Justice for Imo Polytechnic lecturer – Punch

The recent killing of a lecturer of the Federal Polytechnic, Nekede, Imo State, Stephen Nduka, and his friend, Chimaobi Nwokoro, allegedly by trigger-happy Nigerian Air Force personnel attached to the 211 Regiment of the NAF Base in Owerri, the state capital, is distasteful. It brings to the fore the unending menace of extrajudicial killings by security agents in Nigeria.

Nduka, until his unfortunate death, lectured in the Department of Computer Science; Nwokoro was a fresh graduate of the institution awaiting his deployment for the National Youth Service. They were reportedly shot dead in a car on their way back from a church programme by the airmen stationed in front of the NAF base in Naze on the Owerri-Aba Expressway. Media reports stated that the officers opened fire on the car the lecturer was driving with three others as passengers because the occupants allegedly failed to “properly identify themselves.” This claim has been countered by the NAF authorities who instead alleged that it was “unknown gunmen” who did the shooting. The Commander of the 211 Quick Response Group, NAF, Elisha Bindul, whose office is said to be close to the scene of the incident, claimed that they “discovered the lecturer’s body in a Lexus car a few moments after the sound of gunshots was heard.”

“It was about 8pm on Monday when we heard the sound of gunshots. We got to the scene a few minutes later, but the assailants took advantage of a traffic jam to attack their victims and escape,” he claimed.

But the lecturer’s uncle, Rufus Adeshi, countered thus, “He was killed by Air Force personnel in front of their base in Owerri. They can’t deny it. After killing him, they called the police to remove his corpse. They carried my nephew’s corpse from the front seat to the back seat to make it look like an assassination. If they say they were not the ones that killed him, they should produce the person who killed him.” The resort to denial in such incidents by security agencies is deplorable. Colleagues and relatives of the victims insist that it was NAF personnel that attacked them. The authorities should conduct a thorough investigation to unravel the truth.

Aside from the two who died immediately, another victim of the shooting went into a coma and was rushed to the Federal Medical Centre, Owerri, where he was stabilised while a fourth occupant, who was not hit by any bullet, was rescued unhurt, the media reported.

This is utterly reprehensible and unacceptable and speaks to how cheap life is regarded in the country as many have been killed in similar circumstances across the country.

The claims and counterclaims notwithstanding, it is clear that the lecturer and his friend were killed in circumstances only an independent inquiry will clear up. Though the Imo State Command of the Nigeria Police has promised to carry out a forensic investigation to find the bullets that killed the duo, there is a need for the police to be meticulous and rigorous in the investigation so that due justice will be served to the victims. Civil society and rights groups should bring pressure to bear on the investigating authorities to ensure this is swiftly done without fear or favour.

Doubtlessly, the menace of extrajudicial killings and misuse of firearms by security personnel persist because the relevant authorities have not institutionalised a mechanism of punishing the perpetrators. If any security agent does the crime, they should be made to do the time, paraphrasing an American saying. If the culture of crime and punishment is upheld by the security agencies, the arbitrary use of firearms by their personnel will be reduced to the barest minimum and the brazenness currently being displayed could be a thing of the past.

In 2004, the Nigeria Legal Defence and Assistance Project found 2,987 extrajudicial executions perpetrated by the police alone, but said no operative was convicted. This is unacceptable. The New Humanitarian observes that the “Police Service Commission, which is responsible for police discipline, routinely refers all extrajudicial killings to the police for investigation, but the Commission’s quarterly reports to the President are not published.”

The Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics rightly noted, “The killing of our member is a brutal reminder of the stained reputation of security agents in the country, particularly in the area of extrajudicial killings.” This absurdity should not be normalised as it does not help in institutional accountability.

One particularly pathetic case — out of many — comes to mind. In October 2011, 20-year-old Victor Emmanuel was killed by a trigger-happy police officer at a checkpoint in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, in the presence of his mother, who tried in vain to stop the policeman from slaughtering her son. Victor’s offence was that he dared to condemn the brazen extortion he witnessed at the checkpoint while sitting inside a tricycle. Thanks to the doggedness of his distraught mother and a Niger Delta rights activist, Ankio Briggs, justice eventually came for Victor in January 2014. A Bayelsa State High Court, Nembe Division, sitting in Yenagoa, found Mathew Egheghe guilty of the murder and sentenced him to death by hanging for killing the 20-year-old. The killers of Nduka and Nwokoro deserve no less a treatment.

Security personnel in the country appear to be guided by an unwritten code that firearms can be arbitrarily used on innocent members of society with impunity. This should not be so. There is a need to reframe the rules of engagement of security agents to change the way they interface violently with the civilian population resulting in needless deaths from arbitrary use of firearms. The observation by the UN Special Rapporteur in the 2006 Presidential Commission report on police reform that Police Force Order 237 uses vague language regarding extrajudicial killings by police is disturbing and deserves an interrogation. The report said, “These rules practically provide police carte blanche to shoot and kill at will.”

Ultimately, heads of security agencies whose operatives are found culpable of arbitrary use of firearms leading to death should be held responsible to serve as a deterrent to others. It is a sign of weak political leadership not to hold heads of agencies involved in such condemnable acts accountable. Above all, government should look into localising the security architecture to curb the barbaric use of firearms on the citizens by those paid to protect and defend them.

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