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The outcome of the investigation should be made public and erring officers held to account

Acts of torture, ill-treatment and extrajudicial killings are steady staple of Nigeria’s security operatives. Last week in Lokoja, Kogi State, they curiously extended such treatment to one of their own. Taiye Atobiloye, an inspector of police died in police custody under murky circumstances, and members of his family are seeking explanations. At a time police authorities are standing up for their officer assaulted by a musician, it would be tragic if they cannot account for the life of another officer who died in their custody.  

According to reports, Atobiloye, attached to the Oke Onigbin Police Division, Kwara State, was posted to the Zone 8 Police Command, Lokoja, on special duty. He initially declined the posting after a disagreement, but eventually reported at the zonal headquarters, and was detained for dereliction of duty. He died in police custody eight days after. While the police claimed he died of illness, the autopsy reportedly invalidated the claim as there were bruises on the body, an indication of torture. The report also showed that Atobiloye was hypertensive and starved in the cell.  

While we commiserate with the family of the deceased, Atobiloye’s death has again brought to the fore the issue of police brutality and reinforces a vicious cycle of violence currently taking place in the country. Nigerians are familiar with several cases of ill-treatments of suspects by security operatives, which have resulted in wanton loss of lives. Despite the high-level rhetoric on police reform, particularly after the December 2021 EndSARS protests, no concrete actions have been taken.  

Section one of the “Anti-Torture Act” imposes an obligation on the government and law enforcement agencies to ensure that all persons, including suspects, detainees and prisoners are always respected and that no person under investigation or held in custody is subjected to any form of physical or mental torture. Yet, our security operatives are notorious for physical assaults on suspects in the bid to extract information or to subdue them. The indiscriminate use of brutal force, as the case Atobiloye suggests, inevitably creates a vicious cycle, and  draws attention to the pathetic state of the Nigerian Police in terms of  training and operational tools. The root of these human rights violations is an embarrassing ignorance on the part of security operatives of the basic rights of citizens in a democratic society.   

 This newspaper has said repeatedly that we stand by the men and officers of the Nigeria Police because we believe what they do is a dangerous job as they confront the brutalities that the rest of society only imagine or watch on television from the comfort of their homes. But when their own officer is allegedly tortured to death, there is a systemic problem. There is therefore the need to strengthen the Nigeria police to be effective and efficient–both in terms of its professionalism and structure, so that it sustains the capacity to carry out its constitutional responsibility of maintaining law and order. It is important to let the police know that treating people with contempt, hostility, or applying excessive force does not in any way advance the cause of law enforcement in the country. Police training should not be restricted to the use of firearms skills, there should be vital exposure to non-lethal weapons and conflict management.   

 It is heartwarming that the Inspector General of Police, Usman Baba, has ordered an investigation into the death of the police inspector. But the outcome of the report should be made public in order to hold culprits accountable and ensure justice for the family of the deceased officer. The police must put an end to the excessive force that injures and sometimes kills many Nigerians, including, in this instance, their own officer.

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