Police callous killing of footballer in Ogun – Punch

Callously, the Nigeria police have wasted another promising life. On the pretext of enforcing the law, members of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, operating in Sagamu, Ogun State, instigated a fatal road accident that led to the heartbreaking death of Tiamiyu “Kaka” Kazeem, the assistant captain of Sagamu-based Remo Stars FC on Saturday. Kazeem’s premature death is generating tension in Sagamu, with protesters demanding justice for the victim’s family, and an end to the extortion of youths in the state. It is another avoidable death.

Kazeem’s death lays bare the crudeness of the Nigeria Police Force. Those paid to protect the citizens end up being their killers. The pattern is familiar. On that day, as reported, Kazeem, in company with his teammate, Sani Abubakar, stopped to buy engine oil for his car in Sagamu; that was his undoing. The killer-SARS officers accosted him, seized his phone and hijacked his car. Their flimsy accusation was that he was an internet fraudster (Yahoo Yahoo boy), a charge which he reportedly denied by showing them his team’s ID card.

In their bid to take him to the SARS headquarters, the officers bundled him into his car. On the way, Kazeem’s friend alleged that an officer pushed him out on the Sagamu-Abeokuta Expressway, after which the footballer was crushed by another speeding car. This is cold-blooded murder, but with the brutal manner the police operate, it could happen to any citizen. At least, police killed two other persons in the protests that followed.

How the police justified the grisly death is the most appalling aspect of the incident. In defending the cruel act, the Ogun State Police Command first claimed that Kazeem was arrested because he wore an army fatigue top. This was punctured by the deceased’s friend, who was in the car with him, and his father, Fasasi, who saw the Remo Stars jersey on his son’s corpse at the hospital. Kazeem’s mum said her son wore his team’s jersey when he left the house that morning. Not done, the police added that Kazeem killed himself when he tried to escape from his own car when the police stopped on the expressway to repair their squad car.

But in the heat of the protests that rocked Sagamu, the police changed the story. After the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, ordered the Deputy Inspector-General in charge of the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department, Anthony Ogbizi, to investigate the case, the police announced the dismissal of the officer responsible and said he would be charged with crime.  He was accused of embarking on an illegal duty. Nobody sent him there and when he got there, he did not deem it fit to book his presence at the Sagamu Police Station. In addition, the officer acted unprofessionally.

The police have gained notoriety for flagrant abuse of citizens’ rights, extortion and extrajudicial killings. Worse is their fixation with the youth who carry backpacks, laptops and smart phones. In fact, the sight of young men and women, to them, presents an opportunity for extortion and harassment, all in the name of trying to arrest cybercriminals.

A few days before the killing, the police had fired gunshots into a market, killing one in the same Ogun State on the same pretext of chasing internet fraud suspects. A year ago, a certain Ola Hammed, a civil servant, had his leg shattered by SARS bullets. The officers had come under attack by residents of Ibara, Abeokuta, for brutalising a man who was recording a brawl involving SARS personnel.  Last year, another trigger-happy cop shot and killed a football fan, Kolade Johnson, at a television-viewing centre in Mangoro, Ikeja, in Lagos.

Driven purely by corruption, the police view any young man driving a car in Nigeria as a crime suspect. Sometimes, merely being a trendy or having a tattoo is enough to become a target of harassment and extortion. Those who lower their trousers or wear dreadlocks end up in detention in an unfair and criminal misuse of power. It is even worse when the person has a tattoo.  This is not only primitive, but also provocative.

Such was the situation that a popular movement emerged, calling for the proscription of SARS, which has obviously abandoned its mandate to go after armed robbers in preference for going after young Nigerians. Nobody can forget in a hurry the pitiable case of a teenage tennis player, Angel McLeod, whose mother met her horrific death in the hands of the police in 2015. Based in the United Arab Emirates, mother and child had paid a visit to Nigeria when an argument with a police corporal led to the latter pulling the trigger at a hotel on Victoria Island.

The #EndSARS protests attracted the attention of the then IG, who promised to reform SARS, instead of dismantling it. More than two years after, SARS has not changed. Its officers remain a menace to young Nigerians.

Time has come for the IG Adamu and the top police hierarchy to end these avoidable deaths under the guise of attempting to enforce the law. The immediate deduction is that discipline and professionalism have broken down in the police. The fairness and decency of the Nigeria Police have always been in doubt. This horrible incident takes the battered reputation of the police to a new low.  The IG should take the initiative to review the deadly force policy in the police and enforce a new strategy of curbing cybercrime. Nigeria has become notorious for police extrajudicial killings. The Economist (London) says in countries such as Kenya, Nigeria and the Philippines, it is impossible to say even roughly how many people the police kill, but “it is a lot.”

The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), should be concerned about the rot in the police. The role of the police is to prevent crime and protect the public. The President should hold the IG to account to maintain an efficient, professional and effective force. Nigeria’s policing system is outdated and root-and-branch reforms are now inevitable. Improved investigative skills, intelligence-led activity and advances in science and technology will put the criminal at greater risk of capture and conviction than the present gangster approach.

Unchecked, police mistreatment and abuse of youths put them in peril. The distinguishing characteristic of policing is the authority to use force. With this authority, of course, comes the responsibility to never misuse force. This responsibility translates into an imperative on the part of police management to control police discretion so that officers employ only that degree of force necessary to do their job fairly and humanely.

In civilised societies, security agencies do not hunt internet crime suspects down the streets. Global best practices such as using rubber bullets, closed circuit television cameras and telecommunications in reaching out to police networks to track suspects now define policing. These strategies reduce the high fatality rate being experienced in Nigeria. In the United States, agents and analysts wade through scam mails with state-of-the art technology to find patterns and trends, and then go after the scammers by sending the investigative leads to law enforcement agencies or Federal Bureau of Investigation field offices.

The present police approach in combating cybercrime is crude, unintelligent and subject to abuse. Combating internet-facilitated crimes, romance frauds − also called confidence fraud – involves specialised training in computer forensics, cyber and financial crime investigations, and intelligence analyses. The gangster-style approach should end. Internet fraud should be addressed in a coordinated, civilised and cohesive manner.

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