Wilful acts of lawlessness by security agents are unacceptable

Despite the promise of reforms, the reign of impunity among security agencies is worrisome. Last week, a viral video surfaced on various social media platforms of some policemen dehumanising a woman at Agbarho, near Warri, Delta State. Stripped almost naked, the lady was seen being beaten, kicked and with hands tied with a rope. Similarly, in Babanna, Borgu local council of Niger State, a soldier deployed in the community to protect lives and property shot at a commercial motorcyclist over N200 bribe at a checkpoint. The cyclist survived the incident, but not his passengers, a nursing mother, and her baby.  

In the wake of the EndSARS protest in October 2020, the federal government disbanded the brutal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). It also promised some reforms, including adequate training that will produce more citizen-friendly police that are fit for purpose. Demanded was the proper vetting of prospective recruits, including their psychological state of mind. But two years after the protest, police brutality is still unchecked. And under the pretext of restoring order, they are using excessive force to extort, arrest, torture and kill citizens without reason. According to Global Rights, a Washington, DC-based human rights group, there were 164 recorded extrajudicial killings by law enforcement agents between January and September last year.

The latest brutal reminder of impunity of law enforcement agencies was the killing in Lagos, on the last Christmas Day, of a lawyer and expectant mother, Omobolanle Raheem by a top police officer. President Muhammadu Buhari described the unfortunate incident as a stark reminder of the recurring menace of the mishandling of weapons, and called for operational reforms not only about weapons handling, but also on the need to understand their role as basically to protect the rights of citizens. What police authorities must deal with is the impression that those who carry arms on behalf of the state are licensed to act above the law.  

Across the country, many citizens are molested and brutalised by the police, soldiers, and sundry security personnel. Several reasons have been adduced to explain the trigger-happy disposition of these men and women in uniform. Such reasons include their conditions of service especially the meagre remunerations, the poor living condition in their barracks and low self-esteem. Yet, nothing could justify the whimsical resort to lawlessness by officers whose primary responsibility is to uphold the law. As we have argued repeatedly on this page, no matter the extent of provocation, a person in uniform must not resort to taking the law into their own hands.  

The growing number of recorded cases of police brutality, human rights violations and abuse of power has contributed to the increasing incidence of citizens’ resort to self-help and other informal methods of airing grievances as displayed during the EndSARS protest. “The danger of continued police brutality in Nigeria is an erosion of public confidence in the force responsible for keeping them safe,” says Osai Ojigho, former country director of Amnesty International in Nigeria. “The police are the most distrusted security agency in Nigeria.”  

However, we recognise the fact that most personnel of the force are good professionals who are doing their jobs to the best of their abilities. But there are a few bad eggs who get away with serious infractions. Indeed, it is the nonchalant attitude towards investigating and punishing these deviants that has allowed a culture of impunity to persist. The Inspector General of Police therefore has the primary responsibility of re-educating his men especially around respect for people’s rights and the sanctity of human life. The same goes for the heads of the other military and security institutions that bear arms. The issue of protection of lives by law enforcement agencies is sacrosanct.  

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