At home on Monday evening, I was engrossed in some heavy reading and writing task when I got a desperate call from my driver who had closed for the day. His friend, and some other hapless Nigerians, had just been randomly arrested at Ketu area by the “Lagos State Task Force” for undisclosed offences. “They have handcuffed him and taken him to the Ketu police station,” he said frantically. Immediately, I asked for the chap’s name and phone number. I then called a valuable police contact. She instantly swung into action. After hours of trying to trace the boy’s whereabouts, we finally found out he was somewhere in a police van around Oshodi.
His distraught mum was inconsolable. However, he was finally released around 9pm. But what really happened? Toheeb is a student of Kwara State Polytechnic, Ilorin. Anytime he is on break, he comes to stay with his mum in Lagos and uses the opportunity to make some income driving his friend’s commercial tricycle, “Keke Marwa”. The little income supports his schooling. He was picking passengers in Ketu when the police swooped on them, arrested, handcuffed and whisked them away. They were beaten black and blue. I was told the police had just killed a young man and a mob attacked them. The officers decided to arrest “suspects” — meaning anybody in sight.
Toheeb and his passengers automatically became suspects for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. That was it. No other evidence is needed in our jungle justice system. They seized their phones, rendering them incommunicado. My contact told me the Lagos police PRO, CSP Chike Oti (God bless him), personally went there to secure his release. In tears, Toheeb narrated the whole incident. “So this is how innocent people suffer in this country? Some of my passengers are still in detention. They did nothing,” he said, sobbing and sniffing. The “suspects” were allegedly asked to pay between N50,000 and N100,000 to regain their freedom. This is Nigeria.
I was putting finishing touches to this article on Friday when my electrician called me. This was unusual of him. He would normally send an SMS. I knew there was fire on the mountain. His brother, a vulcaniser at Ojota Motor Park, Lagos, had a dispute with a client over payment. The client went to report him at Ogudu Police Station on Thursday. I don’t know how much the client gave to the police but they certainly over-delivered. The police immediately sent Omotayo to Ikoyi Prisons. By Friday, the poor fellow was fighting for his life. He had not eaten anything. The inmates had battered him to pulp — the traditional welcome party. Hopefully, we will secure his release this week.
Early 2017, I got a distress call from a commercial bus driver, a friend of a member of our staff. The Task Force van had suddenly crossed him at Maryland in an attempt to force him to stop for an offence he will never know how he committed it. It was too late for him to brake completely; he dented the van. Goodness Gracious! The police officers dragged him out, tore his shirt, battered his bulky frame, handcuffed him, flung him into their van and took him and his bus — his means of livelihood — to their Ikeja yard. Despite all my efforts, including getting a commissioner to intervene, we still had to part with a large sum to repair the police van. This is oppression.
After the whole incident, Saheed came to thank me. “I heard many sad tales inside the Task Force yard,” he said. “One person told me his brother was transferred to Kirikiri Prisons because they couldn’t raise the money that was demanded.” Talking about Kirikiri Prisons, my uncle, who went on an evangelical visit many years ago, told me of a young inmate who said he was picked by the police on his own street while running an errand for his mum. “Up till now, my mother does not know that I am inside here, and our house is not far from this place. The police picked me up and dumped me here, and I am now classified as awaiting trial,” the poor boy told my uncle. This is Nigeria.
Only God knows how many lowly Nigerians I have had to help out of police trouble in my journalism career. In most cases, I am heartbroken. The offences they are accused of committing show that they are mostly victims of oppression and impunity by the security agents simply because these guys are powerless and voiceless. They are poor. In the scheme of things, they do not matter; they are not regarded as human beings. They have no liberty. We run a society where the ordinary people do not expect any form of justice — they do not even believe they have a right to complain when they are being trampled upon by those who should protect them.
I could write a massive book on the horrible things ordinary Nigerians suffer, daily, in the hands of the police. Every Nigerian has a story to tell. There is nothing called justice in this country. The heartbreaking stories of police oppression, cheating and brutality did not start today, or yesterday, or the day before yesterday. In November 1987, the Dadowu brothers — Saka and Sule — were shot dead by Ibe Eze, a police constable, at the Anikantamo Square of Central Lagos, over an alleged traffic offence. Two brothers killed on the same day! Not for armed robbery, but for traffic offence! Eze was spared the hangman by the Supreme Court years later. The Dawodu family never got justice.
This incident apparently inspired Majek Fashek’s 1989 song, “Police Brutality”, in which he mourned: “Dem dey suck the blood of the sufferers/Dem dey eat the bread of the wanderers/Instead of killing the armed robbers/Dem dey kill all the taxi drivers… Dem dey kill all the sufferers.” The oppressed never get justice in Nigeria. Lowly Nigerians have become accustomed to police brutality, so much so they do not even bother to complain any longer. They simply curse their luck or comfort themselves that it is the “will of God”. It is only if you are “somebody” or the child or friend of “somebody” that eyebrows are raised, because there is someone to fight for you.
After severe and sustained complaints about the abuses by the Special Anti-Armed Robbery Squad (SARS), the police have promised to reform the unit — but it is the entire police force that needs to be reformed, in my opinion. Nigerian police officers appear to have a special training in harassment, torture and extra-judicial killing. There seems to be no will or desire to rein them in. Any inspector-general that is going to reform the police force will have to start from tampering with the mentality that makes the police think that their primary duty is to terrorise, intimidate and oppress the very citizens they are supposed to protect. It is a mental problem. Other reforms can follow.
Meanwhile, if my article has created the impression that I do not appreciate the Nigerian police at all, then I have not expressed myself properly. In the last 15 years, I have done a lot of study on the police and I know very much that given the conditions under which they are recruited, trained, kitted and compensated, the officers are only a reflection of the system that produces them. They are not genetically bad. They have indeed demonstrated that they can be as good as any police force in the world under the right conditions — and my key evidence is that they win medals anytime they serve outside the country, particularly on UN missions.
Police officers daily lose their lives defending the rest of us. Most recently, four policemen were killed in Kaduna as they ran into an ambush trying to arrest kidnappers. When robbers strike, police officers are their first target. The Offa robbers wasted the lives of eight policemen. Police officers are human beings like us. They have families and friends too. They deserve our respect and sympathy. Ironically, I understand that no other Nigerian security agency disciplines its erring officers more than the police. But our reality today is that the bad apples are spoiling the whole bunch. We need to completely overhaul or rebuild the factory that produces them.
I agree that the system has also not been fair to the police. That must be said. They are the least resourced among the security agencies, and they have been systemically undermined over the years, especially under military regimes. Even now, we keep creating agencies to duplicate the functions of the police. Yet, police play arguably the biggest role in maintaining law and order. I cannot imagine how the society would be if police officers are not on the road. I, for one, would not feel safe to drive on the road — in spite of the fact that the police themselves have become a danger to the society they are deployed to protect. We need them; we need a better, refined version of them.
I have always argued that democracy is nothing if it does not work for the people. One of the major links between the state and the society is policing. Any government that wants to really touch the lives of ordinary Nigerians must frontally address police impunity. It is an indictment on government that people’s rights are brazenly violated and all they can say is “we have handed things over to God”. That means they’ve lost faith in the state. No citizen of any country should feel hopeless and helpless. Everybody deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. Reforming SARS without reforming the brutal mindset of the police at large is a waste of time.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
CBN AND MTN
The CBN has fined four banks for issuing allegedly irregular certificates of capital importation (CCIs) on behalf of some offshore investors of MTN Nigeria from 2007 to 2015. MTN itself is expected to refund the $8.1 billion it took out as dividends on the basis of the CCIs. CBN will refund the naira equivalent to MTN at the market rates when the transactions were done. In layman’s language, MTN is accused of using deception to repatriate $8.1 billion dividends. I expect MTN to put up a strong fight to clear its name. However, while some think this sanction could scare away foreign investors, a strong regulatory environment could actually be a positive thing for Nigeria. Perspectives.
Why do Nigerians rejoice when their leaders are disparaged by outsiders? When the Economist of London called President Goodluck Jonathan the “ineffectual buffoon”, I could not bear it, but many people celebrated as if they just won a lottery. Now President Donald Trump, according to the Financial Times, has said he never wanted to meet someone “as lifeless as Buhari” again and some people are popping champagne. The point we are missing is that disrespect for your president is disrespect for you. I also find it hard to understand the logic of those who rejoiced when the Economist disparaged Jonathan but are now angry with Trump. I hate double standards. Hypocrisy.
RULE OF LAW
President Buhari recently said: “The rule of law must be subject to the supremacy of the nation’s security and national interest.” That actually was a Supreme Court pronouncement in 2007 in the case of Dokubo Asari vs Federal Government, but it was not a blanket verdict. It didn’t say court orders should be disobeyed. National security has to be pleaded in court and the court must decide. That is how “rule of law” and “national security” go hand-in-hand in a democracy. I was happy to see Buhari backtrack on the scary Freudian slip. I insist that they need a BS detector in Aso Rock. There are too many avoidable gaffes oozing forth from the Seat of Power. Judgment.
Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, former governor of Delta state, has defected to APC after almost 20 years in PDP. He is one unlucky governor: he could not install his successor or the deputy and could not even get PDP’s senate ticket. After weeks of speculation, he has finally exchanged the umbrella for the broom and is expected to run for senate in 2019. The amiable ex-governor said: “I am going into APC as ‘John the Baptist’ to the numerous Deltans that are coming in, soon – very soon.” I don’t get the John bit though. Is Chief James Ibori, Uduaghan’s cousin, on his way to APC too? And was John the Baptist not the cousin of Jesus Christ that was beheaded by Herod Antipas? LOL.