“Wetin you chop remain for the boys?” This is a common request from Nigeria Police personnel at roadblocks on the highway or from the better-organized extortionists called highway patrol or the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS). As Muhammed Dahiru Abubakar assumed office as acting Inspector-General of Police in 2012, while x-raying performance of the security organization in past years, pitifully said: ‘Our men are deployed to rich individuals and corporate entities that we lack the manpower to provide security for the common people; our investigation- department cannot equitably handle matters unless those involved have money to part with. Our police stations, State Criminal Investigation Departments and Operation- offices have become business centres, and collection points for rendering returns from all kinds of squads and teams, set up for the benefit of superior officers’.
Even the deaf needed not to strain his ears to hear the drop of a pin in the wake of the graveyard silence that enveloped the hall while M. D Abubakar was speaking. It was a pity.
Expectedly, only a few Nigerians expressed surprise for the indicting statement as it merely confirmed the perception of many. If there was any surprise, it was the long years it took a sitting police chief to, voice out the truth.
Even as he was delivering the damning speech, what could have resulted into another case of accidental discharge was averted in Karmo, a densely populated settlement outside Abuja, where some innocent Nigerians barely restrained an enraged policeman from shooting a commercial bus driver for refusing to pay an illegal N20 toll fee.
The Karmo incident highlighted police highhandedness in their relationship with the citizens they are paid to defend and protect: a relationship that has been characterized by years of extra-judicial killings, denial of basic rights, arbitrary detentions, outright perversion of justice, sexual abuse and mindless extortion without any qualms for the disdain and disgust shown by an angry Nigerian public.
The cumulative effect of these, in the words of MD Abubakar, is that ‘our (police) respect is gone and the Nigerian public has lost even the slightest confidence in the ability of the police to do anything good’. As part of measures to reform the police, new uniforms were introduced to restore eroding public confidence.
Expectedly, the new uniforms ignited a debate among Nigerians, but even in the midst of the raging debate, Nigerians continue to lick their wounds from decades of deadly encounters with the police. Few instances would suffice to support this argument.
Few years before Boko Haram terrorists stood Maiduguri on its head, six ‘innocent’ youths were arrested by the police in different locations within Maiduguri. The youths, Ibrahim Isa, Peter Joseph, Zanna Musa, John Moses, Bukar Audu and Iliya Dauda, aged between 22 – 30 years and detained at the Ibrahim Taiwo Police Station. On April 27, 2005, more than a month and a half after their arrests, they were paraded before the press as armed robbers. Parading suspects has become the tradition of the police for cheap publicity. Two weeks after, the police told restive family members of the youths who besieged the station that the suspects were transferred to the State Special Criminal Investigation Department, Maiduguri. At the SCID, stern face bloodthirsty policemen harshly and rudely told the family members that their sons were not there. On May 10, 2005, dead bodies of the six ‘innocent’ boys were found in the mortuary of the State Specialist Hospital. The boys were extra-judiciously murdered. According to Borno State Police Command, they were murdered because they attempted to ‘escape’ from custody. There was no inquest and no one was charged for the gruesome murder. Probably, they were murdered because they could not afford to pay for their freedom.
Until 2009, security agents in Maiduguri barely tolerated the excesses of the militant Boko Haram sect. But the cat and mouse relationship took a deadly turn after their spiritual leader, Muhammed Yusuf and other adherents were murdered in police custody following days of deadly encounters with security personnel. Even if members of the group harboured grievances against the state, the extra-judicial killing of Muhammed Yusuf, who was arrested by soldiers and handed to the police provided them with an immediate excuse to wage a war against the state ostensibly to avenge the murder of their leader, a decision they later scaled up to include the impossible crusade of total Islamization of Nigeria.
Many Nigerians were enraged when video clips later emerged to show how policemen murdered Yusuf and others with pride of authority. Apparently, due to the furore it generated, some five policemen were put on ‘trial’ and later discharged by the court.
When policemen are not brutalizing and killing unarmed Nigerians, they are either publicly engaging themselves in brawls over how to share money extorted from innocent members of the public or turning their guns against each other. In March 2012, a police corporal Nuhu Ishaku shot and killed two other policemen, including one inspector Benjamin Tizhe at a police post in Lala village near Gombi in Adamawa state before turning the nozzle of his rifle on himself. Within 24 hours, another policeman shot his colleagues in Port Harcourt in what senior policemen passed off as an “accidental discharge”. Within the same Port Harcourt, another case of accidental discharge was recorded in February 2006 when a policeman went berserk, killed a colleague and injured two others in a fracas with a driver over N20 bribe at an illegal checkpoint.
Accidental discharge has been responsible for the death of many innocent Nigerians. In November 2007, a 15-year old commuter, Daniel Offiali was shot in Port Harcourt by a policeman during a confrontation with the driver of the bus the young lad boarded over a N20 bribe.
Days before the Christmas of 2011, a young boy was shot dead at a checkpoint by a policeman in front of his mother in Bayelsa state. The trend continued into the New Year. During the protest against fuel subsidy removal in January 2012, peaceful protesters were shot and motorcycles burnt in Kano, Ilorin and Lagos. Quite often, senior police officers are known to be the culprits responsible for avoidable deaths as was the case with a Divisional Police Officer who, without provocation, shot a placard-carrying demonstrator in Ogba, Lagos during a nationwide protest against fuel subsidy removal.
Common crowd control can provide a trigger, happy policemen, an excuse to test their loaded rifles on unarmed citizens. Inmates at the overcrowded Agodi prison in Ibadan, Oyo state discovered that much on September 11, 2007, when policemen were invited to put down an uprising at the prison. According to a report of an investigation conducted by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the policemen opened fire on the inmates upon entering the prison without ‘proper profiling and assessment of the situation’. One of the victims, Wasiu Owolabi, was first arrested in 2002 in Ibadan and granted bail in 2003 by the Oyo State High Court. The police subsequently re-arrested and detained him on undisclosed charges. Owolabi’s sister, Tawakalitu, petitioned NHRC on his behalf. He was murdered before his family got a response from NHRC; Owolabi had been in Awaiting Trial custody for nearly four years before he was finally murdered.
Quite often, armed, red-eyed drugged policemen swoop on entire communities on the flimsiest excuse that should not be publicized to the hearing of superiors. This, members of Eyeti Ekiebong Enwang, a sleepy community in Akwa-Ibom state had discovered before the gruesome murder of inmates at Agodi prison. On September 17, 2007, some 100 rampaging policemen, hot on the heels of some youths who disappeared with more than N8,000 extorted a bribe from commuters at a police checkpoint, descended on the community. In the ensuring mismatch, five members of the community were murdered while several others sustained various degrees of injury. A disputed number simply disappeared. On September 14, 2008, some policemen attacked the village of Afiesere in Ughelli North Local Government Area of Delta state and allegedly murdered 22 people in a reprisal attack for an earlier incident in which two policemen were killed in the village. Another classic example of fire for fire and no one was prosecuted.
Stern faced bribe-taking extortionists and rampaging killer policemen are not the only ones in uniform who are giving the Force a bad image. Female detainees have been known to be sexually abused, with some victims ending up with sexually transmitted diseases or unwanted pregnancies, by policemen. Most of the rape cases happen in police stations. In 2006, Amnesty International reported the abduction and rape of two female students aged 17 and 18 years at the time of the attack, by two police officers in Enugu. The two students were, on September 27, 2004, abducted and subsequently raped by two policemen, including a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) while returning home from the market. In 2008, Queen Okoye reported the alleged theft of her N30,000 by her boyfriend at G. Ogba, Lagos. Rather than addressing her complaint, the police allegedly kept her in the station until wee hours of the morning when she was gang-raped. As a result of the rape she became pregnant. When she protested to the police hierarchy in January 2009, the victim was accused of being mentally unstable. Similar cases of rape involving senior police officers were reported in Kano in 2011. In November 2008, a Nigerian weekly published the report of an investigation alleging that the police raped and impregnated 10 female detainees in Lagos.
Rape has become so much institutionalized and routinely practised in the Police Force to the extent that some randy policemen consider it part of their hazard allowance, a ‘fringe benefit’ for night patrols. Expectedly, its rampancy has overtime attracted the attention of several Nigerians.
One of them, The Guardian columnist and former presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati, in January, 2009, observed that rape had assumed a frightening dimension, adding: ‘The big scandal is that the police are not interested in prosecuting rapists. The police station itself was a rape centre….We have a country where it is risky for a woman to be detained overnight in any police station’. The leadership of the police appears to be aware of the criminal police behaviour. In response to allegations of sexual abuse committed by the Nigerian police contingent to the United Nations Observer Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, then Force Public Relations Officer, Deputy Commissioner of Police Haz Iwendi once lamented: ‘These are typical Nigerian police. They went there and instead of doing the job they were sent to do, they started abusing small girls and raping women’.
Several Nigerians consider it a sad irony that, while the Nigeria Police sometimes receive commendation for efforts at combating crime, there are many bad elements in the system that keep throwing spanner in the works. In the face of the security challenges facing the country, some unscrupulous policemen prefer to add to the worries of Nigerians. When they are not colluding with divisive groups by aiding the escape of suspects as was the case of dismissed but later reinstated police commissioner, Zakari Biu in the dramatic escape of jailed (then suspect) Madalla Christmas day bomber, Kabiru Umar Sokoto, some policemen have been identified to be hands in glove with criminal gangs while serving as informants and armed suppliers as was the case with Deputy Superintendent of Police, George Iyamu, when a criminal gang led by the duo of Lawrence Anini and Monday Osunbor took the former Bendel state by storm in the 80s.
Accidental discharge! This is always the culprit each time trigger happy policemen kill members of the public. A widely circulated report by Nigeria’s Legal Defence and Assistance Project, NLDAP, in 2004 documented 2, 987 cases of extra-judicial killings by the police; in not one of these cases was there a conviction. On the rare occasion when police crimes were charged to court, the prosecutions are usually unsuccessful. The very factors that hinder the Force’s ability to solve ordinary crime such as lack of investigative capacity, poor record-keeping, failure to gather evidence also hinders its ability to respond to crime committed by police. Even where the authorities are willing and able to bring charges against the police, NLDAP report observed that the judiciary often sides with the police as in the case of Eze Ibe v. the State of Nigeria. In the case, a policeman was charged with killing two brothers and the evidence established that the policeman first shot one brother through the back and then shot the other after the latter sought to rally the public to hold the officer accountable. Thereafter, the policeman, apparently excited with his achievement and wanting to shed more blood, started waving his rifle from side to side daring bystanders to approach him. The killer policeman was acquitted of homicide by the Supreme Court of Nigeria on the curious excuse that ‘this is a case of accidental discharge from the appellant’s rifle when he was physically attacked to seize his rifle from him rather than a deliberate act to shoot’. At the time, Human Rights Groups expressed shock at the judgment.
Another Human Rights Group, the Network of Police Reform in Nigeria, NOPRIN, discovered that factors both within and outside the Force work against accountability for police crimes. According to NOPRIN, within the Force, ‘those factors that make the police ineffectual in crime detection and control also inhibit the investigation and punishment of police abuses’.
For instance, where police abuse rises to the level of a crime, the police remain the primary investigating agency, a situation which NOPRIN believes the police do not excel. The report further discovered that despite the many crimes committed by police, personnel enjoy impunity for their criminal acts.
To its credit, however, some recalcitrant and delinquent members of the force have been known to pay a heavy price for their crimes by way of orderly room trials, demotions and dismissals or outright prosecution. For instance, there were instances in the past when senior police officers were tied to the stake and shot alongside criminals they aided or convicted to hang when arrested in the thick of armed robbery operations. Others, including top police officers, have received jail sentences or convicted to hang for crimes ranging from corruption and extortion to extra-judicial killings. One of them was Tafa Balogun, a former Inspector-General of Police who was jailed for stealing police funds. At the time of his conviction, there were insinuations that the man, upon his release from jail would spill the beans on the infamous role of the police in the 2003 elections. True or false, the former IGP chose to maintain a studied silence since he came out of prison, a situation that fuelled speculations that his silence was part of his plea bargain that ended in his getting a light sentence. Ironically, deterrent measures emboldened the criminally minded members of the Force and failed to salvage the battered image of the Force. Today, many men and women in uniform are barely aware of the basic tenets of policing, generally see themselves as above the law and regard the arms in their possession as a licence to kill, extort and intimidate at will. It is, perhaps the growing public outcry against excesses of some men in uniform that jolted the Federal Government then, through the Police Service Commission to raise a high-powered committee ostensibly to reorganize the Police Force. That was the eighth committee in living memory on reforming the police chaired by Parry Osayende, a man who participated in at least one of the committees to restructure the Police. As the committee started its assignment, questions were asked as to what happened to previous reports and whether public funds would not have been saved if the government had revisited some of the recommendations.
At the inauguration of the first Presidential Committee on Police Reform in January 2006, then minister for police affairs, Alaowei Broderick Bozimo pleaded that the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo had inherited a Police Force that was poorly equipped, decimated in numerical strength, deprived of necessary logistics, and lacking, as it were, moral and public support necessary for effective performance and the enhancement of the security of the nation. To address what he believed was a serious shortfall in police personnel.
Then president Obasanjo issued a directive to recruit 200,000 additional police personnel over a period of five years from 2000 – 2004 at the rate of 40,000 recruits every year even when ‘police training institutions could only accommodate 14,000 personnel per annum’. By 2003, the police population was estimated at 260,000, a figure which shot to 377,000 as revealed after an 18-month personnel audit of the Force by a committee headed by Parry Osayende. An estimated 27 percent of them were engaged in personal guard to the rich, influential and protective duties. The result of the expedited recruitment was ‘carried out in a very unwholesome manner without adherence to the established rules and guidelines governing the screening and recruitment of candidates that encouraged the admission of criminals, vandals and rogues who paid their ways’.
Consequently, the Force became saddled with ‘a very large number of unqualified, undertrained and ill-equipped officers and men, many of whose suitability to wear the respected uniform of the Police remains in doubt’. In April 2008, a Presidential Police Reform Committee described the Nigeria Police Force as an ‘undesirable workforce’.
Part of the manipulation of the Force manifested in attempts either to weaken or render it incapable of staging coups as was the case under the military or to prepare it as a bulwark against military coups, as happened in the second republic. Either way, these measures politicized the force, degraded its operational effectiveness, and diminished the Force’s reputation as a professional institution. Progressively since 1999, the police have been deployed for partisan purposes, including, electoral fraud and political violence. This much the Justice Muhammed Lawal Uwais presidential committee on Electoral Reform discovered in 2008. In December 2008, the Justice Uwais committee complained of the ‘functional ineffectiveness of the police during elections’ and documented untoward conduct by the police personnel during elections to include unprofessional conduct like brutality, intimidation, facilitating the snatching and destruction of ballot boxes, under-age voting, mass thumb-printing of ballot papers, forgery of results in exchange for bribes, among other sharp practices during elections. As with similar findings, the Justice Uwais report is gathering dust and its recommendations, like the anticipated one from Parry Osayande committee, may never see the light. Reason being that implementing some recommendations, like the wind, will literally blow the backside of the hen: in essence, it will curb alleged complicity of security personnel in electoral malpractices and ensure the conduct of free and fair elections.
In the midst of the rot, the budget of the Police Force has risen since 2000. But due to waste, corruption and administrative bloat, the increase in resources has not improved police performance and service delivery as envisaged. Most of the budget is taken up by increased personnel costs as NPF added an average of 40,000 new recruits per annum from 2000 – 2004. By 2008, the total budget for NPF rose to N169.9billion, an increase of about 128 percent from the 2004 budget. This funding did not buy better equipment, facilities or training; rather, it brought more poorly trained and unmotivated personnel. The Force’s budget increase has little impact on the motivation of police personnel or on its structure, in part because the increases were sporadic. For instances, the budget always increase sharply in election years and, though the reasons for this are not always stated, the timing of the increases suggests that it is intended to win critical police support, or even induce the police to commit election-related violence in favour of the particular party in power.
More as result of public outcry and threat by the police rank and file to go on a nationwide strike in 2006, the federal government hurriedly increased police salaries in June, 2007 and, by the end of the year, the government announced a consolidated salary structure for the police. Despite the improvements in their salaries and other fringe benefits, the level of compensation and condition for police officers in Nigeria continue to be important factors in police abuse. If anything, the enhanced pay packet for the police, which resulted in an increase in the gross monthly salary of a police constable to N26, 158 or gross annual salary of N313, 896, did little to stem the tide of extortion and bribe taking by some members of the Force. In its 2008 report, the second Presidential Committee on Police Reform noted that responsibility for catering for the Police has advertently been ‘turned over to the general population who are extorted, coerced and intimidated by police personnel in order to survive’.
The logistics and infrastructure for policing are also seriously inadequate. The situation got so disturbing to have warranted the 2006 Presidential Committee on Police Reform to observe that basic operational logistics like statement papers, case file jackets, office lockers for keep of case files are no longer provided while some of those items are forced to be procured by complainants. The Committee also noted that police detectives take case files home, resulting at times in the loss or destruction of vital documents and statements that can sustain a conviction in court. The situation has aided the crass inability of the Force to successfully prosecute serious crimes. For instance, NOPRIN noted that out of the 5,883 robbery suspects held in four of Nigeria’s most populated prisons from 2000 – 2005, only 48 robbery convictions were secured with 4,014 being acquitted. These practices further jeopardized public confidence in the police prompting the 2006 Presidential Committee on Police Reform to confirm a secret of the market place held by Nigerians that the relationship between the police and the public is characterized mainly by mutual mistrust and hostility. Unhappily, the situation, coupled with the unwritten but standard practice of police personnel on certain beats making ‘returns’ to their superiors or risk being confined to the desk, has impacted negatively on police officers ability to detect and prevent violent crimes which have continued to be on the upswing. According to 2012 official police figures, reported incidents of murder increased from 1, 629 in 1994 to 2,136 in 2003, while armed robbery increased from 2,044 in 1994 to 3,497 within the same period. These figures do not include incidents of extrajudicial executions by policemen or, for that matter, deaths resulting from election violence and torture of suspects in custody.
In recent years, Nigerians have stepped-up the campaign for the creation of state police as a way round the present cluelessness of the police in combating crime and laundering its dented image. Though a memo to that effect was reportedly voted down by the former Federal Executive Council, FEC at one of its meetings in Abuja, the clamour appears to have received added boost from a man who should know better: late Umaru Shinkafi, former Director-General of the defunct National Security Organization (NSO) who believed the opposition to the establishment of state police in Nigeria ‘has been driven by an exaggerated, misleading and unfounded precedent focusing on the abuse of state police through political interference and manipulation’. According to him, there are no ‘unsavoury antecedents on which to hang this prejudice’ because, in reality ‘state police has never been established in Nigeria before’. Giving a thumb down to the current emphasis on police numerical strength and superior firepower, the former presidential aspirant said the nation should embrace modern-day quest for ‘potency of intelligence gathering and dynamic pro-active engagement in combating crime’ which necessitates a corresponding structural transformation and devolution of command and operational capacity to the state level, ‘because they are closer to the towns and cities that are the theatres of criminality’.
The former intelligence chief was convinced that devolution of command to the state level has the added advantage of dealing with public apathy to providing vital information to the police.
Support for Shinkafi’s position was swift. Speaking at the inauguration of the Lagos state security command and control centre in Ikeja, Lagos in February 2012, former Lagos state governor, Raji Babatunde Fashola, SAN (now a federal minister) said the present system of policing the entire country from a central command in Abuja ‘is one of the anomalies of our federation that must be corrected urgently’. Fashola described the present arrangement as ‘illogical’ and a mere ‘exercise in futility’, adding: ‘The quicker we depart from it, the better the country will be’. According to him, a state that has the power to give judgment through its High Court, through its own magistrates and make law through its House of Assembly ‘must have the concomitant power to enforce its law and police its state’.
Frank talk! But in spite of its attractions, the idea of state police is bad music especially to the ears of those in government at the federal level. Over the years, the argument against the establishment of state police has always been underscored by fears that the situation may be abused by state governors who may deploy well-armed and motivated state police to hold the federal government to ransom. This fear, according to Shinkafi, is unfounded and, in any case, he believed the controversy over state police ‘will give way to sheer necessity’; a necessity, he said, that had been orchestrated by the prevailing challenging circumstances in the maintenance of law and order and the rampant outbreaks of new forms of criminality such as terrorism and insurgency. Did Parry Osayande committee recommend the establishment of state police in its report on the reformation of the police?
Even though the government did not impose ‘no go areas’ on the committee, there are strong indications from the Police Service Commission that several submitted memorandum received favoured the establishment of state police. Already, sceptical Nigerians are insinuating that the committee was perhaps another political patronage which recommendations, bared any major twist and has gone the way of earlier ones. Will President Buhari prove sceptics wrong by either supporting the establishment of state police or disband the present corruption-infested police structure and replace it with a new structure? Or, as sceptics would want Nigerians to believe, will the Parry Osayande committee report be another case of more shock but less therapy for the police? Truly, President Muhammadu Buhari should disband the present Nigeria Police Force structure and establish a brand new one that can serve Nigerians with passion and commitment to national security and professionalism. What Nigeria presently has, is a group of extortionists, bandits, rapists and murderers in uniform. It is a pity that no Nigerian trusts the Nigerian Police Force in anything including socialization. In conclusion, for Nigeria to be a secured and happy country, the present Nigeria Police should be gradually scrapped and replaced with a more effective and better trained than the rot at hand.
Muhammad is a commentator on national issues