That those saddled with the responsibility of protecting Nigerians are beginning to behave like assassins is a troubling challenge the Acting Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mr Muhammad Adamu has decided to confront. Henceforth, electro-muscular disruption technology known as teaser will replace the use of firearms for routine patrols, arrest duties and other low-risk operations. This, according to Adamu, is a “strategic approach towards reducing incidents of fatalities associated with misappropriation of lethal weapons by the Police as first line of response to any threat.”
Although I am almost certain the order will soon be frustrated and rescinded, that it was made at all is a commendable gesture, given recent spike in the number of extra judicial killings by policemen. “Lagos State has recorded four incidents of misuse of firearms which have resulted in extrajudicial killings of young citizens of this country and injury to others” said Adamu who added that it is “worrisome that two of these incidents occurred within the last two weeks. Aside negating our professional calling, extrajudicial acts of any description or level by any police personnel is an unacceptable anomaly that creates distrust and disdain between the citizens and the police and widens the trust gap between them.”
While it is reassuring that we have an IGP who believes in accountability, it is also important for Adamu to understand that the culture of indiscipline and lawlessness he is fighting has permeated the rank and file. That Adamu was in Lagos on Monday to condole with the families of some of these victims is a testimony to his character and the legacy he wants to bequeath. But before we address the substantive issue, it may be helpful to highlight a few of the recent tragedies that speak to the nature of the problem Adamu has inherited.
Last week, Jessica Ada was gunned down by some rogue police squad in Olodi Apapa, Ajegunle. While some of her assailants have been apprehended, the Inspector who led the squad is now on the run. Earlier, Kolade Johnson Odebiyi was killed by the special anti-cultism squad in one of their notorious raids, essentially for shake-down. In yet another video being circulated online, two armed police officers were seen dragging a young man through the street, before shooting him dead at close range. About four other young men could be seen in the video lying down on the floor, with guns being pointed at them by these policemen.
Yesterday, the Police arraigned in court two Traffic Wardens for the gruesome killing in Abuja of an Assistant Superintendent, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Jumbo Ogah Ochigbo. For violating traffic rules, Ochigbo was allegedly beaten and dragged on the floor in the presence of his wife and two children by the two policemen until he died. In a somewhat similar but contrasting incident a few weeks before that, Adeyemo Rotimi, an official of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) was murdered by a trigger-happy FSARS operative who believed he had a right not only to break traffic rules but also to take the life of the official on duty.
From Obio/Akpor Local Government Area, Rivers State where policemen pursued and shot a young man in the head at close range in what was reported as a fight over money and Indian hemp, to Abuja where a young lady, Anita Akapson, was last October killed by a policeman in Katampe Extension in a case of ‘mistaken identity’, the list of extra-judicial killings is very long. Yet, the duties of the police ordinarily include maintaining law and order and protecting lives and property.
Sadly, from extortion to rape to murder, there is no crime that is alien to many of our policemen. In 2010, the Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN) in collaboration with New York-based Open Society Justice Initiative produced a revealing report with the conclusion that many men and officers of Nigeria Police are more likely to commit crimes than prevent them. Titled, ‘Criminal Force: Torture, Abuse and Extrajudicial Killings by the Nigeria police force’, the report was based on a two-year investigation at more than 400 police stations in 14 states across the country.
According to the study conducted between February 2007 and January 2009, recruitment into the police has been compromised by political interference while majority of its men and officers are poorly trained and prone to corruption and violence. “Sex workers report being rounded up by NPF personnel for the express purpose of rape. Acknowledging the routine nature of rape by police, one police officer referred to it simply as a ‘fringe benefit’ of certain patrols,” the report claimed.
By relying on torture to elicit ‘confessions’, according to the report, many of the police stations have designated officials and a room set aside for the practice. “In one well-documented case in 2004 in Kaduna State, the police visited a cemetery late at night to bury truckloads of detainees they had executed. The police frequently deny victims’ relatives access to information about their fate—or their remains. Relatives who continue to pursue such information, or seek redress, often face threats or reprisals from the police,” said the report which I strongly recommend to Adamu along with others that Amnesty International have over the years released.
However, as prevalent as extra judicial killings and other forms of barbarism may be within the police, it also has a class dimension. Most of their victims are usually poor people. The International Justice Mission (IJM), an NGO which focuses on human rights and law enforcement, sees this as a global challenge. Rather than teach their children to run to the police if they are in trouble, parents in many developing countries teach them to run away from the police to keep them from harm’s way, says an ICJ report which documents how “millions of the poorest people in the developing world are abused by corrupt police who extort bribes and brutalize innocent citizens” and for that reason, “poor people regard the police as agents of oppression, not protection.”
That happens to be the case with Nigeria. On a regular basis among the urban poor, police operatives stop citizens on street corners and subject them to ‘stop and search’ which is usually extended to mobile phones, laptops and iPads without any court orders as required by the Cybercrimes Act. Acting above the law that guarantees the dignity and liberty of citizens, the privacy of their homes and correspondence, most of these policemen are always trigger-happy, ready to kill at the slightest provocation. In an April 2012 report I once cited on this page, the Centre for Victims of Extra-Judicial Killings and Torture (CVEKT) claimed that between 2008 and 2011, a total of 7,198 extra-judicial killings were carried out in our country by the police.
It is significant that the Senate yesterday passed the Police Reform Bill, 2019. Despite series of attempts in the last 15 years to repeal and replace the Police Act of 1943 (which includes Order 237 ‘to shoot any suspect and detainees trying to escape or avoid arrest’), it is only the current National Assembly that has taken the matter with a measure of seriousness. Operations of the police have been guided by our colonial heritage based on a law promulgated 76 years ago. Hopefully, the House of Representatives can now join the Senate so we can have a law that will, among other things, curtail the activities of tyrants and sadists who cannot appreciate the fact that the guns in their hands are not to terrorise defenceless citizens.
Meanwhile, with all the negative reports that we are assailed with every day in the social media, I can imagine how depressing it must be for the good policemen. Yet the job that policemen do is a dangerous one, especially in a society like ours. The remuneration is also very poor. But if the people on whose behalf they make all the sacrifices do not trust them, then there is a problem. That is why we must support IGP Adamu in his efforts to rid the police of the bad eggs that are sullying the image of the institution. But he has a tough job on his hands.
When you add the scandals associated with corruption, abuse of power and misuse of deadly force with a glaring lack of capacity to effectively discharge on their constitutional mandates, it is easy to see how the legitimacy of the police has been completely eroded in our country. Therefore, while the bill passed by the Senate yesterday contains several safeguards on the rights of citizens in line with the United Nation’s code of conduct for law enforcement officials, there is also an urgent need to change the orientation of the men and officers who have been conditioned to believe that they are above the law.
The Exodus of Nigerian Doctors
There have been several reactions to my piece on the state of healthcare in Nigeria vis-à-vis the growing number of our medical personnel who are seeking the proverbial greener pastures abroad, https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2019/03/21/the-exodus-of-nigerian-doctors/?amp. From the United States Medical Licensing Exams (USMLE) to the British Professional and Linguistic Assessment Board (PLAB) to Dubai Health Authority (DHA) as well as the Medical Council of Canada Examination (MCCE) and Australian Medical Council (AMC) and others, Nigeria has become a recruiting ground for medical personnel.
While the authorities may not be paying much attention to this phenomenon, there is a new report by NOIPoll in collaboration with NigeriaHealthWatch that highlights the implications to healthcare delivery in our country. It was sent to me by Mr Emeka Ibe of James Daniel Consulting, a Healthcare Policy Support Consultant whose passion is to promote Nigeria as a hub for regional medical tourism. The 48-page report can be accessed on: http://olusegunadeniyi.com/Emigration_of_Medical_Doctors_Survey_Report.pdf.
Some of the findings include the fact that 83 percent of doctors who filled the survey and are based abroad had completed their medical education in Nigeria before leaving the country; all the medical doctors surveyed know colleagues who are presently resident in Nigeria but currently seeking work opportunities abroad while 48 percent of them have between five to 15 friends/colleagues who moved out of the country within the last two years. To compound the problem, 88 percent of the medical doctors surveyed disclosed that they are also seeking work opportunities abroad.
Aside highlighting the problems in the health sector and the reasons many of our doctors are bailing out, the report also made key recommendations. Critical stakeholders should examine some of them as we seek to tackle the challenge of healthcare delivery in our country. This conversation continues.