Opinion: Who polices the Nigerian Police?

by Rowland ’Shuwa and Jimoh Bashir

The Nigerian Police Force

The Nigerian Police Force, an institution saddled with the responsibility of upholding the values of the rule of law, obviously have a long history of engaging in unprofessional, corrupt, and criminal conduct. The institution has continued to prove difficult and largely unaccountable to the citizens it is meant to serve. If those who are employed to uphold the law and bring those who flout the law to judgment are themselves lawless, then the society is at risk. In this piece, ROWLAND OLONISHUWA and JIMOH BASHIR examines the Police Force as an instrument and why its operations have been heavily compromised.

On Thursday, June 25, 2009, Olaide Bamidele -a final year student of Economics Mathematics at Osun State College of Education, Ila-Orangun- was on his bike to Alagbayan Olaodoba in Oyo state when he was accosted by police officers just at the outskirts of town who demanded for bribe from him.

One thing led to the other and one of them, later identified as Mukailu Gujuba with force number 768142, hit Bamidele with the butt of his gun on his eyes. He was left for dead but God came to his rescue and he was rushed to the hospital. His life was saved but he was not lucky with his sight as he lost one of his eyes due to the attack.

The above is one of the myriad atrocities committed by officers and men of the Nigerian Police Force who are charged by law to uphold the law which they brazenly flout. Some other victims of such attacks that are less lucky lose their lives in the process while some, like Bamidele, come out with indelible scars from the encounter.

The Nigeria Police Force is the principal law enforcement agency in the country; it is designed by Section 194 of the 1979 Constitution as the National police of Nigeria with exclusive jurisdiction throughout the nation. The Nigerian Police is statutorily required to fight crime through detection, investigation, apprehension and persecution of offenders in the court of law, and protection of lives and properties. Their place in the society cannot be compromised.

By law, therefore, it is an institution saddled with the responsibility of upholding the values of the rule of law. However, the increasing rate of private security outfits, coupled with the bid to register more Para-military outfits in the country has called to question the effectiveness of the Nigerian Police.

Unfortunately, the Force has earned itself a long history of engaging in unprofessional, corrupt, and even criminal conduct. Over the years, the Police Force has seemingly failed to live up to expectations of its mandate of providing public security. It has rather turned itself into a monster of sorts and has continued to prove difficult and largely unaccountable to the citizens it is meant to serve.

Today, the image of the Nigerian Police Force is seen as a corrupt and ineffective organization with a penchant for human rights abuse is on the increase. Although the Force has tried over the years to rebrand and present itself as a friend of the masses with catchy phrases like ‘Police is your friend’ and ‘Bail is free’ but in reality nothing has really changed.

This is because from the perception of Nigerians -like Bamidele earlier referred to- who are attempting to make ends meet as taxi and bus drivers, Okada riders, traders and hawkers, the police is not a friend of the masses. The number of extortions and high rate of human rights abuse recorded among them is prevalently high.

The most common venue for extortion occurs at police check points, obviously put in place to combat crime. These checkpoints have become a lucrative venture for the police who routinely demand bribes from motorists and in the event of a default they are sometimes detained and are made to endure harassments and threats until they or their family members negotiate payment for their release.

In most cases, extortion-related confrontations between the police and motorists result into more serious abuses. The police have on several occasions, beaten, assaulted, or shot to death ordinary citizens who failed to comply with their vile demands.

On May 22, 2016, a female police corporal beat up and killed a commercial bus driver, Muyiwa Ijaduola, at the Igando area of the state on Sunday night. The policewoman, who was simply identified as Taiwo, attached to the Igando Police Division, was said to have attempted to compel the driver to drop the usual money for the police, but he refused.

Taking the law into her hands, she allegedly dragged him down from the bus and used her baton to beat him to a pulp, in the full glare of her colleagues. While she was beating him, the driver who tried to protect his head with his hands, slipped and fell, hitting his head on the ground.

Extortion, embezzlement, and other corrupt practices by Nigeria’s Police Force undermine the fundamental human rights of Nigerians in two key ways. First, the most direct effect of police corruption on ordinary citizens stems from the myriad of human rights abuses committed by police officers in the process of extorting money. These abuses range from arbitrary arrest and unlawful detention to threats and acts of violence, including physical and sexual assault, torture, and even extrajudicial killings.

The police’s insensitivity to the plight of the masses they were statutorily set up to police has hampered the smooth relationship between them and the general public. They are now far from being ‘our friends’. Their capacity in the discharge of their responsibilities has been compromised due, largely, to indiscipline. This deficiency has continued to blot the image of the Force in the eyes of the public.

When convicted by a competent court of law the police, who by law are meant to implement the judgment ignores those judgments that affects them negatively. The question therefore begging for an answer is who holds the police accountable for their actions or why should a nation be left without a proper force? Who polices our Police? Or will these excesses and atrocities continue unabated?

Agreed, the Nigerian Police has embarked on several measures of fighting crime, but these measures have obviously not been able to achieve the desired aims because the police themselves have compromised. Apart from attacking the unarmed masses they are paid to protect they have also shamelessly turned on one another.

Last year, a trigger happy policeman attached to the Bayelsa State Police Command allegedly shot dead his colleague following an argument over N20, 000, largesse. According to the story, the duo went on an operation where they were rewarded with N20, 000. According to a source, the deceased was of the opinion that they should make returns to the Divisional Police Officer, DPO, while the other objected. While the argument on what to do with the money ensued, the enraged police officer allegedly brought out his gun and shot his colleague.

Also two officers of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) were on Wednesday evening, April 13, 2016 shot dead by a policeman in Calabar, the Cross River State capital. It was gathered that some armed policemen at about 7pm on that fateful Wednesday mounted a road block by the gate of the headquarters of the NSCDC in Anantigha, Calabar South, and an argument ensued when Civil Defence officers who were also armed and were returning to their station from patrol in their truck. This led to an altercation and in the process one of the armed policemen drew his gun and fired at the Civil Defence officers.

The role of Nigeria police therefore, needs critical examination, in making it effective and to ensure adequate service delivery in the society. Extortion and indiscipline are rampant among members of the Nigerian Police and these has definitely soiled, and also continued to soil the image of the force. This is because if those who are employed to prevent and detect corruption or crime and bring culprits to judgment are themselves corrupt, then the society is at risk. The police exercise powers that have great implications on the lives, properties and safety of citizens.

Where such power is compromised by corrupt tendencies, then the citizens are insecure. The Nigerian Police Force is no doubt, one of the most corrupt public institutions in the country. The financial rascality within the ranks and file of the force is one of the major problems dragging the Force back in all facets of its existence. Details of how former police bosses dipped their hands into the public purse are still fresh in the minds of Nigerians.

High-level embezzlement of public funds destined for the police force indirectly impacts human rights, as senior officials have stolen vast sums of money that could have gone toward improving the capacity of the police. In 2005, the Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun (rtd), resigned and was charged with embezzlement, bribe-taking, and laundering more than US$98 million. In a plea bargain agreement later that year, he pleaded guilty to failing to declare his assets. The court sentenced him to six months in prison and ordered his assets seized.

It is believed that money flows up the chain of command through the informal but widespread system of returns in which subordinates pay their ‘Ogas’ a portion of the money they make from bribes and extortion. Subordinates allegedly pay their superiors to be assigned to positions where they have ample opportunities to extort money from the public. Superior officers are said to frequently set monetary targets for subordinates assigned to these lucrative posts and remove those who fail to meet their targets.
This corrupt system of returns not only encourages low-level police officers to commit abuses as a means of extorting money, but it also creates a strong disincentive for senior officers who personally benefit from the system of returns to hold their subordinates accountable for whatever abuses.

The police randomly round up citizens in public places, including mass arrests at restaurants, markets, beer parlours and bus stops. They pick up these unsuspecting people, and take them at gunpoint to nearby police stations where they demand money in return for their release. The police often make little effort to veil their demand for bribes, deliberately doing so in the open and rarely bothering to question those in detention about any alleged crime. Those who fail to pay are often threatened and unlawfully detained,

These criminal acts by the police, coupled with their failure to perform many of their basic functions undermine the rule of law in the country. Criminal suspects with money can simply bribe the police to avoid arrest, detention, or prosecution, to influence the outcome of a criminal investigation, or to turn the investigation against the victim.

The corrupt tendencies of the Force hampers justice, and by extension the support and cooperation of the masses which they should crave, this is one of the reasons an average Nigerian would never believe that police is his friend. Apart from the myriad of on-going and inconclusive investigations there is justice to the highest bidder. More often than not, the rich and influential are able to buy their way through to justice.

As if that is not enough, ordinary Nigerians are further denied equal protection under the law due to a widespread practice whereby senior police officers ‘sell’, for their own personal enrichment, police protection to Nigeria’s wealthy elite.

By the Inspector General of Police’s own account, in 2009 at least 100,000 police officers were working as personal guards for the wealthy, at the expense of the majority. In addition, the abject failure of the police to provide for the security of ordinary citizens has led some communities to turn for protection to armed vigilante groups who often operate outside the law and commit further abuses.

But come to think of it, the Nigerian public is a superb Force when it wants to work. They need to be better equipped in order to properly tackle the security challenges confronting the nation. The salaries, welfare and living conditions of the police must be improved upon periodically as it was done by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, and their lives must be insured. Thereafter, Nigerians can enjoy the benefits of democracy if the Force is absolutely reformed.

Government has actually created a low self-esteem for the police. They are an unhappy, disgruntled and dissatisfied Force who sees gold in every opportunity. The Nigerian government has indeed created in the police, a monster that is terrorizing the society they are supposed to protect, yet no one to check their inadequacies.

Those charged with police oversight, discipline, and reform have for years failed to take effective action, thereby reinforcing impunity for police officers of all ranks who regularly perpetrate crimes against the citizens they are mandated to protect.

Information is power. And considering the number of policemen against the population of the masses, coupled with the high rate of crime in the society, information is key. But police will always turn against and also expose anyone who volunteered the information. And that is why it’s always difficult for them to get one.

The Nigerian government, including the National Assembly, and the anti-corruption commissions should improve transparency and accountability in the police force by reforming and ensuring better coordination of oversight mechanisms. They should also investigate and prosecute, without delay, police officers implicated in extortion, embezzlement, and human rights abuses.

When government and its agencies saddled with the responsibility of catering for the needs of men of the police force and when the bad eggs in the force are allowed to face the full wrath of the law for their crimes then the spate of indiscipline and flagrant trampling of the rights of the masses will cease. In September 2018, we would want to commend the Commissioner of Police, Lagos State, Imohimi Edgal who dismissed a late FSARS officer, Inspector Olakunle Olonade, who was mobbed after killing a LASTMA officer, Rotimi Adeyemo. Although, it’s a lot of tragedy but it showed that there is hope for the common man in the nation.

Rotimi Adeyemo, the late LASMA officer

Today, Nigerians look at the police a being brutal, corrupt, unfriendly and inefficient. This view point cannot just be wished away by anybody. The police must be seen to walk the talk; they must show by their actions and carriage that they are truly a friend of the masses by protecting the rights of the citizenry.

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