The Other (Bad) Side of Nigeria’s Policing

Cases of police brutalising journalists are common PHOTO/ONDOSTATE.GOV.NG


At 10pm on June 7, 2005, six people aged 21 to 25, met the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Ibrahim Danjuma at a nightclub in Area 11, Abuja. They were Ifeanyi Ozor, Chinedu Meniru, Isaac Ekene, Paulinus Ogbonna, Anthony Nwodike and Augustina Arebun – all traders at the Apo mechanic village.

According to eyewitness accounts at the court hearing, Mr Danjuma propositioned Ms Arebun at the club but was turned down. He then proceeded to a nearby police checkpoint and informed the officers that armed robbers were thereabouts. When the vehicle conveying the six young people got to the checkpoint, Mr Danjuma ordered the officers to open fire. They did, instantly killing four people in the car. The survivors, which included the lady, were taken to the Garki Police Division and executed.

An assistant superintendent of Police, Idirisu Umaru testified that Mr Danjuma strangled Ms Arebun in his presence. Police were later observed trying to bury the bodies in a bush near the mechanic village. They explained the corpses away as “armed robbers”. The victims were recognised by residents, however and a riot ensued in which the police shot and killed two more people.

In the investigations that followed, the police initially insisted on the ‘gunfight’ story, alleging that the victims had fired first and that weapons had been found on them but some police officers turned and confessed to a cover-up to protect Mr Danjuma, orchestrated by Garki Division police boss, Othman Abdulsalam, who is now on the run. A month after the killings, the Police Armourer admitted that the weapons photographed with the corpses had been planted. Six years after the incident, the case is still in court, with Mr Danjuma out on bail.

The Nigerian police has a fearsome reputation for excessive use of force and extra-judicial killings. Annual reports from local and international human rights organisations document, in a gruesome parade of statistics, fatalities from civilians’ encounter with the police. There are forced disappearances, roadblock shootings, rapes of female detainees, arbitrary and unlawful detentions, extortion, intimidation and summary executions of suspects.

Some families witness the tragedies; one of such was the case of three-year-old Kaosarat Saliu who was shot and killed by a policemen at a roadblock. Her distraught parents were then beaten up at the scene and arrested.

Another happened at the Rigasa police station in Kaduna, where Binta Ibrahim Sale, nine months pregnant, was locked up after a quarrel with a neighbour over a pair of rubber slippers. Mohammed Bullama, the DPO, allegedly ignored her family’s pleas for medical attention even though she was bleeding. Her condition had deteriorated when she was finally released the following day, and she died.

In 2009, Amnesty International released the results of a three-year study of the Nigerian police. It detailed the frequent checkpoint shootings and suspects being tortured to death.

“The Nigerian police are responsible for hundreds of unlawful killings every year,” the group said. “They kill at will.”

The report said most of these killings were not investigated and the policemen responsible were not punished. It criticised a corrupt police culture and Force Order 237, which allows security agents to fire on people fleeing arrest.

Cleen Foundation, a Nigerian police reform organisation, says it has photos and witness statements charging the police, especially the Special Anti-robbery squad (SARS), with the torture and killing of suspects.

Police spokespersons, however, say extrajudicial killings are not condoned in the country and that police officers respect human rights when using their weapons. The police deny torturing confessions out of suspects and insist the deaths that occur are from battles with armed robbers. It promised to look into the allegations but Cleen Foundation says none of the cases reported have been investigated.

Some human rights organisations and more than a few Nigerians maintain that the police have poor investigative and crime-solving skills. They say suspects are often dispatched without court trials in the face of public pressure to deal with crime. Hospitals complain that corpses brought in by the police crowd their morgues.

No faith in system

This reporter has heard detainees being tortured. The most striking aspect of the Rigasa incident was how police officers at the station went about their business unperturbed, trading news and banter with their colleagues, talking-laughing-working while, in the background, the anguished screaming went on and on.

It’s all done openly. There seems to be no fear of reprisals, no expectations of punishment.

Pressed about the fate of a group of suspects observed at a police division, an officer responded, “We’ll push them over,” an euphemism meaning they’ll be executed, and took off.

It was impossible to determine if the man was in earnest. He did not know I was a reporter and his tone was casual, almost jokey. What is instructive is that the remark was made at all, that the policeman took for granted unspoken understandings between us that executing suspects is normal and unremarkable, that it is “justice”. Another officer, who did not know I was a reporter either, related some of his run-ins with criminals. He described how he beat a suspect to death for defrauding his friend’s wife.

“I took his head in my hands, like this, and smashed it on the floor,” he said.

Not surprisingly, families of victims of police abuse tend to see the pursuit of justice as a luxury, a kind of fantasy, entirely divorced from the logic and practical common sense that guided “real life”.

“When Danjuma was released, I forgot everything about the case,” says Elvis Ozor, brother of slain Ifeanyi Ozor. “The only way justice will be delivered is from God.”

Original post by Bolaji Odofin