Viewed customarily with suspicion, the Nigeria Police Force has persistently failed to earn the trust and respect of citizens despite its avowed claim that the “police is your friend.” Currently, there is an alarming upsurge in the harassment, maltreatment, illegal arrest, extortion and detention of Nigerians, especially the youth, by the police. Those that have recently tasted the bile of the brutal treatment include a social media influencer in Lagos, a motorist, a female friend of a robbery suspect and the family of a trader detained in lieu of his fleeing nephew. Police brutality and corruption have risen to distressing and wholly unacceptable levels. The brutality and dehumanisation must be curbed.
Policing in Nigeria is brutal and corrupt by definition. Specifically, in Lagos, Olumide Bakare, a social media influencer, got into trouble with eight officers this July on his way back from Ikeja to his Ogudu home. On the way, three officers jumped into the taxi he was in, arrested and hauled him to their station. After forcibly scrolling through his phone, he was accused of being an Internet fraudster (Yahoo Yahoo Boy) and other sundry crimes. Usually, this is a prelude to extortion. In his case, he was asked to pay N1 million for his freedom. After much negotiation, the officers withdrew N260,000 from his account through a PoS device. This is daylight robbery in official garb, but sadly, this is what Nigerians live with from their rogue police officers.
In a similar case in Ilorin, two degenerate officers booked out a suspect in detention, took him to a bank in the Kwara State capital, where he was forced to empty his account containing N1.9 million. Not satisfied, they collected another N200,000 from the victim’s family for his bail.
What of a newly-discharged NYSC member? Two officers dehumanised the woman, identified as Towobola, in the course of arresting her boyfriend in the suspect’s house in Ibadan, Oyo State. One of the officers had the temerity to record the sexist interrogation of Towobola on camera. He accused her of being a prostitute and having sex with the suspect and boasted on camera that “he catches suspects like fowls.” These officers are not fit for the regimented discipline of policing.
There is also the pathetic case of an Ibadan-based trader, Kehinde Omotosho. The deceased was arrested in his house when the police could not find his nephew, Kabiru Rasaq, their real target, whom they accused of fighting. All efforts to prevail on the police to release him, promising that he would produce the suspect, were abortive. Seven days after, he died in the cell.
Nigerians have endured enough of cruel policing and should not continue to groan under the yoke of flat-footed, trigger-happy officers. Although some of the reckless officers have been dismissed, the police persist in these brutal acts. Therefore, there is a need for stiffer penalties for the recalcitrant officers. Beyond that, the justice system should make the police pay heavy compensation to the victims of their brutalities and in the case of death, the courts should award heavy financial compensation to the families. The guilty officers should be made to pay part of the costs.
Historically, policing here is littered with brutalities. A Lagos resident, Kolade Johnson, was shot dead on May 31, 2019, when some officers attached to the Anti-Cultism Unit of the Lagos State Police Command stormed the Onipetesi area of the state. The victim was watching a football match when the incident happened. His killing sparked widespread protests and the #EndSars hashtag movement. Because of this, the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, pledged to reform the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad, but nothing much has come of this.
Rivers State on December 23, 2019, was thrown into uproar when a mechanic, Chima Ikwunado, was allegedly tortured to death by personnel of the Eagle Crack Team at Mile One Police Division. In February, two pepper sellers were hit by stray bullets when some killer-policemen besieged the Olomore Pepper Market, Abeokuta, Ogun State, chasing a suspected Internet fraudster. That month, SARS officers were linked to the death of a promising footballer with Remo Stars FC, Tiamiyu Kazeem. In May, a bloodthirsty officer shot dead Tina Ezekwe, 17, in Lagos. In June, a music blogger, Akoh Isaiah, was accused of being an Internet fraudster by a cop in Kwara State, who extorted N6, 000 from him.
The National Human Rights Commission reported that security agents killed 18 persons during the enforcement of the first phase of COVID-19 pandemic lockdown between March and April in the country. The police in Nigeria were rated the worst in the world in terms of ability to handle security challenges in a 2016 assessment of 127 countries by the World Internal Security on Police Index International.
Law enforcement officials must be answerable for their actions. The internal disciplinary procedures (orderly room trial) for erring cops are often not transparent. This encourages police brutalities and non-accountability. Elsewhere, it is not so. The transparent and celebrated sentencing of Canadian police officer, James Forcillo, comes to mind in the 2013 shooting of 18-year-old Toronto male, Sammy Yatim, who was armed with a switchblade knife.
It is time for the IG to flush out bad officers. Therefore, the top hierarchy of the force must rethink strategies for recruitment to ensure that only the best are employed; and revisit the Police Order 237 on the use of force and firearms. The polygraph test (lie detector), background checks and mental evaluation should form an integral part of recruitment. The Force needs sweeping fundamental reforms to upgrade its operational, structural and institutional components in tandem with standard police procedure. Officers should be equipped with body cameras, as is now the standard practice in virtually all of Europe.
And there is a strong ethnic profiling by security agents in treating citizens who do not speak the same language with them. Strong relationships of mutual trust between police agencies and the communities they serve are critical to maintaining public safety and effective policing. Ultimately, the long-lasting antidote is to devolve policing. The idea of a centralised police force for a highly plural society like Nigeria is oppressive, dangerous and unjust.