Source: thewillnigeria.com

A London based watchdog, Amnesty International gave a damning report in 2011 about the Nigeria Police brutal preoccupation thus: “Beware of police roadblocks in Nigeria. If you cannot pay a bribe, you can end up dead”! It’s a case of unstable characters in uniform who mount the highway; extorting, dispossessing, brutalising and extinguishing innocent lives by the day.

Is that how life has become so cheap in Nigeria, you are wont to ask? I have heard a senior police officer saying “if Nigerians conduct themselves in an orderly way, they will not have to worry about police brutality and extrajudicial killings”! That is how calous and mindless policing in Nigeria can get.

The seeds of cheapness of life have long been sown by high police officers who encourage violations and abuse of human rights and have now produced the crop of violence and ultimate death of Nigerian citizens in the hands of their officers at the roadblocks. If the highest police command continue to applauds sit-ins, lie-ins, stand-ins, and all other violations of human rights, it can only lead us into a state of banal impunity, further extrajudicial killings and self induced anarchy.

The return of the barricades after a brief relief, but unwanted roadblocks by the military, since we are not in a state of war, except for the North East, the  Nigeria police has been saddled again to mount the roadblocks vacated by the Nigeria military. The roadblock termination ordered came from the President, Mr Muhammadu Buhari and was read by the Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Defence.

The statement reads: “The President had instructed the Chief of Defence Staff to get the Chief of Army Staff and Inspector General of Police to remove all the military men along the road across the country. ‎”(We need) an alternative arrangement, that is why the Police are also there, that is where the police are coming in to take over the internal security.

“The Nigerian Armed Forces are very ready, we have briefed him (The President). One interesting thing about it is that we are going out much happier because he has shown us that he is still a soldier, he has updated and enriched our strategic plans. “Second item that was discussed is the movement of the command centre to the North-East. We have briefed him on how far we have reached on that and he has given us additional assignments, and very soon the centre will go up.

“I also want to assure Nigerians that we are very enthusiastic that the issue of Boko Haram will soon be over. He has given us hope that we will see peace and security in the very near future”. On what will be done differently, the Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Defence said: “Now we have come as a united front; we have Chad, Cameroon, Benin and Niger. We have all strategised and we are coming out with a single strategy to address Boko Haram”.

As expected, the announcement was swiftly followed by a directive from the Inspector General of Police, restoring the police to the barricades. While on the roadblocks, there are hardly any cases of military taking bribe. But cases are however abound how the military savagely brutalise traffic offenders who gleefully drive on the opposite directions in barbarous manner. Even though there is no intention to protect traffic offenders for their bad vices, military cruel brutality is reprehensible. Traffic offenders can easily be sent to mobile courts and sentenced when found guilty instead of the Stone Age punishment.

The decision of the Inspector General of Police, ordering the immediate deployement of highway patrol vehicles to fill in the vacuum created with the Monday's presidential order for dismantling of military roadblocks on highways is understandable. At a one-day stakeholders consultative forum on improving police response to sexual and gender-based violence and gender mainstreaming,  the IG disclosed that in addition to over 300 patrol vehicles recently deployed to the roads, another 157 highway patrol vehicles are ready for deployment on the roads.

The police boss submitted that the police would need the prompt collaboration of the public to prevent crimes and criminality. He affirmed that the Nigerian military could still be called upon to assist in security whenever the need arises. He further stated that the police had already taken strides to ensure that the force protects the interest of their female folks and improved response time to gender and sexual violence. However, the restoration of the police roadblocks contradict the Inspector General of Police initial assertions.

Earlier, Mr. Arase had frowned at the police mounting roadblocks in the country, saying it breeds corruption and impunity. He warned then that any police personnel caught mounting roadblocks anywhere in the country would be made to face the law. “The drive will be clear, coordinated, massive, firm and sustained and it will target and tackle issues relating to commercialization of bail process, the nuisance of roadblocks and abuse of police powers, particularly, in relation to pre-trial detention.

He further stated: “I wish to in clear terms, re-emphasize that police roadblocks remain banned. They are public nuisance, points of corruption, and source of police-citizens' frictions. “The loss of public respect and confidence in the police as well as our inability to effectively tackle crimes in the most ethical and professional manner have been widely attributed to the challenge of corruption within the policing system.”

Even though the roadblocks are back, a decision clearly beyond his powers, you cannot but praise Solomon Arase for acknowledging the that fact there are problems with the Nigeria Police; including the checkpoints. The only option left for the fine officer and gentle man IG is to ensure that the police are properly trained, promoted as at when due, handsomely renumeration, enforce discipline, efficiency, confidence and effective and ethical policing.

It is expected that the IG will honour the thrust of his policy statements. As you can see, he is on the same page with the Amnesty International that spits fire over the rottenness of the Nigeria Police. The group in its report said: “Many unlawful killings happen during police operations. In other cases, the police shoot and kill drivers who fail to pay them bribes at checkpoints,” the report said. “Some are killed in the street because, as the police later claim, they are ‘armed robbers'; others are killed after arrest, allegedly for attempting to escape. Many disappear in police custody and are likely to have been extrajudicially executed.”

The group highlights a new danger in a country regularly denounced as one of the most corrupt in the world, where bribe-taking long has been a way for poorly paid government workers to make ends meet. Nigeria’s police force is poorly paid and trained, and short of essential tools including bulletproof vests, fuel, even paper and pens, Amnesty said. But there appears to be no shortage of the bullets its officers use to kill people they are supposed to protect, the report said.

“In a country where bribes guarantee safety, those who cannot afford to pay are at risk of being shot or tortured to death by the police,” it said. Amnesty International said its research, conducted over three years, indicates officers suspected of unlawful killings are “sent on training” or transferred to other areas. It said there are few prosecutions and it condemned a “culture of impunity.”

Amnesty International further advice the Nigerian authorities to reverse this deadly cycle of human rights violations by putting the respect and protection of human rights first in the reform of the security forces. The federal government should set the example of protection and promotion of human rights and give the highest priority to human rights in all decisions relating to law enforcement and security.

In spite of the countless admonition and denouement, the Nigerian police force continue to carry out extrajudicial executions of citizens, exert excessive use of lethal force and perpetrate acts of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of alleged criminals on a grand scale. This is partly responsible for the poor performance of the Nigeria police to tackle on crime, the high level of corruption reported within their ranks and the constant human rights violations being committed by them also pose a serious threat to the peace and stability of the country and foster an ever higher level of mistrust and suspicion towards them by Nigerians.

This sense of distrust has paved the way for the search of alternative means to counter-balance an alarming increase in crime and violence. Many Nigerians have advocated for armed vigilante groups, which have also been accused of blatant human rights abuses. Even at that, the vigilante groups which have proliferate throughout the country still found relatively high popular support and are being used to complement the Nigeria Police efforts.

Nigerians can only but hope that the current Inspector General of Police, Mr. Solomon Arase with his enviable track record as a blunt and daring officer will stand up to the plague; punish the aberrant criminals in the agency and, surmounts the inhuman roadblocks that have been grossly erected between the Nigerian citizens and the police. By so doing, Mr. Arase would have added his voice among that of Nigerian populace who are advocating for police restructuring and change.

Written by Erasmus Ikhide, a Public Affairs Analyst.


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