The torture of suspects has almost become synonymous with the mention of Nigeria Police (Force). The culture has continued to assume a more dangerous dimension even with the increasing campaign for respect to human dignity and right globally. Nigeria Police has continually been at the forefront in attracting a global knock for the country with its avowed crude method of conducting investigation. The institution is a visible clog on the wheel of progress in our effort to usher a new era in human right protection.
The signs that Nigeria Police is fixated with unleashing terror on the people they were trained and empowered to protect are too glaring. This is even as men of underworld on daily basis perpetrate their nefarious activities across the country unchallenged, driving fear in the minds of innocent citizens, causing them to live in panic and uncertainty. The people are now left with unanswered question of who is on their side between the two camps.
Expectedly, Nigerians took to the social media to vent their displeasure over the extreme torture meted to five of their fellow countrymen by men of Rivers state Police command late last year. According to reports, the five men Chima Ikwunado, Ifeanyi Onyekwere, Victor Ogbonna and two others were thrown behind bars on the suspicion of car theft. They were for days subjected to routine torture, all in a desperate effort to harvest “confessional statement” from the accused to cover their perennial inefficiency. Hungry and exhausted, wounded and brutally tormented, one of the victims, Ikwunado, could not live to narrate his ordeal. He died. Four of the victims who by divine providence survived were hurriedly taken to court for “prosecution”. Even though the concocted charges against them may have been quashed, the scars in their bodies will for a long time remain a sad reminder of a bitter encounter with their country’s foremost security agency.
Many of similar ugly experiences go on across the country unreported. Citizens live in helplessness while the very essence of their humanity is brazenly derided. It is a common practice for the police to swoop on citizens, extort, abuse and humiliate them without provocation. They do this with impunity and utter disregard to standard operation procedure and in a way that portrays Nigeria as a banana republic. Only the rich are entitled to fundamental rights while the common man is an object to test the virility of our security agencies in the discharge of their duties.
Still fresh in our memory is the inglorious shooting of six traders in Apo, Abuja by officers of the Nigeria Police in 2005. Popularly called “Apo 6”, one would have assumed that the global outrage generated by the incident would be a magic wand towards reforming the police for an effective civil relation. Sadly, the orgy of harassment and unfair treatment of hapless citizens has become a norm in the police community. They leave citizens with cursive and uncharitable words against them at every encounter.
The ongoing End SARS campaign is a reflection of confidence loss among citizens in this unit of the Nigeria Police. They operate as a law unto themselves, disregarding any known policing code. As the name, Special Anti Robbery Squad implies, elementary understanding teaches they should get themselves preoccupied with fishing out and giving bloody nose to criminal elements among us in a bid to guarantee security and safety of innocent citizens. The Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) which provides that a suspect shall not be arrested unless he is first informed of the reason for the arrest is being observed in the breach by the police. Section 8 of the ACJA also prohibits any form of torture or inhumane treatment of the suspect. Whether these are observed is a question our citizens who on daily basis come in contact with the police have answers to. The allegation of bribery and extortion against SARS will be a discussion for another day.
Like the family of Chima Ikwunado, many families have had their breadwinners sent to early graves on the account of unprofessional and overzealousness of policemen. How can we forget in a hurry the shooting and eventual death of citizen Kolade Johnson in Mangoro area of Lagos by one Inspector Ogunyemi Olalekan in an attempt by men of Special Anti Cultism Squad (SACS) of Nigeria Police to arrest a man because of his dreadlocks? How about a youth corps member with Channels TV, Precious Owolabi, who was brutally killed by a policeman during a protest by members of Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) in Abuja last year?
According to a report published by Amnesty International in 2016, Nigeria Police unit set up to combat violent crimes has instead been systematically been torturing detainees in its custody as a means of extracting confessions and lucrative bribes. “A police unit created to protect the people has instead become a danger to society, torturing its victims with complete impunity while fomenting a toxic climate of fear and corruption” said Damian Ugwu, Amnesty International’s Nigeria researcher. “SARS officers are getting rich through their brutality. In Nigeria, it seems that torture is a lucrative business” the report added.
While other countries are moving with a jet speed in protection of right of their citizens, Nigeria must not afford to lag behind. The top hierarchy of the police must move beyond the lips service and commence a proper orientation and re-orientation of the officers and men to march up with the global standard of policing. Adequate profiling of those to be recruited into the force must be thoroughly carried out to reduce incidences of employing monstrous elements to protect the people.
No doubt the force is making significant efforts in providing security to the people. All Nigerians are grateful for this. The activities of some bad eggs in the system however have brought shame to the institution of police.
Lastly, justice must be served any officer who thinks citizens’ and residents’ right to life and dignity should be flouted at will. This will serve as deterrent to intending offenders.
Enemanna writes from Abuja