he latest evidence of the extent of extrajudicial killings by the Nigeria police force is a chilling reminder that the work that must be done to make Nigeria a country of law and order is herculean. For many years many people have warned about the ease with which Nigerian policemen kill individuals and suspects. In a typical Nigerian manner, the mobile police is labelled Kill and go. Every Nigerian knows that the fear of the police, especially the military police (Mopol), is the beginning of wisdom. Many poor and innocent commercial drivers trying to earn a living have been murdered by members of the police. Sometimes, for flimsy excuses like giving them twenty Naira bribe when they expected fifty or one hundred. Many law abiding citizens have been killed by trigger happy policemen who are on drugs. It a fact that the rate of cannabis use among Nigerian policemen is very high and there is currently no attempt to address this serious problem. The saddest and most unfortunate part of this problem is the culture of secrecy, impunity and conspiracy that prevails in the police force. We simply cannot continue like this.
All over the world, the police is known as institution which has endemic problem of corruption and impunity. It has taken more than twenty years for the British police to speak the truth about the Hillsborough tragedy. It took almost the same time for the police to come clean about the death of Stephen Lawrence. In Nigeria, nothing is dealt with. We have heard nothing about many murder investigations. Nothing has been heard about the victims of the Edu river murder. The developed countries have attempted to address this problem is by making policemen and women accountable and subject to the same laws and rules they are employed to enforce, and constantly modifying the way they work to ensure that they measure up to the highest level of accountability and probity.
Unfortunately, this has not been the case in Nigeria and the present government has not done anything in this direction and none of the political parties has considered it a problem worthy of inclusion in their manifestoes. Since independent, the Nigeria police and the army have seen themselves as rather above the law and often use their gun and power to abuse due process. It is not uncommon to hear of members of the Nigerian army and police men refusing to pay their fairs in public transport. In fact, Nigerian transporters do not dare to ask a police man or soldier in uniform to pay their fair, when they are travelling in commercial vehicles. Just asking for the fare could earn the conductor and driver very serious beating or cost his life. I cannot describe the extent of this problem graphic enough.
In Nigeria, policemen can arrest anybody on trump up charges and detain them for days, without taking them to court and only release them; when the amount they are demanding has been paid and nothing will come out of it. In November 2011, I petitioned the President of Nigeria, Inspector general of Police and the governors of Abia state and River state about the extra judicial killing of a suspected kidnapper by the police in Rivers state. This gentle man was arrested after an attempted kidnap went wrong and was detained in police custody. Instead of the police swinging into action by interviewing him and arrested his accomplices, the police refused to interview him. When the victims inquired if the suspect has made useful statement about the crime, the police told the victims that they have to give them some money to take the suspect to hospital to receive treatment for a none life threatening gun injury before they would interview the suspect. The victims gave the police the money it requested and when they returned to know more about the case, they police told them that they have wasted the suspect. I petitioned the powers that be, thinking that they would be disturbed that the Nigeria police engage in extrajudicial killing in this very frightening manner, but nothing so far has come out of my petition.
No country can be safe when it has men in arms who have no respect for the rule of law. I write about these matters because I have come to realise that they are the foundation on which every safe and secured society is built. Nigeria cannot become a safe and secure society, where freedom, democracy and liberty reign supreme, when our police force act with impunity, has no respect for individual autonomy and freedom and are free to kill at will; without consequences. It is the same attitude to human life and freedom that has informed the attitude of the government to the victims of Boko haram terror. We just cannot continue to allow this evil to continue. So far in the Ezu River murders, the typical police cover up has set in.
- The inspector general of police has enforced a massive transfer of personals which would take away the perpetrators of the crime from the region where they committed the crime and make investigation very difficult if not impossible.
- The police immediately started to distort the evidence by ordering the burial of the bodies before autopsy was done.
- The autopsy was done in a climate of fear and there is no reason to believe that the pathologist was not leaned on to report the cause of death that would help the position of the police. Moreover, we know how corrupt the system is in Nigeria and autopsy reports are not known to be accurate, especially when the police is involved. When I was in the University of Ife in the 1980s, the pathologist reported that protesting students who were shot by the police died from electrocution.
- This is a worldwide problem and it is only determination by the people to get the truth that compels government agencies like the police to tell the truth. Recently the extent of corruption in the British police force, which is still the best police force in the world, is beginning to come to light. There have been cases where their pathologist have lied to exonerate the police from the cause of death. Cases where police falsified evidence and collected bribes have come to light. The difference between Britain and Nigeria is that the perpetrators of the British crimes would be caught and punished, but those of the Nigeria crimes would not be caught and will continue in the police committing more atrocities. They they retire, they are appointed as chairment of independent police regulatory bodies. The Nigerian government has not issued any seriously worded statement making it clear that it is interested in getting to the root of this matter and ensuring that the perpetrators are punished.
What the government should do is set up an independent public judicial inquiry into the murder of the bodies in Ezu river, and unresolved murders, with wide ranging powers to investigate the cause of the crime, identify the perpetrators and the reason why they happened and make recommendation on how to make sure they do not happen again. Such an inquiry would form the basis for the overdue modernisation of the police force. Anything less than this, would be an insult to the memory of the victims and affront to the sensibility and sensitivity of the relatives of the victims. What Nigeria needs are good leaders who are not corrupt and who would be able to make the social investments necessary to reduce acquisitive crimes. The type of crimes in East Nigeria is economic and the criminals can be placated economically, while effective policing is put in place to ensure that no one gets away with crime. The problem in the north is ethno-religious and the focus must include challenging the absurd religious dogmas and ethnic prejudices on which the impetus for the extremism rests. Once these are done and criminals know that the chances of them being caught after a crime is high, the rate of crime in east Nigeria will come down and the sponsors of Boko Haram will read the hand writing on the wall. The government is not pursuing the right policies. Sending soldiers and police after criminals in the way and manner it has done should be a short term measure while at the same time putting in place the necessary social investments that would address the real cause of the crimes and extremism.
The government of Goodluck Jonathan should know that history will judge him by what he did or failed to do for Nigeria. I do not see how the president can claim that he is different, when every evidence points to the fact that he is doing what his predecessors did. Corruption has worsened during his watch. He has also introduced new forms of corruption like his wife being appointed permanent secretary in Bayelsa state, while the federal government budgets 4 billion Naira for her office. This is one of the most audacious forms of corruption. The person who came close to this was Babangida and the millions budgeted for his wife’s better life program which increased the money in their foreign account. Jonathan should take probity and impunity very seriously. Time is fast running out for Nigeria.