How lawyers can mobilize to end police brutality

Ogunsakin Mustapha
16 Min Read
Femi Falana SAN

Femi Falana SAN

The Nigerian Bar Association has condemned the brutal killing of one of its members, Mrs Bolanle Raheem, in Lagos on December 25, 2022 by a trigger- happy policemen. The suspect has been arrested and detained pending his arraignment for murder in the Lagos State High Court. The Inspector-General of Police, Mr Usman Alkali Baba and Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Sanwoolu, have decried the killing and assured the Nigerian people that justice would be served speedily. To demonstrate the abhorrence of the Government, the Attorney-General of Lagos State, Mr Moyosore Onigbanjo SAN will lead to lead the prosecution team.

President Muhammadu Buhari has expressed shock and complete disapproval of the horrendous killing, even though it is a common phenomenon under his administration. In the same vein, the presidential candidates of the leading political parties have berated the Nigeria Police Force over the killing. It is however curious to note that these political leaders have not informed Nigerian voters how they intend to end extrajudicial killing of unarmed citizens by the police and other security agencies in the county if they win the 2023 presidential election.

The cruel killing of Mrs Bolanle Raheem provides an opportunity for the Nigerian people led by lawyers to address the root cause of the extrajudicial killing of unarmed citizens by law enforcement officers. On July 15, 1981, Dele Udo, a United States based athlete and a potential world record holder in the 400 metres was shot dead by a trigger -happy policeman at Ojuelegba in Lagos State. That was the beginning of the reckless shooting of unarmed citizens by armed policemen and armed soldiers on the roads.

Since then, hundreds of young people and other citizens have been killed in illegal check points manned by drunk police and military personnel. The huge amount of money extorted from motorists via the check points is allegedly shared by police and military officers. Hence, the cancellation of check points by successive Inspectors- General of Police has never been faithfully enforced.

It is pertinent to note that despite the demand of the human rights community for a fundamental reform of the curriculum of the police academy the training of police cadets has remained as brutish as it was under the British colonial regime. Upon their graduation the recruits usually unleash violence on a society that had dehumanised them in the police academy. Having been brutalised themselves, they derive pleasure in subjecting suspects to physical, mental and psychological torture. During the interrogation of a suspect, it is not uncommon for a policeman to threaten that “I will kill you and nothing will happen.”

Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Governor of Lagos State

No doubt, the Nigeria Police Force is a neo-colonial institution in every material particular. It is deliberately called a police force and not a police department or police service. The logo of the force pictures an eagle standing on two crossed staves above an elephant. Like an elephant the colonial police force was set up to mow them down the natives, suppress and extort taxes from them to service British imperialism.

In 1960, the nationalist politicians who inherited political power from the British colonial regime decided to retain the police force and use it to oppress the people. Hence, the killing of unarmed citizens by police and military personnel is not punished by the violent neocolonial State. Even monetary damages awarded by courts for unlawful killing of citizens and other forms of human rights abuse by police officers are never paid.

Indeed, the payment of monetary damages awarded by courts is frustrated by Attorneys-General who refuse to grant leave to garnish the accounts of the Federal and State Governments. As if that is not bad enough, some Attorneys-General file nolle prosequi applications to terminate criminal cases involving highly connected murder suspects. The legal departments of the police is ever prepared to defend the unlawful killing of citizens by trigger -happy police personnel. Thus, the police personnel indicted for extrajudicial killings are promoted until they retire while a few of them had risen to the highest echelon in the force.

Whenever there are protests against unlawful killing of citizens by police personnel the Government moves to douse tension by setting up judicial or administrative commissions of inquiry to probe the remote and immediate causes of the civil disturbance. But the recommendations of such panels are usually ignored by the Governments. For instance, after the endsars protests in October 2020, the Federal Government and 28 out of the 36 state governments instituted judicial commissions of inquiry to probe various allegations of police brutality.

After two years, the reports of the judicial panels have not been published by majority of the state governments. The few that issued white papers have not fully implemented the recommendations of the judicial panels. Apart from payment of some monetary damages the police officers indicted by the panels have not been prosecuted. Consequently, the brutalisation of the Nigerian people by the police and other security agencies has continued unabated.

Even though the notorious Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) was disbanded in line with the demand of the #EndSARS protesters. In replacing the SARS with SWAT, the authorities promised that the operatives would undergo a retraining programme. As the retraining did not occur the SWAT officers have continued to terrorise and intimidate the people unabashedly, like the SARS. The implication of such official impunity is that the very many police officers indicted for extrajudicial killing of suspects and other citizens have been allowed to remain in the police force to continue to perpetrate their nefarious activities.

Not too long ago, thousands of professional armed robbers and armed political thugs bribed and were recruited to the Nigeria Police Force. When a former President became aware of the scandalous recruitment, he ordered that the uniformed armed robbers be identified and flushed out of the Police. It is regrettable to note that the police authorities did try to do so but did not succeed in weeding out all the criminal elements from the police force.

Moyosore Onigbanjo SAN, Lagos Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice

On a regular basis, kidnap, murder and terror suspects are paraded by police commissioners. But majority of the suspects are extrajudicially executed after the parade. The police claim that those who were charged with grave offences before the High Courts in the past and who were freed on technical grounds turned round to attack and kill the police officers who had arrested them. So, instead of prosecuting armed robbery and other dangerous criminal suspects they are extrajudicially killed by untrained executioners in the force.

The suspects are usually shot in the back to give the impression that they were trying to escape from police custody. Thus, it is difficult to sue the police service commission for illegal killing of suspects that have been “wasted” by the police. After the execution, no post mortem is conducted while the bodies of the deceased are buried by the police at night. The money and other assets seized from the suspects are never returned to the family members or friends of the deceased but shared among police officers.

Without any rehabilitation for the untrained executioners they are unleashed on the society with their guns. The uniformed murderers then turn round to use their weapons to kill members of the public including their own relations. Thus, the brutal killing of poor citizens by police and other security operatives has become a routine occurrence. But we only complain whenever the unlicensed police executioners kill lawyers, doctors, journalists and other victims whose killings trigger protests!

In exasperation, Mr. Boms Worgu, a former Attorney-General of Rivers State, has said that, “The Banabas Igwes of the NBA assasinated pair we remembered the other day. That was long ago. Recently, less than two years, there was Henry Ndionyenma Nwankwo, matcheted by still to be apprehended men, right there in his chambers. In PHC recently, two colleques were similarly dispatched. And many more. In all, nothing happened after they were mowed down except wailing and condemnations. Soon, sadly though, this addition will blow over, calm will return only for the calm to be disrupted by another killing! That is how we are.”

Nigerian lawyers must ensure that Mrs Bolanle Raheem does not die in vain like others who were dispatched to their untimely grave before her. Indeed, the best tribute that the NBA can pay to the deceased is to use her cold blooded murder to mobilise the Nigerian people to end police brutality in Nigeria. To start with, police check points must be removed from Nigerian roads. The roads should be patrolled by combined teams of officers from the police and road safety commission.

The use of arms by policemen on duty should be strictly regulated according to the service rules. No lethal options such as batons, tear gas, water etc should be employed in dispersing crowds.

In Femi Falana v Chief of Army Staff & Ors (Suit No. FHC/L/CS/1939/19), the presiding Judge, the Honourable Railwan Aikawa, declared that the involvement of armed soldiers in the maintenance of internal security is illegal and unconstitutional. On the basis of the judgment, all check points manned by soldiers should be dismantled by the Chief of Army Staff without any further delay.

In the recent case of the State Security Service v Godwin Emefiele (Suit No.FHC/ABJ/CS/2255/2022), the Federal High Court assigned and determined the case within two days because it pertained to the personal liberty of the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. The NBA leadership should prevail on the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court and heads of other courts to ensure that all fundamental right cases are promptly assigned and expeditiously determined regardless of the class status of the applicants.

The Anti -Torture Act of 2017 prescribes that any police officer or law enforcement officer who subjects a citizen to torture is liable to be tried and if convicted to imprisonment for 25 years. If any person dies as a result of torture the police officer indicted is liable to be tried for murder. The NBA should direct its human rights committees to take up all cases of torture meted out to citizens by public and private individuals in the society.

Yakubu Maikyau, NBA President

The NBA should prevail on the Federal Government and State Governments to publish the reports and implement the recommendations of the judicial panels. Otherwise, the NBA should adopt legal measures to compel the Governments to implement the recommendations. Furthermore, the NBA should mount pressure on state governments to enact laws for the establishment of human rights bodies for the purpose of protecting the human rights of citizens. This was the principal resolution adopted by the National Economic Council after the #EndSARS protests.

As a matter of urgency, the NBA should ensure that a legal practitioner is assigned to every police station to monitor human rights compliance in accordance with section 66 (3) of the Police Establishment Act 2020. The human rights committees of the 128 branches of the NBA should liaise with the National Human Rights Commission and the Legal Aid Council to ensure the observance of human rights in the country.

The NBA should collaborate with State Attorneys-General towards the successful prosecution of police and military personnel who engage in the extrajudicial killing of criminal suspects and other citizens. At the same time, the unlawful killing of police officers by military officers and criminal gangs should always be challenged by Nigerian lawyers.

The NBA should liaise with the police and military authorities to ensure that human rights course is made a compulsory subject in all police colleges and military academic institutions. This is the best way to ensure that members of the police and armed forces recognise their constitutional responsibilities to protect the life and property of every citizen.

Finally, it is submitted that unless the above suggestions are implemented by the relevant stakeholders in alliance with the Nigerian people the callous killing of Mrs Bolanle Raheem will only be an addition to the long list of Nigerians that have been killed so recklessly by security forces. And it will be enormously tragic for the society.

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