On the morning of Wednesday, July 4, 22-year-old Linda Nkechi Igwetu was heading out to a party (it being the eve of her passing out parade from the National Youth Service Corps) in the company of two friends, Tobi Bamidele and Arafat Mohammed. Ms. Igwetu was seated in the back of the Toyota Camry car in which the trio were traveling.
What happened next is disputed. According to some media accounts, the vehicle was flagged down by a police patrol team near Ceddi Plaza on Tafawa Balewa Way, Abuja Central Business District, and when the driver of the Toyota Camry refused to obey the policemen’s order to pull over, the policemen decided to open fire. In some other accounts, the policemen, Benjamin Peters and Nicholas Obioha, did fire into the car, but only in a bid to save the deceased, who had peered through the sunroof of the Toyota Camry and shouted for help from her purported abductors. In the event, Ms. Igwetu was hit by a bullet fired by Inspector Peters, whereupon she started bleeding. She later gave up the ghost at the Garki Hospital where, according to the hospital’s authorities, doctors on duty at the Accident and Emergency, including the consultant surgeon, battled to save her life.
We find the first account more plausible for the simple reason that it is consistent with the experience of most Nigerians at police checkpoints across the country. Thousands of Nigerians are killed annually at the hands of the police. Many of these killings have occurred at checkpoints which the police have converted into avenues for systematic extortion of money, in the main from commercial drivers. According to an Amnesty International report on extrajudicial killings and other unlawful killings by the police in Nigeria, at such illegal checkpoints, “The police often shoot drivers who refuse to pay. They also shoot when there is a disagreement about the price or when it is unclear whether a bribe has been paid. Bystanders sometimes get shot by mistake.”
We do not know if the occupants of the Toyota Camry did indeed refuse to obey police instructions to stop their vehicle. But that is beside the point. The point is that, with the exception of special cases like the pursuit of armed criminals, shooting at a vehicle, even one whose driver has failed to obey a police order, is unjustified, hence indefensible. It is tragic and unfortunate that the police hierarchy has failed to instill this simple idea in its rank and file. All of which is to say that Linda Nkechi Igwetu did not have to die.
In firing at the vehicle in which Ms. Igwetu was traveling, Inspector Peters erred and showed a criminal disregard for human lives. Statutorily, he killed the very citizen he swore an oath to protect, and the Commissioner of Police in charge of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Said Bello, has done the right thing by dismissing him from the Force. But it should not end there. Inspector Peters must, as promised by Commissioner Bello, face trial and, if found guilty, pay the full penalty for his action. This will send a strong message to other policemen that the police hierarchy will not tolerate lawlessness. Finally, compensation must be paid to the family, to whom we extend our sincere condolences at this difficult moment.