t has for long been an open secret in Nigeria that the police sometimes eliminate threats of armed robbery and kidnapping simply by killing some of the detainees in their stations. I do not wish to become a crusader for suspected armed robbers and kidnappers, and if you have been a victim of either, you would most likely be glad to know that police officers are finally getting rid of the bad guys. But there is one problem. Several hundreds, perhaps thousands of suspects have been eliminated by the police and the army in the past few years, yet neither armed robbery nor kidnapping has decreased around the country. Some police officers, especially SARS would privately argue that such elimination is an effective way of carrying out justice. That to do otherwise will likely put those useless suspects before the Nigerian judiciary, probably awaiting trial for 5 to 10 years without any resolution.
Well, it is a valid argument to point out the inefficiencies of our judiciary, but arbitrary killing of suspects before they've had their day in court is surely not the answer. In law, there is something called the "null hypothesis" borrowed from statistical theory, which in simple English means that it is better to let 100 guilty people go free than to convict 1 innocent person. Even with a well-established judiciary, innocent people are often convicted of crimes they never committed. That explains why today in America and for the past ten 10 years, hundreds of people are set free from their prison cells after a DNA test have conclusively cleared them of their accused crime of rape and murder. And many of these people have been sentenced to life or awaiting the death penalty...some have wasted 20 to 25years of their lives behind bars before their true justice was granted.
Now, if we know that such mistakes can be made in a well-entrenched judiciary system, how on earth must we continue to allow or rather keep a blind eye over these wastage of lives without due process. I'm certain that the majority of those killed by SARS (Police) are true hardcore violent criminals, but is that enough reason to continue with such jungle justice in this 21st century? No doubt some of those killed are innocent souls; for the sake of those innocent few, we have an obligation in this country to stop this madness. Every police officer, DPO, or Commissioner of Police, is answerable to someone somewhere in authority. And often that someone is a politician in public office. One may argue that a DPO or a Commissioner of Police is not necessarily answerable to the state Attorney General or even the Governor. If their chain of command only goes up to Abuja, then the Deputy Inspector General of Police or the Inspector General himself is answerable to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister for Justice. If not, then it would be the Minister of Police affairs and ultimately the President.
I believe that the military and the police have continued their routine extra-judicial killings in this country only because no politician in charge has called them to order. We cannot kill our way into a better society. I'm convinced that if a Governor should call in a state Commissioner of Police and make it clear that such killings would not be tolerated in his state, the commissioner in question would not be stupid enough to continue authorizing such practices. Whatever the case, our politicians have always looked the other way, wishing not to be labelled as being "soft on crime." The truth, however, is that one can take a hard stand against crime yet remain firm on the principles of due process.
And now the thing that impelled me to write this article: A few weeks ago about two dozen or more bodies washed up at Ezu River in Amansea...a border town between Anambra and Enugu states. It only took but a couple of days and a few phone calls for me to ascertain what happened. The police immediately began a full-fledged joint investigation (Enugu and Anambra State Police) Akuko na egwu! Surprise surprise! The police didn't know what happened? The fact remains that no community in the area has since told us they were missing any members of their clan. There were no recorded communal clashes anywhere in the area. The first indication that this was an organized killing was that all the victims were young men...young Igbo boys. While the police continue to investigate endlessly, MASSOP has come out and told the world that some of the victims in the river could be their unaccounted for, previously arrested members. That they were arrested and detained by the police, at some point transferred to another police station, and subsequently killed along with some other criminals. The police, have of course, disputed and denied killing the MASSOP members. The allegations and denials continue to go back and forth between the police and MASSOP. Sounds like a scene out of a movie set in Timbuktu or Kandahar, but no, this is all too real and happening in Nigeria in 2013.
I am not a fan of MASSOP but I recognize their right to fight for autonomy or independence as long as it is done through a non-violent means. And for the record I do not hold the police or military accountable for those they kill in the line of fire provided that the authority did not open fire indiscriminately and without provocation. With regards to MASSOP, the truth is that the Igbos fought a war of necessity, a war of their survival under the Biafran umbrella. We lost the war and most Igbos have since moved on. I will argue that the Igbos have integrated themselves into the Nigerian experience more than any other tribe in this country. All you need to do is go to Zungeru, Ogbomosho, or Ikot Ekpene, and you'll see countless Igbos who have set up businesses and built homes. Many of these Igbos do not even own a plot of land in their hometown yet they build houses and settle in all parts of this country. There are more Igbo owned hotels in Abuja than all the hotels in Igbo land combined.
Perhaps MASSOP should take heed and realize that the vast majority of Igbos are not preoccupied with agitation for independence from Nigeria. But regardless of what the Igbos want, MASSOP should not be hunted like animals and routinely killed. MASSOP is not an organization made up of armed militant combatants. To the best of my knowledge, they have not engaged Nigeria in any armed violent, terrorist conflict like the boko haram. They never engaged in kidnapping and pipeline vandalism like MEND did before our government doled out billions to pay them off with full amnesty. It is indeed my opinion that without all the undue attention Nigeria government is paying to MASSOP they would have since fizzled into obscurity. What is the Nigerian government afraid of? Perhaps someone should let me know.
The sad thing about all the bodies discovered at Ezu River is that no Igbo politician has stood up and spoken openly and loudly to condemn such extra-judicial killings. Yes, Senator Ngige and a couple other senators have showed up at Awka on some sort of fact-finding mission, but failed to speak out against the police when everyone in the state and beyond already knew. Perhaps they are still waiting for the police investigation. Odi egwu! We all know that whenever a panel is set up to investigate anything in this country that is usually the very end of that matter. We must all be dreaming to expect the police to come out with a report implicating themselves. Our politicians at all levels should speak out more openly and more forcefully against the police and the army, whenever we suspect extra-judicial killings of one or several Nigerians.
To those uniformed men who go about doing such things as a routine today, I have a word of caution for you: Today in several South American countries we often see frail men in their eighties, long retired police and military bosses, handcuffed and shuffled through the courts. Often convicted and given long prison sentences for their roles in extra-judicial killings in their various countries back in the seventies and eighties. Men who should be enjoying their golden age of retirement, instead, will now live out the rest of their lives behind bars. It took so long to bring these police and military bosses to trial because countries have to mature democratically before they can summon the courage to revisit such atrocities no matter how long ago they occurred. I have no doubt that some day in the future in this country, Nigeria will revisit all the past, present, and ongoing extra-judicial killings. Politicians may keep silent today but they should all remember this; as an Attorney General, a Governor, or a President, you are fully responsible for all that happened under your watch. I do not wish even my worst enemies the prospect of being dragged about 20 or 30 years from now, especially on events they were not consulted on when they happened. And to the rest of us, I leave you with these words from Oliver Wendell Holmes (Former US Supreme Court Chief Justice) "We may be powerless to prevent injustice but we must never stop protesting them."