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It should have been a sign of strength, sign of a new season. But it reeks of capitulation. That’s what the recent effort of the nation’s police to bring to trial its officers who were indicted for extra judicial killings seems to be. The most celebrated of such killings, not the latest, was that of the Boko Haram sect members that took place in Borno in 2009. That sect which proclaims its abhorrence of western education has been in town for some time killing anyone it can, including the police. When the sect’s leadership died in the hands of the police, the claim was that they were killed as they tried to escape. But the claim was turned on its head when the army that arrested the leadership stated its own side. Then in February 2010, Al-Jazeera TV went on the international stage to show footages of unarmed civilians who were brought out of their houses, made to lie face down beside the road, and shot by the police who also had their own actions filmed. It was shocking what those footages showed, and the words of Justice Louis D. Brandeis (a justice of U.S Supreme Court, 1856-1941) makes this write-up a justifiable one: “To declare that in the administration of criminal law the end justifies the means – to declare that the Government may commit crimes in order to secure conviction of a private criminal – would bring terrible retribution.”

Recalling a few of the extra-judicial killings here will serve a purpose. On 7 February 2001, a plain clothes policeman, Corporal Rabiu Bello attached to Kaduna State Criminal Investigation Department (CID) requested a young apprentice, Haliru Salau Agaba to buy a stick of cigarette for him. Haliru responded that he could not afford it. Corporal Bello pulled out a pistol and pumped bullets into the young apprentice, who slumped. Sunday, 18 March, 2001, Mr. Kalu Samuel Iroh was arrested with four others for an alleged traffic offence. The five were detained at Makoko Police Station but were later transferred to Barracks Police Station, Surulere where Kalu was "allegedly battered to death by policemen attached to the station. Nothing has come of those cases as well as that of the celebrated killing of six young Nigerians in Apo part of the Federal Capital Territory.

Amnesty International (AI) keeps a record on extra judicial killings here and it returned a damning verdict on the Nigeria police saying it "kills at will." It also said the police are responsible for hundreds of behind-the-door executions that take place every year in the country. AI's director of Africa programmes, Erwin van der Borght said: "The Nigerian police are responsible for hundreds of unlawful killings every year.

Furthermore, "police frequently claim that the victims of their shootings were 'armed robbers' killed in 'shoot-outs' or while trying to escape custody. These claims are often highly implausible, just like it turned out to be in the killing of the Boko Haram leadership and several other civilians after they had been arrested.

It is not a coincidence that the trial of the officers concerned started after a major attack on the police force headquarters recently, and at time the government is said to be mulling solutions that are outside the use of armed confrontation. And more meaning could be read into it in a season the current Borno state governor has offered Boko Haram members amnesty. An understanding of the same that late President Umaru Ya’ardua offered to the Niger Delta militants puts the trial of the police officers at this time in better perspective. Neglect and deprivation was the lot of the oil producing Niger Delta. Ogoni killings by the uniformed forces happened. Odi killing happened, and then youth took up arms. By the time the government offered amnesty, it had also agreed to do what the same people had asked for without the guns for years.

That the police beams the light back on cases of extra judicial killing among its officers gives the impression that Boko Haram forces its hands, and those of the government. This is untidy, and it is what a nation gets when its operators failed in the time past to allow the system run its course thus grow a culture of impunity. While the Federal government is said to consider options apart from the use of force to end the Boko Haram matter, the sect itself stated its condition for putting down arms. Now, with the renewed interest in the case of indicted police officers, it is a safe assumption that those in high places have suddenly recognized the place of justice in getting anyone to drop arms. A semblance of that took place in the Niger Delta, too.

Boko Haram cannot continue to kill for ever, and the law keepers themselves cannot become lawless even in cases of violence committed against the state. Surely, when the government engaged Niger-Delta youths meaningfully, those that were previously seen as demons suddenly became humans that now go to South Africa, the Philippines and the United States to acquire skills. What is it that made Boko Haram become what it is? The government should answer that question and address it. Like the militants, those that Nigerians love to hate now may just turn out to be significant contributors to the nation’s development tomorrow. For if the police is made to do justice in cases of extra judicial killings, it is part of the much needed healing process for a nation that became so careless with its citizens that it opened doors for the birth of Niger-Delta militants and Boko Haram. What may be done to stop lawless actions in the police force and curb the culture of impunity is equally relevant when it comes to politicians that loot the treasury. These things cannot be separated. Both are one and the same, for they combine to bring the nation to this impasse. That the government considers options aside from use of crude force in the Boko Haram case is sensible. For when the government does justice in known cases of extra judicial killings, gets Nigerians that are tagged Boko Haram to see reason and give up violence, the sect may have won the battle, but it is the nation that wins the war.

Tunji Ajibade wrote in through: [email protected]

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