THESE days, Nigerians are frequently assailed with reports of extrajudicial killings by men of the Nigeria Police. In most cases, such tragic incidents are engendered by the refusal or inability of the victims to pay bribes. This type of anarchic behaviour should not find space in a country that professes to be operating a democracy.
A few days ago, the police at Iba New Town in Ojo Local Government Area of Lagos reportedly killed a 27-year-old motorcycle dealer, Sunday Okoli, for allegedly refusing to give them N5,000 as bribe. According to reports, the security agents stopped Okoli, who was riding his unregistered motorcycle, and demanded his identity card. The young man was said to have shown them his ID card and informed them that the motorcycle was not numbered because he wanted to sell it. The police then allegedly demanded N5,000. Okoli offered N1,000. Not satisfied, the five policemen in question reportedly seized his motorcycle, bundled him into their van and drove off. Along the way, they allegedly pushed him out of their vehicle. The young man fell and hit his head against the edge of the gutter near Mobil Filling Station on Iba-Ishasi Road. He died before any help could come his way. The police, though, have denied this.
This is bizarre. But it is the regular mode of operation by the Police. Just last week, a police chaplain, an Assistant Superintendent of Police, Moses Adekota, reportedly shot a tricycle operator in Ikeja, Lagos, over a minor traffic issue. Last May, the police in Bayelsa State were also reported to have tortured a senior official of the Federal Road Safety Commission, Bassey Inoyo, to death over a minor traffic misunderstanding. In different parts of the country, similar cases are being reported on a regular basis.
In a report published last December, a human rights group, the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law, said over 54,000 Nigerians have been illegally killed since 1999 when the fourth Republic took off.
Another report last year by the Legal Defence and Assistance Project on extrajudicial, arbitrary and summary executions in Nigeria, noted that between 2006 and 2010, over 1,600 Nigerians were killed by law enforcement agents. In 2010 alone, the police allegedly killed about 21 persons unjustifiably. In 2006, according to the report, the impunity rate was 83 per cent; in 2007, it was 89 per cent; in 2008, it was 83 per cent; in 2009, it was 88 per cent; while in 2010, it was 95 per cent. This means that, rather than reduce, cases of extrajudicial killings in Nigeria have continued to rise.
The recent ban on roadblocks across the country appears to be worsening the situation. The black uniformed men had used these roadblocks to extort money from motorists and other road users. But after the ban, reports indicate that the police now round up commercial motorcyclists at will and extort money from them for real and imaginary offences.
Abuses of this nature had occurred in the past without any punishment meted out to the culprits. A few years ago, some six young Nigerians were allegedly murdered by the police in Abuja. Popularly referred to as Apo Six, these victims have not received full justice up until now.
Countries that value life do not function this way. In the United States of America, for instance, information provided by TermLife Insurance indicated that in 2009, 33 per cent of police officers charged with one offence or the other, went through to convictions; 64 per cent convicted received prison sentences while an average length of time spent in prison is 14 months.
Just last week, an Italian court upheld the convictions of senior police officers for their roles in the manhandling of protesters at the Genoa G8 meeting in 2001. Although the final sentences were watered down to as low as five-year suspensions from duty for the top-ranking officers, the message has been passed that nobody is above the law; and this was for an offence in which nobody was killed. They even escaped jail terms because of a 2006 law fashioned to cut the number of inmates in Italian jails.
In Nigeria, there have been a few attempts to instil discipline in the force. Earlier in the month, the police arraigned 26 recruits undergoing training at the Police College, Kaduna, for certificate forgery. Also, in March this year, the police in Lagos charged 23 students of the Ikeja Police College at an Ikeja Magistrates’ Court with falsification of educational qualifications. The offence is said to be common in police circles in Nigeria.
Nigerians expect that these cases will be pursued to their logical conclusion. They also want to see police killers or any other murderer brought to justice. Thorough investigations must be carried out and those found culpable must be punished accordingly. Adequate compensation should also be given to the deceased families.
Police authorities should re-examine their recruitment process. On no account should questionable characters find their way into the force. As part of the screening process, they should send every recruit to the psychiatric hospital for sanity test. They should also conduct regular background checks on their men to avoid harbouring criminals in the force.