Police: Friends or foes?

The relationship between Nigeria Police Force (NPF) and members of the public has at best remained frosty and unfriendly, notwithstanding its slogan: Police Is Your Friend as captured by ABDULRAHMAN ZAKARIAYAU in this report

The Nigeria Police Force (NPF) was established in year 1930 with the constitutional mandate to maintain law and order, however, the role of the Police in the society has been called to question in recent times.

Some of the questions often raised include, why the Police have penchant for being used to harass innocent people? Why do the Police unlawfully detain and even kill suspects? What is wrong with the Nigeria Police?

These questions and many more sign-post the level of distrust Nigerians have for the Police. Consequently, the slogan: ‘Police is your friend’ was created with the aim of dissipating such fears and misconceptions. Unfortunately, this phrase has not achieved the expected result.

Blueprint Weekend checks revealed that experiences of Nigerians across the country with the Police, if anything, appear to have worsened with many asking: Is the Police indeed your friend?

Overzealousness
The issue of overzealous officers is probably as old as the Force itself. It is well known fact among Nigerians that overzealousness of the Police in the line of duty doesn’t leave desirable results in their line of duty. This, in most cases, has led to extrajudicial killings, unlawful detention of innocent Nigerians and what has been nicknamed accidental discharge.

Remarkably, even Policemen have been victims of some of these alleged accidental discharged (friendly fire), even as arguments among officers have led to suspicious killing of fellow policemen.

These incidents are, however, more common among policemen who are either under the influence of alcohol and other substances; acting on orders of superior officers; and in other cases, out rightly power-drunk and high-handed.

Cases of Police high-handedness abound across the county. Some of the most recent include the recent killing of a security guard at a church in Garki, Abuja, by an alleged trigger-happy cop and the killing of a commercial driver, few days to his wedding by a policeman in Edo state over arguments about N100 bribe money.

According to reports in the media, the incident at ECWA Goodnews Church, Durumi 2, Garki, Abuja, the suspected Policeman shot the security guard manning the entrance of the church.
An eye witness account by a driver working in the church, Simeon Sunday, has it that, “On that Sunday morning, we were on the duty post as internal security personnel. We usually block the street for security reasons.

“Suddenly, a police van drove into the church car park and parked beside us. All the people inside were dressed in mufti and after few minutes, they ordered us to open the barricade and we told them that we don’t usually open the place until after church service.
“All of a sudden, one of the men sitting on the passenger side came down and slapped our security man, Raubo Danabeyi, twice. When he reacted and asked the man to stop slapping him, another man now came down and hit him with the butt of his gun.

“The driver of the police van also came down and dragged Raubo to the road. Then he moved back, cocked his gun and shot him twice on the leg, after which he entered the van and drove off without the other two policemen.”

Sunday told Blueprint Weekend that, it took the intervention of Rev. Dr. Kajeyale Samuel to rescue the other two policemen from angry youth who wanted to mob them.

According to him, the victim, a retired military personnel, was still receiving treatment for the injury he sustained from the trigger-happy policeman, whose identity was yet to be ascertained.
Effort by correspondent to reach Danabeyi to get his account of the incident and confirm the state of his health proved abortive as the authorities at the Federal Medical Centre, Jabi, Abuja, where he was being treated, would not allow him entertain visitors or grant media interview.

However, the Police Public Relation Officer (PPRO), for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Police Command, Anjuguri Manzah, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), confirmed the incident.
According to him, “the FCT Commissioner of Police, CP Sadiq Bello, has directed the Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) in charge of CID to investigate the matter. The case is still under investigation, so let’s not pre-empt it.

“The Commissioner has also assured that the command will be transparent in its investigation,” the spokesperson added.

Yet another trigger-happy cop
In a related development, few weeks ago on Third-east Circular Road, in the Oredo Local Government Area of Edo state, some youths staged a protest over the alleged killing of a commercial driver by a policeman.

According to reports, the deceased, David Okoniba, was stopped by some policemen at about 7am on Tuesday, February 6, 2018, at the Igun end of Third-east Circular Road and ordered him to show his vehicle particulars.
Okoniba, a 28-year-old father of two, was said to have explained to one of the policemen that his documents were in Police custody, however an argument ensued between them when the said policemen allegedly demanded a bribe from the driver before he would be released.

Blueprint Weekend gathered that when Okoniba failed to provide the alleged bribe money of N100, the policeman later identified as one Inspector Adebisi, reportedly pushed the driver into the road where he was crushed to death by a speeding truck.

The deceased’s widow, who is said to be pregnant and was her husband at the time, reportedly went into shock on seeing the lifeless body of her and rushed to a near-by hospital. The couple were set to get wed the next Saturday.
Following the intervention of the Commissioner of Police in charge of the state, CP Johnson Kokumo, and the Governor of the state, Godwin Obaseki, the officer was said to have been arrested, however, not much has been heard on the matter.

Man-Pass-Man policing
Sometimes the Police go out of their way to do things, especially when they feel that they have the backing of either their superiors or some top government officials, a situation that has been dubbed Man-Pass-Man.

However, in some cases their actions or inactions are also influenced by pecuniary gains. This scenario played out in a recent case between the son of the Inspector General of Police, IGP Ibrahim K. Idris, popularly called Marshal and a National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) member, Fahad Ibrahim.
While narrating his ordeal in the hands of some policemen attached to the Garki Police Division, FCT Command, Fahad alleged that Marshal used the might of the police to unlawfully arrest and detained him over a trivial issue.
According to him, “The son of the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed K. Idris popularly called Marshal, had been disturbing me to arrange a meeting between him and a lady friend of mine. The girl in question seems not interested as she ignores his advances and rejected several pleas to meet him.

“Marshal got my contact because the lady occasionally used my phone to reply some of his text messages. All the texts are still in my phone. So, when it was dawned on Marshall that the lady will not see him, he decided to involve me.”
He said that, “After countless requests for an appointment with me, which I initially declined, his persistence paid off and I agreed to meet him. We then went to a Guest House at Maitama, where he rented a separate room for me, all in order to get him the attention of the lady, but I saw it more as betraying the trust of a friend and refused to dance to his tune.”

According to Fahad, “The horrible incident happened on Corps’ Community Development Service (CDS) day. I was at Misau Crescent, Garki, and I was dressed in my NYSC uniform and was about to go home, when surprisingly out of the blues Marshal appeared with a guy and a lady.
“They pleaded that I should enter his car, so we can find somewhere convenient to discuss the matter again. Since that wasn’t the first time, I followed them but we ended up at the Police station.

“I was wondering why we were at the station until he introduced himself as Muhammad K. Idris, son of the IGP and said: I was directed to bring this bastard here by the Commissioner of Police and ordered the policemen to arrest me and I should not be released until my lady friend shows up.”

He said the man that came to the station with them claimed to be an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP), while the lady was wearing a customised Police face cap and both, alongside Marshal, assaulted him while trying to convince him to invite his lady friend to the station.

The Youth corps member, whose place of primary assignment is The Daily Trust Newspapers, said though it initially seemed like a joke but the policemen collected all his personal belongings and he was detained for three days at the stations, pointing out that it took the intervention of his colleagues for him to be released.

While stating that not all policemen are bad, Fahad said he sympathised with the policemen because they could not stop the son of the Police boss from assaulting him out of fear of being victimised by their superiors.

Efforts to confirm the incident at the Garki Division as at the time of proved abortive as our correspondent was directed to Command Headquarters, where the command spokesperson he was not aware of the incident and needed time to make inquiry.
He, however, maintained that, “Policemen are professional in the discharge of their duties and have rules of engagement and every police officer follows the rules because there are mechanisms in place to checkmate the activities of the policemen not playing according to the rules.”

More unlawful detention
According to the provisions of Section 35 (5) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended); Section 483 of the Criminal Procedure Act and Section 42 of the Criminal Procedure Code; the police ought not to detain any person for more than 24 hours.

Also, Section 8 and 17, Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, also points to the fact that, “A crime suspect has the right to be accorded humane treatment. A suspect has right to remain silent and not to make or endorse any statement until after consultation with a lawyer of his or her choice. A suspect shall be brought before the court as prescribed by the law or otherwise released conditionally or unconditionally.”

All these are laws made by Nigerians and for Nigerians, yet in most cases, they seem alien to the criminal justice system. The situation often persists because some Nigerians don’t know their rights while the police and other law enforcement agents employ psychological and brute force to make suspects pliable.

This is exemplified in a recent case involving a student of the University of Calabar, Cross River state, Emmanuel Ayaga, who bought a used phone from a client at the Wuse Market, Abuja, and unknown to him the phone was stolen property.
Police investigation into the theft of the said phone subsequently led to his arrest and detention for more than a month, with efforts by his family to either take him on bail or get the Police to arraign him in court failing.

Recounting his brother-in-law’s experience, an Abuja-based journalist, David Agba, said: “My brother-in-law, an undergraduate, shares a stall at Wuse Market with some of his friends, where he repairs phones during holidays.
“On this day, a man who claimed to be a staff of Access Bank, brought a Gionee phone and asked him to ‘flash’ it to unlock because his wife had forgotten the code she used to lock it. But my brother refused and directed him to another person.

“He came back and told my brother that the phone had been unlocked but was empty and he wanted to sell it. They negotiated and agreed for N35,000 because brand new model of the phone goes for 60,000. Unfortunately for Emma, he did not ask for a receipt, neither did he ask for proof of ownership.”

According to Mr Agba, “Three weeks later, my brother was arrested by the Special Anti- Robbery Squad (SARS) and taken to its headquarters and has been there ever since. He has been there for about a month now.

“You see, he was arrested on a Friday, so we felt by Monday he will be charged to court and then we will know exactly how to proceed, but that has not happened. They kept him there and according to them, they have been going to Wuse Market to investigate.

“However, the main culprit is still at large. Meanwhile, were gathered that the N59 million was stolen during the robbery incident and the SARS are insisting that either Emma was part of the robbery gang or just an innocent young man who bought a stolen phone but it would be determined when investigation is concluded.”

Agba, distraught and helpless, wondered how much longer the squad intended to keep the undergraduate, whose education is already being jeopardised by his continued detention, and called on the police authority to release him or charge him to court as specified by the law.

“I thought that as provided by the law after 48 hours he was going to be released or charged to court, but as we speak he is still in detention and the matter has now been transferred to FCT Police Command, Agba said.”

While the Police leadership continues to make efforts at rebuilding its relationship with the public by re-establishing trust in the Force through community policing, Police Complaints Rapid Response Unit, Police Community Relations Committee (PCRC) among others, the Nigeria Police appears to still be a long way from being perceived as a friend.

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