arrested by policemen attached to the Inspector-General of Police Special Tactical Squad (IGP-STS), located in Itele, Ayobo, Lagos State. Assistant Superintendent of Police Toyin Omosebi heads the unit.
Distressed family members accused the operatives of torturing Olaoluwa to death. The accusation was made after the policemen attached to IGP-STS denied knowing Olaoluwa and then weeks later, told the family that he died three days after his arrest. The unit has also allegedly refused to disclose how the suspect died.
His wife, Blessing, said the policemen stormed their compound on that fateful day in search of ‘Olu.’ It was Olaoluwa that attended to them. He told them there was nobody called ‘Olu,’ that his own name was Laolu. But that did not stop his arrest.
On Thursday, May 22, 2020, the Lagos State Police Command arrested Inspector Okoro Charles, attached to the Ikotun Police Division, Lagos State, for allegedly shooting to death a Muslim cleric, Mr. Fatai Oladipupo. Okoro was alleged to be extorting money from motorists and commercial motorcycle operators, popularly known as Okada riders, violating the lockdown order when, suddenly, an Okada rider escaped arrest and, in an attempt to stop him, Okoro fired at the rider but missed his target and the pellets hit the Muslim cleric, who bled to death.
On the same day, Thursday, May 22, the command announced the arrest of the Divisional Police Officer in charge of Ilemba Hausa, Ajamgbadi, Lagos, for the alleged killing of a sergeant attached to the station.
Spokesman for the Lagos State Police Command, Bala Elkana, said: “The Commissioner of Police, Lagos State Command, Hakeem Odumosu, has ordered the transfer of the case involving the shooting and killing of Sergeant Onalaja Onajide to the State Criminal Investigation Department, Yaba, for discreet investigation. This decision followed the reports received by the command alleging that the Divisional Police Officer, Ilemba Hausa, CSP Yahaya Mohammed Adeshina, was responsible for the shooting of the Sergeant while dispersing a crowd that gathered in front of the station. The DPO has been arrested and detained at the SCIID for investigation. His rifle has been retrieved for forensic examination. The command has ordered that autopsy be carried out on the deceased person”.
On the same date, the police, in enforcing the COVID-19 lockdown at a checkpoint in Sowore, Ota, Ogun State, denied access to a commercial motorcycle rider who was taking a pregnant woman in labour to the hospital. The victim, Mrs. Opeoluwa Waidat, pleaded with the police to allow her get to Ita Otu General Hospital, but the officers bluntly refused and as she was pleading with them, the woman slumped and died, and the police quickly dismantled the checkpoint and took to their heels.
In the same week, in Bomadi Town, administrative headquarters of Bomadi Local Government Area of Delta State, there was a fracas between some soldiers and policemen enforcing the lockdown order, where one soldier shot police Sergeant Chukwudi Osuala in the stomach and, thinking that the sergeant would die, one of the policemen reprisal shot dead a soldier in reprisal. The sergeant is recuperating at General Hospital, Ughelli. The shooting would have led to mayhem but for the intervention of the commander of Section 1, Operation Delta Safe, Col. Habib Manu.
There was also the report of a fight between soldiers and police at Udensi Roundabout, near Government House, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State. It was alleged that policemen impounded a tricycle demanding for money. The Keke operator invited some soldiers to ‘sort out’ the policemen and a fight broke out.
Still in a bid to enforce the coronavirus lockdown, two youths lost their lives to police bullets in Anambra State, on Tuesday, April 14, in the New Tyre Market area of Nkpor, Idemili North Local Government Area of Anabra State.
It was alleged that the young men were killed outside their residence in the police officer’s attempt to force them to go indoors. They had insisted that since they were in front of their home, the police could not force them into their rooms. The standoff created tension between the police and other residents and led to the police shooting at the two young men.
Police public relations officer in the state, Haruna Mohammed, however, noted that the shooting was as a result of an unprovoked attack on the police patrol team with substances suspected to be acid by some miscreants in the area.
Another case involved a lady, Tola Azeez, who was flogged as policemen in Iwo, Osun State, descended on her for allegedly violating the COVID-19 lockdown directive in the state.
The inhuman treatment meted on Azeez by the police on Saturday, April 18, became the topic of social media outrage when the video of the assault was first published online by Nigerian musician, RuggedMan, on his Twitter account, @Ruggedybaba, calling the attention of police authorities to the brutalisation.
On the same day, the victim retweeted the video posted by the musician, to confirm it. She wrote: “This is me being beaten by the police today on my way to get drugs and some relief materials for my people.”
Due to the outrage and condemnation that followed the disclosure, the Osun State Commissioner of Police, Babatunde Kokumo, later announced the arrest and detention of the officers involved in the act of brutality. The officers, Inspector Ikuesan Taiwo and Corporal Abass Ibrahim, were subjected to Orderly Room trial, which led to their dismissal after being found guilty by the police authorities.
On Thursday, April 23, a female police officer, Lavender Elekwachi, was shot dead by a colleague, Sergeant Bitrus Osaiah, while on duty. Elekwachi, before her death, was attached to Eneka Division in Obio/Akpor Area of Rivers State and was posted to Eneka Roundabout on traffic duties.
Osaiah, who served in the Operations Department of the Command, was attached to the Rivers State Task Force on Decongestion. He shot his colleague while trying to enforce movement restriction put in place by the state government to stop the spread of COVID-19.
During the lockdown, an officer was seen in a video extorting about $110 (£90) from a motorist. The police spokesperson for Lagos said the officer was being tried, while the money has been returned to the victim. Another officer was demoted in Akwa Ibom state for assaulting a medical doctor during the period.
As the lockdowns and other security issues continue, many Nigerians have expressed disgust and have lost any hope that the attitude of the security agencies, especially the police, will improve soon despite assurances by the authorities. A Lagos resident who did not want to be named said: “These policemen just used this COVID lockdown to make money and maltreat people. Simple lockdown, they cannot enforce. See trucks packing people all the way from the North to Lagos, through all these checkpoints. Everything is money to them.”
Meanwhile, journalists and medical workers on essential duty got more than they bargained for in the hands of the Nigeria Police enforcing the nationwide lockdown and curfew put in place to help stop the spread of coronavirus.
During President Muhammadu Buhari’s last media briefing, he specifically stated those who should be exempted during the lockdown and curfew, including journalists and medical workers who can prove that they could not work from home and as such were exempted from the restriction of movement.
Recently, when the Lagos State Police Command gave a counter-order to overrule that of the Presidency and detained some journalists, there was public outcry that forced the Inspector-General of Police Mohammed Adamu to clear the air that journalists were exempted.
The Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), DCP Frank Mba, on behalf of the IGP, cautioned the Lagos State Police Command and the thereafter journalists were advised to carry on with their legitimate duties.
But ,last week Tuesday ,the police went contrary to the President’s directives and declared that journalists and other essential workers should be arrested if they breached the curfew restricting movement between 9pm and 6am.
There was fear and apprehension over the new order as essential duty workers would be severely affected if their movement were curtailed by the curfew. So, some journalists contacted the FPRO, Mba, who issued a vague statement that did not specifically state whether the media and other essential workers were exempted or not.
He said: “The Inspector-General of Police, IGP M.A. Adamu, has ordered strict enforcement of the national curfew and inter-state movement restriction orders emplaced by the Federal Government as part of measures to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. The IGP gave this directive to the zonal Assistant Inspectors-General of Police and state commissioners of police during a virtual conference held on Tuesday, May 19, 2020.
“The conference availed the force leadership the opportunity to engage the strategic managers, assess the security situation in the country, review operational strategies and take decisive measures aimed at evolving customised security solutions to cope with crime trends and other security challenges relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The IGP, while evaluating security reports from various state commands, charged the commissioners of police, particularly in states with recent incidents of attacks on communities, to rejig their security architecture to forestall further attacks and keep the communities safe and secure for the citizenry. The IGP also expressed concerns over reports bordering on human rights infractions between the public and personnel of the force. He, therefore, called for mutual respect between the public and members of the force and charged the strategic managers to place more premium on the supervision of police personnel under their watch.”
In Lagos, despite the statement, many journalists going home after the day’s work yesterday met a brick wall, as policemen barricaded the roads.
More than 50 journalists and medical workers had to sleep in their vehicles, while some were turned back; some vehicles were impounded for violating the lockdown and curfew order.
The journalists, including Brown Chimezie and Femi Adeoti, staff of the Sun Publishing Company, were harassed and forced to sleep in the vehicles. Some TV broadcasters were also turned back to their offices or made to sleep on the roads.
Speaking about the harassment, Martins Ayira said: “It is quite unfortunate that in this age of technology, our police is still in confusion on a simple directive from the Presidency, which specifically stated that journalists and medical workers were exempted from the lockdown and curfew orders. Why must the IGP give a counter-directive from to that of the Presidency, does he know more than the President? I thought it was a rumour, but when I was maltreated and assaulted by the police in Ijeshatedo area of Oshodi-Mile 2 Expressway, I was shocked. I was trying to explain to the officers who barricaded the road and they cocked their rifles warning that I would be shot of I came near them. I made a retreat to my car where I slept till morning. I think the police used the opportunity to showcase their hatred for the media. Even if the IGP gave the directives, why can’t the officers use their discretion to do the job?”
In the latest press statement from Mba, tagged “COVID-19 statement of restriction,” the police said: “All essential workers, including medical personnel, firefighters, ambulance services, journalists, etc, are exempted from the restriction of movement associated with both the partial lockdown and the national curfew across the federation.
“The Inspector-General of Police, IGP Mohammed A. Adamu has, therefore, directed all zonal Assistant Inspectors-General of Police and command commissioners of police to give effect to these exemptions while enforcing the restriction order”.
However, what is more interesting is the fact that the latest reports and complaints against the police did not come from their usual fierce critics like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Instead, they came from victims and their families. The abuses are from all states of the federation.
With the damning reports on the biggest police force in Africa, there are concerns that the Nigeria Police might soon outlive its welcome and become redundant, what with vigilance groups, parallel security agencies and the armed forces taking on the constitutional roles of the police, enforcing law and order and tackling the rising crime wave nationwide.
Indeed Nigerians are calling on the police high command to take urgent steps to reform the police for the better before the Federal Government directs the Nigeria Police Force to go on holiday and ask other agencies and paramilitary oeganisations to take over the duties of the police.