It did not start today. But, the trend is becoming worse by the day. In the past few months, there have been many cases of policemen either killing their colleagues or innocent citizens in Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt and Yobe.
Nigerians are wondering whether policemen should undergo periodic psychiatric tests to determine their mental state. Beyond dismissing and prosecuting culprits, how else can the police make its officers to be less harmful to those they are meant to protect? JOSEPH JIBUEZE sought lawyers’ views.
Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Solomon Arase has his work cut out – he and his topmost officers must figure out how to tame trigger-happy men among the rank and file. The police, which are expected to protect citizens, seem to have become a danger to society. Their colleagues and the citizens are not safe from these trigger happy cops
In 2008, global watchdog Amnesty International (AI) released a report titled: Nigeria Police kill at will, which documented cases of torture and shooting of suspects in custody. The group said the police were notorious for shooting suspects, and torturing them to death.
AI said: “The Nigerian Police is responsible for hundreds of unlawful killings every year. Police don’t only kill people by shooting them; they also torture them to death, often while they are in detention.
“The majority of the cases go uninvestigated and the police officers responsible go unpunished. The families of the victims usually get no justice or redress. Most never even found out what happened to their loved ones.”
The situation seems to have worsened. Not only do the officers kill innocent citizens, they also shoot their colleagues.
Officers go crazy
In the past few months, trigger-happy cops have gunned down people across the country. One of such incident occurred on September 17 when Corporal Musefun Aremu, of Isheri-Oshun Police Station shot a tricyclist and his wife, Comfort.
The tricyclist (Keke Marwa operator), Godwin Ekpo, is still battling for his life at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba.
Ekpo was reportedly returning home from chuch with his wife and their four children when Aremu stopped them. He allegedly demanded for N200 from Ekpo for being on the road beyond the stipulated time. But Ekpo was said to have explained that he was returning from church and that the time was just 8pm.
As they attempted to drive off, Aremu shot at them with an AK 47 riffle. The bullet pierced through Comfort’s skull, killing her. The bullet was said to have hit the husband.
Aremu (28) has been arraigned. He reportedly claimed that he never meant to kill the woman, denying that he also demanded money from them.
He said: “We were stationed at Obalagbe when we saw the Keke Marwa coming at about 12 midnight, which was against the stipulated time for them to operate. When we stopped him, he refused. Rather, he hit our vehicle in an attempt to escape.
“All I did was to aim at the tyres of the Keke Marwa. Unfortunately the bullet hit the woman from behind and also hit the man in the jaw. I never meant to kill anybody. It was just a mistake. If he had not run, I would not have fired,” he said.
Threat to other officers
Trigger-happy policemen are not only a threat to innocent civilians, they are also a threat to themselves. Last Friday, a police Constable, Ibrahim Musa, of the Nangere Police Division reportedly shot dead two of his superior officers following a quarrel at Tarajim Village in Yobe State.
Musa was said to have angrily opened fire and shot Inspectors Mohammed Musa and Ishaku Elam with an AK47 rifle. After shooting his colleagues, he turned the gun on himself and attempted suicide. He was said to have died of injuries from the gunshot at the Potiskum General Hospital.
Shot for ‘love’
On April 30, a jealous policeman took his own life after killing his lover and a colleague for allegedly cheating on him. The lady, who sold GSM recharge cards, was said to be double-dating the two married policemen.
The incident took place at Karu, a satellite town in Abuja. The killer cop, a sergeant, was said to be the lady’s primary lover. However, his colleague working with him on the same patrol team, was also dating the lady without his knowledge. When the sergeant got wind of the development, he confronted his girlfriend.
As they were arguing, the jealous sergeant reportedly shot the lady twice in the chest. As onlookers tried to come to terms with the unfolding incident, the sergeant again shot his colleague, killing him. Onlookers fled, fearing the gun might turn on them. Having certified that the two were dead, the sergeant reportedly turned the gun on himself and fired a shot to die instantly.
Other acts of trigger-happiness
In May, an Assistant Superintendent of Police, identified as Mohammed, allegedly shot dead a tricycle driver, Akeem Aranse, during an argument at Akowonjo area, on the outskirt of Lagos.
Mohammed was said to have boarded a commercial motorcycle (okada), which was hit by the tricyle operator on Karimu Laka Street in Egbeda.
The incident reportedly led to an argument which degenerated. It was reported that passersby had tried to settle the skirmish, but the police officer remained adamant.
The officer was said to have eventually brought out his pistol and shot the tricycle driver. Thirty-one-year-old Akeem, who was said to have been shot in the chest, reportedly died on the spot.
On May 19, four police corporals Adeleke Adedeji, Abena John, Henry Shobowale and Oniyo Musa, who were reportedly investigating a case of armed robbery incident that took place in Agege, Lagos, went to Edo State as part of the investigation.
They were on the trail of those who robbed Alhaji Babangida Isa of his Toyota car, mobile phones and other valuables. In Edo, they narrowed their trail to Benson Obode, who was found at the Aduwawa area of Benin. In the cause of arresting the suspect, who was accused of receiving the stolen car, he was shot and killed.
Following a public protest by his family and some members of his community in Benin, a petition was written to the IGP, who ordered an investigation. The FCID consequently commenced investigation which led to the officers’ arrest.
‘Police killed our son’
The family of a polytechnic student killed in Umuahia, Abia State on September 10, Ikechukwu Uwagbaokwu, accused policemen from the state command of the murder. They petitioned the state Commissioner of Police Joshak Habila over the gruesome murder of the 21-year-old Imo State Polytechnic student.
The family alleged that on September 10, Uwagbaokwu, a Marketing student, went to bed at about 9:00pm but at about 10:50pm there were persistent banging on the door of their family house.
Ten fierce-looking, uniformed policemen had taken strategic positions around the house. They reportedly came in a Hilux pickup van and black Camry Saloon car. When they broke open the first room, they did not see Uwagbaokwu. But on sighting him after forcing open the wooden door to his room, the policemen allegedly shot him. He died on the spot.
The deceased’s father, Mr. Emmanuel Uwagbaokwu (54), said: “I am not suspecting, but those who killed my son were policemen from Ehimiri Police Station, Umuahia.
“Immediately I reported the matter to Ehimiri Police Station and the DPO there denied sending his men to duty to that area that night, he, however, ordered some police team to follow us to the scene of the incident. On the way, the team dodged us and did not reach our house.”
The state command have denied the killing and the family have urged the IGP to order an investigation into the incident.
‘Shot over N100 bribe’
On August 7, a commercial bus driver in Port Harcourt, David Legbara, was shot and killed for allegedly refusing to part with N100 bribe. The policeman was said to be attached to Kala Station.
The deceased’s wife was delivered of a baby boy two months after the murder.
The baby, named ThankGod David Legbara, will grow up without a father, no thanks to a trigger-happy policeman.
Legbara’s death led to huge protests. Angry commercial drivers under the aegis of Rivers State Association of Road Transport Workers took to the streets. Former Rivers State Commissioner of Police, Chris Ezike, in a statement, confirmed that a police officer on stop-and-search duty shot the victim.
The widow, Gift, said: “That day I felt like dying. I said ‘God, where will I start from? I don’t have anybody. He was the only hope I had; he was the breadwinner of his family…
“As a commercial driver, he drove another man’s vehicle and rendered account daily. But later he got a vehicle to drive on hire purchase and he had completed the terms of agreement, meaning that the bus now belonged to him before he was killed.”
‘Killed with a gun’s butt’
It was reported on September 1 that police officers in Ondo State allegedly killed Aderonke Eze, a widow, who owns a beer parlor close to her residence in Akure. She was allegedly killed with a gun butt by police officers from the Ala unit of the Oda Divisional Police Station.
After her death, the policemen allegedly dumped her remains at the General Hospital’s morgue in Akure. It was learnt that the killer police officers, seven in number, stormed the streets around 6:45pm in a Hilux van with plate number NPF 4236 B. Eyewitnesses said the policemen were in the habit of raiding the street and arresting young boys suspected to be marijuana, or “Indian hemp smokers.”
Any way out?
The above are just a few instances of how dangerous some police officers have become to the society. Speaking at the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Annual General Conference in Abuja, Arase said it was likely that some officers could be suffering from temporary insanity.
He said it was likely that an officer, who had been standing in the sun for over 12 hours could go temporarily crazy. He urged the public to show understanding and not argue with or provoke such officers.
Arase vowed to ensure that such officers are disciplined appropriately. But some analysts say more needs to be done beyond dismissing and prosecuting killer-cops.
National Coordinator, Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN) Okechukwu Nwanguma, recalled that in 2006, a female Divisional Police Officer in Onitsha, Anambra State, tried to compound felony by covering up a police corporal, Daniel Ayuba, who shot dead a lady, Nkechi Obidigwe, at a police checkpoint on Zik’s Avenue, Fegge, Onitsha.
It took an impartial investigation to indentify the killer police corporal, who confessed during an orderly room trial. The DPO had denied that her men were responsible and claimed that it was MASSOB members that shot the girl. The matter was later taken over by the State CID Awka following a petition by the family members and the public outrage it generated.
Three officers at the checkpoint were fished out, arrested and detained. Autopsy revealed that a police bullet AK47 killed the victim.
To rid the police of such excesses, Nwanguma believed there must be no cover-ups. He said: “It appears that the culture of cover up of crimes and stalling of prosecution is entrenched more within the Nigeria police than in other uniformed services.”
The Police Service Commission, he said, should also be prompt in disciplining erring officers. He recalled that it took the PSC close to 15 months to discipline the DPO in charge of Pen Cinema, Agege, Olusegun Fabunmi, who allegedly shot Ademola Aderinto during the January 2012 fuel subsidy protests in Lagos.
“The performance of the commission was dismal. Police accountability under the past PSC was practically absent. And this failure by the PSC to discharge its constitutional mandate of enforcing discipline and accountability within the police accounts for the impunity, which protects perpetrators,” he said.
The NOPRIN chief said how decisive errant officers are dealt will help deter others. According to him, on September 20, 2012, a 36-year-old Ugochukwu Ozuah, an engineer, was allegedly shot and killed by a policeman five days after his wedding. The incident occurred on Gbagada Expressway, Lagos as the victim went to drop off a classmate. His killers are yet to be brought to book despite promises by the police hierarchy that they will be fished out and prosecuted.
“Failure to bring perpetrators of abuse to account sustains the climate of impunity that encourages others to commit abuse. There is the need to streamline the various internal disciplinary procedures in the Nigerian Police Force into a manageable framework that could easily be used by aggrieved citizens seeking redress for police misconduct, as well as using data emanating from such mechanisms in tracking police officials, who are subjects of unusually high numbers of citizens’ complaints.
“There is also the need to strengthen external oversight of the police. The PSC evinced under the Constitution and the PSC Act of 2001 is an independent and impartial institution. A body which is established with the constitutional mandate to recruit, promote and discipline all police personnel other than the IGP in an independent and impartial manner, is expected to be composed and headed by non partisan individuals of unquestionable integrity.
“What we need is a civilian-led PSC that has the courage to investigate all public complaints and cases of police abuse. Appointing a retired Inspector-General undermines and subverts this mission and renders the PSC ultimately into another department of the NPF.
“This is not good for the Police; it is inconsistent with the structure and purpose of the Constitution and the PSC Act of 2001; and defeats the whole essence of the establishment of the PSC as a civilian oversight body on policing in Nigeria,” Nwanguma said.
He said it is wrong for the PSC to opt to refer all complaints of extrajudicial killing back to the police for investigation. He said there is also the need for the immediate review of Force Order 237 on the use of firearms.
Nwanguma said there is also the need to continue the process of changing officers’ mentality which emphasised force, violence and brutality. Rather, officers should have a democratic mindset that emphasises service and partnership with the community they serve.
President, Women Arise for Change, Dr. Joe Oke-Odumakin, who is involved in Comfort’s case, said the police should subject its officers to periodic psychiatric tests, as extrajudicial killings were becoming unbearable.
She also wants the police to bear the cost of training children of victims sent to their early grave by the police.
A former NBA president Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN) said the fact that other ranks in the police have become a threat is no news. According to him, their pastime has always been to turn their guns on tax payers they are paid to protect and whose monies are used to procure the ammunition. He said officers need re-orientation.
“A lot of work needs to be done to make officers and men of the NPF appreciate their role as the people’s police and not a police force. The word ‘force’ is certainly a misnomer in the present democratic dispensation.
“Periodic psychiatric test is only desirable for suspicious officers and men. But how well placed is the institution itself to detect derelicts among its rank? An important question. Officers and men who are at the brink of flipping to the other side sure need great assistance.
“Does the institution care for them? Are they well placed to do the needful in ensuring that they operate under minimum favorable conditions that will support stable mental disposition? These are posers to ponder on.
Akeredolu said where officers or other ranks run foul of the law, they should be properly indicted and tried. Their prosecution, he said, should not be left to the ordinary and usual police prosecutors, who are more likely to compromise.
“The Office of the Federal Attorney-General in collaboration with the Police Service Commission must set up a special prosecution unit to handle grave matters of this nature involving the police and the people. Proper prosecution and commensurate conviction would certainly deter future occurrence.
“Above all the Nigerian Police no doubt need full re-orientation from head to toe, starting from their recruitment criteria,” he added.
For Dr Joseph Nwobike (SAN), the reason for the incessant killing of civilians by armed policemen and, lately, of policemen by armed policemen is the direct consequence of impunity and the failure of professional value system within the police.
He said it was unfortunate that policemen, who by their training, ought to apply themselves and disposition towards the protection of lives and property now pose a risk and challenge to lives and property.
“In the light of the above, periodic mental or psychiatric evaluation of policemen, even where carried out properly, will not impact on the trend. The reason is simple: there is no evidence that those policemen who unlawfully kill others suffer psychiatric ailments.
“The solution requires integrated reordering of the value system amongst policemen. This will involve training and retraining of police officers and men on a continuous basis with a view to building a responsive policing culture,” Dr Nwobike said.
Constitutional lawyer Mr Ike Ofuokwu described the conduct of trigger-happy policemen as a monumental national embarrassment, which has persisted for so many years because the victims, who are often innocent and helpless citizens, have taken it as a norm and crude way of life.
“The defective criminal justice system has not in any way helped the situation with its very slow apparatus of administering justice. The police force itself are always foot dragging and reluctant to release recalcitrant officers to justice save when there is overwhelming public outcry.
“Such policemen should be made to face trial speedily and maximum punishment inflicted whenever they are found guilty, in addition to making them pay compensation to the victims or their dependants.
“Their DPO’s or supervising officers should also be demoted or summarily dismissed. In addition, subjecting all policemen at the point of recruitment to psychiatric test should be a condition precedent to engaging them.
“Periodically all serving policemen and officers of the law, who carry arms, should be subjected to a yearly psychiatric evaluation. Finally, it is long overdue for a fundamental overhaul of the Nigerian Police so as to align them with best global practice. What we have today majorly are bandits in police uniform,” Ofuokwu said.