THE Lagos State Attorney-General, Moyosore Onigbanjo, on Friday arraigned Drambi Vandi, 53, the Assistant Superintendent of Police accused of fatally shooting a pregnant lawyer, Omobolanle Raheem, at a checkpoint in Ajah, Lagos. The unusually swift official response; arrest, detention, and prosecution of the accused is welcomed, but it will neither bring back the dead nor assuage the agony of a citizenry traumatised by decades of extortion, violence and killings perpetrated by those paid to protect them.
From the police brass to the state government, and the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.),the authorities must resolve to stop the carnage and recreate a police force that protects the people to replace the current one that harbours their executioners.
Reflecting the state of the country and the quality of its leadership, Nigerians’ hopes that the October 2020#EndSARSprotests would put an end to extrajudicial killing and other atrocities by security operatives have been dashed. The rotten eggs in the force were restrained only for a few weeks before resuming their atrocious ways.
Raheem was only the latest among hundreds of victims venturing out of their homes on lawful trips but never returning alive after encounters with Nigerian Police personnel.
According to media reports, the deceased was coming from an eatery in company with her husband and other family members on Christmas Day. With her husband at the wheel, the group, while making a U-turn under the Ajah Bridge, was flagged down and was about parking when the police officer allegedly shot at her vehicle. The 41-year-old lawyer did not make it to the hospital; she died with her dreams, and her unborn twins with whom she was reportedly four months pregnant.
The murder generated outrage and much media heat, and the Nigerian Bar Association has taken up the fight for justice. Uncharacteristically, the authorities reacted swiftly; an electioneering season, politicians seeking relevance weighed in; the usually distant Buhari issued a redundant order to police to investigate, as if the force needed one to act on a murder case. The police acted quickly too, dispensing with the accustomed denials, and delaying tactics.
But these are not enough. The police and Buhari bear vicarious responsibility because two years after the #EndSARS upheaval, they have not reformed the force and weaned it off its wayward, violent ways. Instead, Buhari and the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, have treated the protesters against police atrocities as subversives. The much-needed reforms, including identifying, prosecuting, and flushing out the bad eggs in the force, have been neglected.
Lagos State too has moved with uncommon zeal. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu personally took it up and the state’s three most senior law officers, the AG, the solicitor-general and the director of public prosecutions, all turned up at the magistrate’s court to prosecute the accused killer.
But Nigerians, especially the youth, are painfully aware of the ignoble role the state government played in the #EndSARS debacle, including denying the slaughter of unarmed protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate Plaza by soldiers it had invited, and its demonisation of the organisers. Had Sanwo-Olu and his government and the Buhari regime joined in genuinely seeking an end to police atrocities, perhaps Raheem and other victims killed since then would be alive today.
But emboldened by the failure to punish all errant police officers, implement the recommendations of the various judicial panels, or reform the force, police brutality has continued. A report by The PUNCH listed 10 instances of extrajudicial killings by police in 2022, including that of Raheem. Earlier in December, police officers from the same Ajah Division shot Gafaru Buraimoh, 31, to death.
Police officers engage openly in extortion, targeting youths, motorists, and small businesses. Killings occur over minor bribe sums demanded. Other security personnel – soldiers and customs officers – also perpetrate brutal assaults and extrajudicial killings, often escaping punishment. Amnesty International reported that 115 citizens were killed by Nigerian security operatives between March and June 2021. Similarly, The Centre for Democracy and Development said security personnel killed over 13,000 people extrajudicially from 2011 to 2021.
The October 2020#EndSARS protest was aimed at ending the extrajudicial killings and extortion by the notorious police Special Anti-Robbery Squad. Although SARS has been officially disbanded, rights violations by police officers have not stopped.
Extrajudicial killing is a heinous crime, a blatant violation of human rights. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights describes it as “the deliberate killing of individuals outside any legal framework.” Indeed, extrajudicial killings in the hands of state and non-state actors constitute a problem for many countries; the difference is in how governments react to stop it. Democracies do better at stemming them than dictatorships or fragile democracies.
Nigeria belongs in the latter group. A report to the Universal Periodic Review by civil society organisations itemised cases of killings, torture, illegal detentions, extortion and enforced disappearances perpetrated by Nigerian security personnel.
Root and branch police reforms should no longer be delayed. This should start from recruitment and continue through training, and deployment. There should be constant monitoring and surveillance of police officers’ conduct on the field and at the stations. The swift response to Raheem’s killing should be institutionalised; such alacrity should be extended to all instances of police oppression. Studies show that the poorer segments of the society and the rural communities isolated from media searchlight bear the heaviest brunt of brutality by security personnel.
Henceforth, commanders and superior officers should be held responsible for the misbehaviour of their subordinates. The senior officers in charge of Ajah Divisional Police Station should face strong sanctions to serve as deterrent and encourage superiors to identify and flush out killers and extortionists in their ranks.
The practice of merely redeploying erring officers is not enough; they promptly resume their nefarious conduct at their new posts. The IG’s recent threat that indiscipline would not be condoned should be matched by inflexible action.
Reform and modernisation of the police force must include implementing policies that prioritise de-escalation of coercion and promote respect for human rights.