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Police as enemy of the law

By Emmanuel Onwubiko
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Let me confess that even amongst the several cases of gross irresponsibility on the part of a whole lot of police operatives and officers in Nigeria, there are a sprinkling of very efficient and disciplined officers. I must say that i was fascinated to read that a serving deputy Vice Chancellor of one of the very good private universities who is a female Professor recently got enlisted in the Nigeria Police force with the singular mandate to change the bad image of the policing institution. My best wishes are with her. I'm starting on these good notes as a direct response to an allegation made in private against me by a serving police operative in Enugu about what she described as my absolute hatred of the Nigeria Police force. This police lady is one amongst the over two dozen serving police operatives who are my social media friends.

I will now proceed to make my observations about the police and these observations are influenced by the action of the Chief justice of Nigeria and the recent reported upsurge in police extra judicial killings of innocent Nigerians. I must say that the confession in the Lagos High court recently by the alleged billionaire kidnapper that he was forced to witness police extra-legal killings inside police custody of ten suspected criminals is compelling enough.

Now here is my view on how the law enforcement agents have practically become enemies of the law. It was precisely two months ago today, that the usually taciturn and media shy Chief Justice of Nigeria did the unthinkable. He broke an unwritten code and literary committed a taboo against the corruption ridden status quo.

I said unthinkable because it was the first time that such a weighty pronouncement about Nigeria police’s gross disrespect of the law was made by Nigeria’s Chief of Justice dispensation. This is mot to discountenance the dozens of dearh penalty pronouncements passed by many courts of competent jurisdiction on defaulting police operatives foynd wanting and convicted for murder. But there seems to be an unwritten code amibgst Chief justices to hear no ebil or say no evil against some so-called constituted authorities who have become enemies of our common and criminal laws.

This is because virtually all previous holders of the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria were just conservatively concerned about the conducts of judges in the temple of Justice without ever thinking of the larger implication of having a policing institution whose operatives are consistently rated by global rights monitoring bodies as the worst violator of human rights. Amnesty international; Human rights watch and the United Nations Human Rights Council have all condemned the Nigeria Police force.

The current Chief Justice of Nigeria who however is very slow in eradicating institutionalised corrupt practices amongst the rank of serving judges, has however taking the bull by the horn by setting up a monitoring mechanism for fishing out police detention facilities whereby the rights of ordinary citizens are violated with reckless abandon.

Just before I dwell extensively on the new steps adopted by the Chief Justice of Nigeria to eradicate or reduce cases of police violations of citizens’ rights, let me say that the current Chief Justice is needed and hereby tasked to speed up pending petitions against judges.

Having said that regarding the snail speed of the wheel of Justice within the National Judicial Council (NJC), let me return to applaud the Chief Justice of Nigeria for putting in place pragmatic steps to stamp out habitual abuses of human rights of Nigerians who are in conflict with the Nigerian laws.

The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, asked the courts to take proactive steps to curb the menace of abuse of power by the police. According to him, “I have observed, and received several complaints of the horrific incidents of Police brutality, inordinate arrest, detention and extortion of innocent Nigerians by police officers across the country. These incidents have assumed frightening proportions in recent times. The Magistrate Courts are currently overwhelmed with cases of such brutality, inordinate arrests and detention of Citizens.” He continues: “As we approach election year, it is imperative that we curb these excesses through the instrumentality of the statutory powers of the courts. The Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) has given Magistrates oversight functions over Police Stations in their Jurisdictions.”

The judiciary is wading in because neither the police authorities, who are hugely distracted and stuck in Neanderthal forms of policing under a unitary system, nor the federal government, which is reluctant to give up its powers of policing and yet is unable to fund or restructure the Police Force, has proved competent in doing anything proactive about the law enforcement agency. They are satisfied reacting to cases of abuse, hauling a few erring policemen before their ineffective internal disciplinary mechanisms, and enunciating cosmetic changes. The rot is so overwhelming that it is hard not to see the tragedy the law enforcement agency has become. These were the considered opinions reported by The Nation Newspapers.

The paper stated further that It is not certain that the judicial intervention advocated by the CJN will go very far. It is worth trying, of course, and the principle of the intervention must be saluted. But the rot is much deeper than what the judiciary can fix, and the structure of policing so archaic that no amount of tinkering can do it any good. It is perhaps only the federal government, particularly the presidency that still lauds unitary policing. They fear that state police would be abused by autocratic governors. They do not think state police can be structured in such a way that safeguards can be built into it. Paralyzed by fear, too mendicant to fund the law enforcement agency, and too lazy to even supervise it well and build a disciplined and innovative crime fighting force, the federal government has allowed the Force to decay into a brutish and extortionate agency.

Nation newspaper reported further that the police, like the herdsmen killings, should be a major campaign issue for the next general elections. Political parties which hope to win popular votes must discuss this grave issue and convince the electorate that they have great and implementable plans to give the country a new Police Force. Nothing else will suffice. It is time political parties earned, rather than buy, their votes.

This writer hereby affirm that the indignation of the Chief Justice of Nigeria against the operatives of the police is understandable given the history of the notoriety of operatives of this policing institution over the several years.

Not long ago, the then governing council Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission Professor Chidi Odinkalu had a brush with the Inspector General of Police leading to his invitation for questioning over some findings he made.

Odinkalu had penned an article in which he reeled out statistical data of the high number of Nigerians who had been killed by the police in their detention facilities over the years.

Odinkalu’s allegations, came exactly few years after the then serving special Rapporteur on extra judicial killings at the United Nations similarly indicted the police.

The truth is that, the Nigeria police Force is sick both on the head and body and this adverse outlook of the operatives of the police must be curbed if this country will ever have the hope of truly becoming civil, humane and the holders of political authorities made to adhere strictly to the letters of the law.

A fact that is undeniable is the fundamental problems afflicting the police from both the structural and personnel dimension just as it is practically impossible for Nigerians to ever witness real and genuine constitutional democracy should we keep becoming very comfortable with these twin evils embedded within the Nigeria police force.

In terms of structure, there is the need to legally redirect and refocus the policing institution so the operatives and officers play the role of public servants of the law who ought to enforce the rule of law. The way the Nigeria police force is structured, it has continued to maintain the frame of mind of a force armed by the state to serve the interest of the political class.

There is the need to decolonize the psyche of the police and refocus its operational guidelines to reflect the necessity of first and foremost remaining true to their professional calling by adhering strictly to the laws of Nigeria and not to basically operate on the whims and caprices of the temporary wielders of political power. Restructuring and reforming the police is imperative as a way of making the members responsive, proactive and to legally made to become professionally competent.

There is the urgency of the now for the police in Nigeria to be modeled after the policing institutions of such places as the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

Creating state and local policing structures is therefore one sure way of infusing professional competences and compelling the operatives to behave rightly and not wait to be reminded by the nation’s Chief Justice about her duties to the laws and to human rights.

The second and perhaps the most fundamental panacea is to put the right kinds of persons to enlist and manage the policing institutions at all levels.

It is strategic that the enabling law is put in place to ensure that appointments into the policing institutions are on the grounds of merits and competences just as the thorough background screenings of potential police operatives are verified. For now there are no effective mechanisms of knowing when armed robbers are recruited into the Nigeria Police force.

As I read and reflected deeply on the steps announced by the Chief Justice of Nigeria to enforce the atmosphere of respect for the Nigerian laws by the police, I do also think that embarking on comprehensive reforms of the police is key and very urgent to abort any possible revolution by the distressed citizenry who are already getting fed up by the monumental cases of violations of the rights of the citizens of Nigeria by the police. It is unheard of that the policing institution funded by the public will continue to harbour operatives with scant respect for the rights of citizens and therefore compelled to honour and respect the laws of Nigeria.

For instance, on the same day that the Chief Justice of Nigeria literary passed a vote of no confidence on the police, two young girls were killed in the streets of Abuja by some trigger happy rogue police operatives.

One of the two was a girl who was to pass out of the National Youth Service scheme in another twenty four hours even as the second was the daughter of Nigeria’s former Finance Minister who had just returned from abroad. The first was a 23-year-old NYSC participant Miss Linda Angela Igwetu killed by a police operative called Benjamin Peters. The second casualty of police extralegal killing was the 23-year-old Miss Anita Akapson the daughter of Mrs. Nenadi Usman from Kaduna who served Nigeria as Finance minister.

It was also during the same period that even the executive arm of federal government reportedly took some cosmetic steps to rein in rogue operatives of the police when the then acting president professor Yemi Osinbanjo announced the unbundling of the special anti-robbery squad of the Inspector General of Police.

As I write, the National Human Rights Commission is investigating huge allegations of human rights violations by SARS of the Nigeria police force.

But there are clear indications that these steps by both the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the executive arm of government to reform the police are at best cosmetic and not far reaching.

This is because no matter what fire brigade approach that is adopted to bring about a turnaround of the police without far reaching legal reforms of the legal frameworks on the police, nothing substantial would be achieved. The Nigeria police force needs legal unbundling even as all the bad eggs that inflicted spectacular image damage to the police must be prosecuted and punished. Nigeria should demand a twenty yearlong forensic financial audits of the police to ascertain why over 90 percent of police facilities in Nigeria have long deteriorated in value and standards. Today police barracks are filthy, smelly and decrepit. Lots of police operatives work under suffocating atmospheres and operate from extensively damaged office complexes. Police training schools are ill equipped and operatives are taxed to buy their uniforms. Citizens bear the brunts of these institutional neglects. This is why the ordinary citizens are charged for all manner of services by the police.

We must demand to know why victims of crime in Nigeria are fleeced and extorted of their hard earned money by the police when these crimes are reported to the police. I am aware of a certain fresh case of alleged murder in which the survivors abandoned the case because the police in Lagos kept pestering the family to fund the investigations. Another case of domestic violence which led to the killing of a young housewife from Arondizuogu in her home by her Anambra state born Lagos based businessman was undermined when the suspected killer bribed the Lagos police command to halt investigations. There are thousands of cases of crimes of murders abandoned by the victims and their families because they can't afford the high 'service charges' illegally demanded from them by the respective police commissioners. What Fela Anikulapo Kuti sang many years ago that police stations are like banks with DPOs becoming bank mangers has started happening before our very eyes.

Why on Earth will Nigeria expect efficient policing when the operatives are most times given targets like banks by their operational heads and are daily expected to make returns to the Divisional Police Officers and the Commissioners?

A serving senator from Bauchi state who was a senior police officer accused the current hierarchy of police of huge fraud from proceeds the police collect from rich Nigerians for their services, but the President kept inconvenient silence. Today we read that police aircraft delivered bags of cash to the APC candidate in a Kwara state re-run poll that will happen tomorrow so he could bribe voters.

The other day in Imo state, I ran into some shabbily dressed police operatives bearing arms that looked like the types carried by hunters and these rogue police in Okwelle were overheard threatening to kill a commercial bus driver who refused to bribe them with a little less than N100. Many innocent persons are killed and their money robbed by police.

At every levels, you notice that police operatives have abandoned their core task and most of their bosses are only concerned about going about with the elite and even foreign business executives who are willing to meet their inordinate demands for payments. Again, because violent crime is rife, most wealthy persons pay security fees to police commissioners or they would be kidnapped if they default.

We must return the police operatives to refocus on their core duties of enforcement of the rule of law and instilling order and sanity in Nigeria.

This is what a very friendly writer wrote about the duty, powers and limitations of the Nigeria police.

He wrote thus: “A duty is said to exists when there is an obligation to act in a certain way. For example a Muslim has a duty to say the Jumat prayers; a person is under a duty to tolerate the views of another or others. Also one has a duty to keep promises voluntarily made by him. However, in this discussion we are not concerned with these types of duties. We are not concerned with religious, social or moral duties which the above examples respectively represent. We are concerned with legal duty under which the police found themselves."

"A legal duty is an obligation which the law places on a body for which the law has given powers (i.e. tools for carrying out the duties) to that body to carry out that obligation for the common good of the state. Thus when we speak of being under a legal duty what we are consciously or unconsciously saying is that there is a force (i.e. a law) compelling us to act in a certain way. We are bound to act in that certain way, we are charged by law to act in that way, we are under an obligation to act in that way, we are “bound” by that obligation. The word obligation is derived from the Latin expression ob-ligare. Ligare means to bind. Thus when we talk about the duties of the police, what we are talking about consciously or otherwise is the obligation the law has placed on them to act in certain ways in certain circumstances for which powers have been given to them by the law."

Accordingly the police Act provides as follows: “The Police shall be employed for the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of offender, preservation of law and order, the protection of life and property and the due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged and shall perform such military duties within or without Nigeria as may be required of them by, or under the authority of, this or any other act” (From the book “Nigeria Police, Duties, Powers and Limitations” by Basil Momodu).

The Nigeria police of today are in substantial violations of these statutory duties. This is the time to call them to order.

*Emmanuel Onwubiko is head of Human rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and blogs @ www.emmanuelonwubiko.com ; www.huriwanigeria.com ; www.huriwa.blogspot.com .

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Emmanuel Onwubiko and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."