Beyond the Brutalities of Police SARS

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The Verdict By Olusegun Adeniyi, Email: olusegun.adeniyi@thisdaylive.com

If there is any lesson from the current revelations about how men of the Police Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) molest, torture, maim and sometimes kill innocent citizens, it is that seeking questionable validation, especially when not on solid grounds, can go horribly wrong. When the first reports about the brutality of SARS hit Twitter, the police authorities felt so indignant that, aside labeling those peddling such stories as “armed robbers”, they asked for proof. As it would happen, they got an avalanche, backed with concrete visual evidence, as several video clips of sundry acts of brutality by men and officers of SARS were uploaded online.

The whole saga reminds me of the story of a wealthy politician who was in a relationship with a lady to whom he was considering marriage. Apparently not prepared to take any chances, he hired an investigative agency to do a background check on the lady. The agency assigned a detective who was not told of either the reason for the discrete investigation or the client’s identity. On completion, the detective sent his report in a sealed envelope which the agency, without opening, simply handed to the politician who was already waiting. The terse report read: “The young lady is a splendid person, except for one unfortunate blemish: She recently started dating a politician of dubious character.”

Although the Inspector General of Police, Mr Ibrahim Idris has stepped in with some reform measures, he cannot pretend to be unaware of the reputation of SARS whose men have always been associated with indiscriminate arrests and detention of citizens as well as the extrajudicial killings. While the law presumes crime suspects to be innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, men and officers of SARS take such persons to be guilty until they are able to prove innocence in their (SARS) own “court” where suspects are detained and tortured to make “confessional statements” after which they are paraded before the media. With reporters participating in the “cross-examination” of these suspects, usually from the poor of our society, they are easily lured into incriminating themselves and for many, that is a one-way ticket to the grave.

I am sure the police authorities are aware of many of these abnormalities that are well documented in Amnesty International reports but let us presume that they may not be by highlighting some. On a regular basis, SARS operatives stop citizens either on street corners or on the highways and subject them to “stop and search” which is usually extended to telephones, laptops and iPads without any court orders as required by the Cybercrimes Act. Like other law enforcement agencies in our country today, these men and officers of SARS operate above the Constitution which has guaranteed the dignity and liberty of citizens, the privacy of their homes and correspondence.

In April 2012, the Centre for Victims of Extra-Judicial Killings and Torture (CVEKT) claimed that between 2008 and 2011–a period of four years–a total of 7,198 extra-judicial killings were carried out in our country by the police. Citing a report by the Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN), the CVEKT averred that the Police had always relied on Order 237 which authorises their officer “to shoot any suspect and detainees trying to escape or avoid arrest” as an alibi for such dastardly act.

Indeed, the way and manner the police abuse the rights of citizens are far too numerous to highlight though it may be important to put the issue in context. This recourse to abuse, according to the late Professor Claude Ake in his book, “Democracy and Development in Africa”, can be understood from the character of the Nigerian state which, perhaps because of its colonial heritage, has “continued to be totalistic in scope” while relying on police and other security agencies “for compliance on coercion rather than authority.” This has in turn led to a situation in which those whose primary responsibility is to maintain law and order in the society see themselves more as bodyguards for those in authority while ordinary citizens are treated as expendables. We have seen far too many examples of that lately.

In trying to rationalize the very partisan act of IGP Idris whose plan to meddle in last month Anambra State gubernatorial election backfired spectacularly, following a clear rebuke by President Muhammadu Buhari, the Force spokesman, Mr Jimoh Moshood gave the number of police officers attached to Governor Willie Obiano as 221. And he gave a breakdown which, in itself, tells a compelling story of Nigeria. Incidentally, when the IGP faced a similar allegation of partisanship in April this year, the same Moshood also offered a breakdown of the personnel attached to the Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike.

Like that of Obiano, there are also 221 police officers attached to Wike but let us take the story directly from the Force spokesman. “The breakdown is as follows: One ADC (SPO); one CSO (SPO); one Unit Commander (Special Protection Unit) SPO; one Escort Commander (SPO); one Camp Commander (Counter Terrorism Unit) SPO; one Admin officer (SPO) to administer the Police Personnel, 54 Inspectors of Police; 136 Police Sergeants and 24 police corporals”. Moshood’s statement concluded with this self-indicting line: “Obviously, the total number of 221 police personnel attached to His Excellency, Mr Nyesom Wike, the Governor of Rivers State, is more than the strength of some Police Area Command formations in some states of Nigeria.”

Is it not shameful that the police would admit that, in a nation that is under-policed and where crime rate is rather high, they have allocated 221 just to protect one man? When you now multiply that number by 36 for the governors before you add those allocated to other political office holders at both the federal and the states, you get a picture of the number of policemen that are doing guard duties with politicians. And we have not added those serving bankers, businessmen of all hues and the idle rich who have no means of livelihood. Yet, many of these police officers, as observed in 2014 by the then Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Abubakar, are “turned into house boys and house girls” by these important personalities.

However, notwithstanding the foregoing, I believe those clamouring for the scrapping of the SARS unit miss the point and may not be fair to the Police because I still believe majority of our officers and men are good professionals whose image are being smeared by a few bad eggs. Many of them are also victims of the Nigerian malaise. Besides, while it is convenient to record acts of misdemeanor, there are also many people who have stories to tell of acts of bravery, decency and professionalism on the part of our policemen who bear risks on behalf of all of us. For those who may not remember any, let me quickly remind them of one.

On 22nd February this year, there was a bank robbery in Owerri, capital of the state of ‘Happiness’, which claimed the life of a police man whose family was abandoned until the footage of the Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) camera which captured the incident went viral. In the video clip, Sergeant Chukwudi Iboko was seen engaging the robbers in a gun duel, killing one of them before he was himself shot. He died the next day from the wounds. It is noteworthy that if the case had not been brought to the public, his family would have had to carry their cross alone like many of their colleagues, including two other Sergeants who sustained injury from the same operation.

I am sure there are many Idokos within the police, including even within SARS; men and women who risk all in the line of duty, even when they know the authorities of the institutions they serve and the society at large do not appreciate them. Therefore, we should also ask ourselves whether we have not unwittingly created a situation in which our policemen, having themselves been brutalized by the state and society, are now lacking in compassion when dealing with fellow citizens.

Let me share another example of the criminal neglect of the police that many Nigerians may also have forgotten: The scene on 7th October 2011 when the then Police Affairs Minister, Mr Caleb Olubolade, visited Ijeh Police Barracks in Obalende, Lagos. The footage must still be available in the archives of some of our television stations. On that day, a police officer’s wife, simply identified as Agnes, spoke for her colleagues in a tone of agony. “We have been suffering in silence. These barracks are like a refugee camp. We have no toilet facilities, no pipe-borne water and no electricity, and we are now being threatened by flood and reptiles. We live a little above animals. We are like sub-human beings here. This is a place of death; the mosquitoes here don’t surrender to insecticides”, she said as her colleagues wailed openly.

I remember those words because they formed the basis of a three-part editorial titled “The Police and the rest of Us” done by THISDAY in 2012 where we wondered why Nigerians “expect the spouses of these hapless, and obviously helpless, women to enforce laws, arrest law breakers, deal with emergencies, fight terror gangs and generally prevent crimes. We are deceiving ourselves!” Besides, as we also noted, “when those who protect and defend us, whatever their shortcomings, are left to their own devices, and treated in a manner that devalues their self-esteem, we, the people, lose the right to point fingers at their failings.”

Unfortunately, the police authorities neither care about the welfare of their rank and file nor the image of the institution they head. In April 2014, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), as part of its statutory mandates, conducted an assessment of 369 police stations across 21 states of the country. According to the commission’s report, only 10 police stations (from a list of 369!) performed creditably under five areas of key indicators namely: community orientation, physical conditions, equal treatment of members of the public, transparency and accountability and detention conditions.

What the foregoing reveals quite clearly is that for the police to regain public trust, they must begin to deal with the issue of their own dignity and being accountable to the people on whose behalf they bear arms. While police brutality is a universal phenomenon, as we saw with the ‘Black Lives Matter’ riots in the United States which led to the revenge killings of some policemen, the authorities in Nigeria should be careful in the manner they handle the protest against SARS so that the people are not pushed to carry the campaign beyond Twitter posts to a street war.

All said, there can be no better time for the much talked about reform of the police than now!

  • Emeka

    Last weekend I drove through Eko Hotel where the premiere of “The Wedding Party 2” was being held and I took time to observe that the number of policemen that accompanied guest ‘dignitaries’ to the event alone were far more than the number of policemen that I saw patrolling the streets of Victoria Island that night. I am certain other neighbourhoods in Lagos were even worse off.

  • FrNinja

    The police force needs to be broken up into three. Federal police, state police and city/town police. That will create a far more responsive and better fundrd police than the rubbish that presently exists.

    For example Lagos with a budget of over 800 billion should easily support a well funded police force with 100 billion or almost 25% of the existing NPF budget. 100 billion can easily staff a police force of 40,000 paid a minimum of 100,000 a month with properly functioning police stations and vehicles.

  • E.Udah

    Everything about The Nigeria Police is wrong. Compare their baracks with that of other military or paramilitaries, you will be shocked. Do same with their operational vehicles and uniforms, you will be irritated.
    What’s wrong with NPF is more than what the eye can see!
    I have been a victim of SARS harassment once! My offence was asking them to provide their ID and warrant of search after running after my car on foot in mufti! The next thing was that I was handcuffed and driven in a commercial bus to their station abandoning my vehicle on the road!
    I was let go by their boss after verbally reprimanding them on discovering who I was.
    Not many were that lucky, though. Nigeria irritates me! Nigeria police, I detest them.

  • Olufemi Bello

    Can someone please educate me on any of our public institutions that is not rotten starting from the Presidency to the list institution ?

  • Jon West

    Nigeria is a fraud, a failed state. What then do oyou expect from the law enforcement agencies of a lawless , failed state? Of course, Lawlessness and unmitigated crime. The Nigerian Polic and the Arme Forces are the coercive arms of the failed state and its operators in the executive,legislature and judiciary. I would rather take my chances anywhere, with an armed robber ,with whom I can negotiate my life for a ransom, than a Nigerian policemen or soldier ,who will exterminate me in his/her own or the states interests and then cover their crimes by implicating me in a criminal venture or as an enemy of the state.

    A visit to either a police station or barracks will immediately reveal the mindset and psychological underpinnings of police brutality. Both places are not fit for human existence, lacking the most basic of facilities and even real humanity. How then do you expect a person reared in this hell on earth ,to show empathy to anyone, especially a hapless fellow sufferer?
    Like you get the governmnet that you deserve, you also get the police force that you deserve. If you can tolerate the totally lethargic, incompetent an totally comic Government of the Certificateless One and his band of merry fools, why can’t you bear the felons in uniform ,who claim to be your friend ,but are more likely to kill you for the flimsiest of reasons. To hell with Nigeria.

    • Manuel Tobby

      What did your mentor with PhD without Thesis did with all these your documented wailings you blaming your hate figure, the certificateless one for???

  • KWOY

    You know it will not happen! It will NEVER happen! It will even more likely get worse! And the police is just one aspect among innumerable other Indexes of under-development. In what index is Nigeria either not the worst (no. 1 from the bottom) or among the worst? This is a country with more poor people in the world than India. Nigeria is a failed state because in Nigeria even life itself exists at the expense of unity for oil! And why should the murders by the police be worse than murders by the military that you praise?

  • remm ieet

    The police is a weapon of coercion designed for no other purpose but to enforce state policy whether convenient or not. Michel Foucault in “Madness and Civilisation” has offered comprehensive explanations on why citizens should be wary of them

  • Cheta God

    It starts from the point of recruitment. Look at the quality of the personnel. In a country where graduate roam the streets jobless, it is sad that we are still recruiting illiterates into the force. Am of the opinion that after the current IGP with his baggage, we should request a world class recruitment agency to recruit the next IGP. The practice of having politically appointed IGP leaves the Police doing the same way all over again. With donations to the police by state govs you wonder what they do with the police budget. Step into their barracks and you will see what I mean. Shame

  • John Paul

    Adeniyi has set forth a balanced report. But we should not throw away the baby and the bathwater.

    The fact that SARS is embroiled in allegations of human rights abuses does not mean that we should remove SARS from our streets and leave Nigerians exposed to the whims and caprices of kidnappers and armed robbers

    The other day, this same SARS smashed the kidnapping gang that kidnapped that 80 year old man in Aba. The Nigerian police just needs to institute, at least, a forty (40) hours mandatory training, on human rights abuse, for all its officers, especially SARS officers. And a four (4) hours refresher course every two years

    In many of our cities today, Nigerians are living in fear of armed robbers and kidnappers. Including our most vulnerable citizens. Mothers, daughters, sisters, children and old people

    When they travel on many of our highways – Aba to Owerri; Enugu to Onitsha; Umuahia to Owerri, Abuja to Kadunna, etc – their eyes are closed in prayer and supplication that they should not encounter any armed robber or kidnapper

    When their husbands, fathers and brothers travel on these same highways, their eyes are still closed in prayer and supplication that their loved ones – husband, brother or son – should not encounter any armed robber or kidnapper on his way. We cannot continue to live this way

    Meanwhile as Adeniyi pointed out:
    —————————————————————————————
    “Mr Jimoh Moshood gave the number of police officers attached to Governor Willie Obiano as 221… Moshood also offered….there are also 221 police officers attached to Wike”
    —————————————————————————————
    Not to talk about the police officers attached to other politicians, businessmen, NNPC employees, etc. While the rest of us – including our mothers, daughters, sisters, children and old people – are allowed to rot in hell and fight off armed robbers and kidnappers with our bare hands, if not for SARS and the police, that we find, here and there

    The amount of police officers attached to Governors and other politicians needs to be drastically reduced. And non government employees, including retired governors and other politicians, need to pay the Nigerian police heavily – at least ₦18 million a year – for each police officer attached to them. So that the police can use that money to provide security for the rest of us

    And our politicians have to remember that, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” – Mahatma Ghandi

    It is a disgrace to have Nigerian police officers carrying bags and umbrellas for our overpaid politicians, businessmen and their spouses, while Nneka, Bidemi, Adesua, Ebiene, Mfon and Jummai, are left to their own devices

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8f139b9cef7499c433669c9c2c9c0a494c47c9bf9054eb03c651476cc75d9337.png

  • lastp

    If you find out any where in the world where police is not paid adequately and there is no police corruption or brutality then your story is on point. For now the whole NPF need reform . That is flush the present police system and start from the bottom.

  • William Norris

    Mr Ibrahim Danjuma, the police commander of the squad that executed the Apo Six, has been reinstated into the police force just this month.

    In his squad, all the Christian policemen who participated in the crime were found guilty and sentenced.

    All the Muslim policemen who paticipated in the crime were exonerated.

    I haven’t heard any protests yet.

    The PEOPLE of Nigeria would rather stage a violent protest to demand fuel subsidies than exert any serious effort to stop police brutality and corruption.

    Or they would rather trek to Libya.

    • Manuel Tobby

      What stops you from leading the protest for that if you are truly concerned!
      It’s was a man like you that started the #ENDSARS campaign that became national!
      Your own is just to come online and throw around gutter language and vulgarity!
      Arm chair criticisms is your staple!

      • William Norris

        I’m not Nigerian.

        #ENDSARS will not end police impunity.

        I didn’t want to go into this, but there’s one TRUE observation in the article that captures and summarizes the root cause of the Niger-area Crisis. COLONIALISM and the imitation of it by Nigerians.

        The British invented police brutality to use against the Native Tribes. Now Nigerians have taken the SAME SYSYTEM and are using it against each other.

        British were Christians, now Nigerians are using Christianity as a Colonial weapon against each other…And I don’t mean Pentecostal pastors, I mean COLONIAL EXPLOITATION was the motivation for conversion in the first place.

        The British used Colonial Law to claim ownership of all Native property, Nigerians wrote their own Land Use Act and Petroleum Act and Solid Minerals Act to exploit each other.

        Colonial Mentality. Nigerians have to end it themselves the same way they VOLUNTARILY converted to Christianity. Good Luck to you all.

        • Manuel Tobby

          A lie for your kids

          • Akins

            He is from Biafra.

          • William Norris

            Biafrans are Christians.

    • KWOY

      Adeniyi will not protest it! The Yoruba media will not! What they will protest is if it will affect their chance to share in oil!

      • Fowad

        Are you happy now that “Yoruba” has entered your lexicon this morning as usual? Merry Christmas in advance!

      • Manuel Tobby

        Let the superior Jewish igbo media protest it!
        Or are they that sleepy?
        Why do you need to depend on the yorobber media, a tribe you love to hate!

    • FrNinja

      I once saw a policeman park a lorry on the side of a police checkpoint, pull the lorry driver out from his cabin, drag him like a sack of yam across the expressway into the bush. His fellow policemen cocked their gun at passengers that alighted in protest from various vehicles and dared them to do something. Thats when you know Nigeria is a zoo fit for animals. Nnamdi Kanu was not wrong.

    • “Korede

      Each time we talk about this Apo six, we ignore the fact that they were charged to court and judgement of the high court was pronounced on the case. Is it that the Danjuma was pronounced gulity by the court and the Police authority refused to implement the judgement?

      • William Norris

        No, the issue is that the judgement was wrong. The judgement makes no sense.

        If nothing else, Ibrahim Danjuma was granted bail on a murder case, whereupon he disappeared.

        It’s known that Ibrahim Danjuma personally killed the girl in the group.

        There’s a great injustice that has been done here. It’s Nigeria though so it’s par the course.

        • “Korede

          I know and read the entire story then. The point I am trying to make is that his resumption of duty is premised on the judgement of the court where the Danjuma was discharged and acquitted. We should directing our aggression to the court and possibly the prosecutor who did a shoddy job that could not get conviction for all the accused.. That is just the point I am making.