Nigeria: Despite #EndSARS Protest, Police Brutality Persists
Sunday Ehigiator writes that even as the ghost of the 2020 #EndSARS protest, that rocked the fabric of the nation, still hovers, police brutality still persists and has even exacerbated. Across the nation, recent cases of such arbitrary abuse, violence and even death have been unleashed by some recalcitrant policemen despite the constant punishment meted out by the police authority for such offences
On December 25, 2022 (Christmas Day), a Lagos-based pregnant Lawyer, Omobolanle Raheem, was shot dead in the presence of her husband and children by a police officer on a stop and search duty under Ajah Bridge in Lagos state.
The senseless murder of Omobolanle is not an isolated event of police brutality in Nigeria. Nigeria has lost too many innocent citizens to the actions of trigger-happy police officers, with justice or an end seeming not to be in sight.
These senseless killings amidst several other perceived injustices and corruption plaguing the country, led the youth to come out in mass to stage a protest tagged ‘EndSARS’ protest against police brutality and bad leadership first in 2017 before the more notable one in October 2020.
The 2020 #EndSars Protest
#EndSARS is a decentralised social movement and series of mass protests against police brutality in Nigeria. The slogan calls for the disbanding of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a notorious unit of the Nigerian Police with a long record of abuse on Nigerian citizens.
SARS officers have been alleged to profile young Nigerians, mostly males, based on fashion choices, tattoos and hairstyles. They were also known to mount illegal roadblocks, conduct unwarranted checks and searches, arrest and detain without warrant or trial, rape women, and extort young male Nigerians for driving exotic vehicles and using laptops and iPhones.
These stories and video evidence of how officers of SARS engaged in kidnapping, murder, theft, rape, torture, unlawful arrests, humiliation, unlawful detention, extrajudicial killings and extortion of Nigerian citizens, were widely shared on Twitter space and other social media platforms, which cause a burning outrage majorly among the youthful populace, and thereby leading to series of protests.
The protest took its name from the slogan started in 2017 as a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #EndSARS to demand the disbanding of the unit by the Nigerian government.
After experiencing a revitalisation in October 2020 following more revelations of the abuses of the unit, mass demonstrations occurred throughout the major cities of Nigeria, accompanied by vociferous outrage on social media platforms.
The movement was notable for its patronage by a demographic that was made of entirely young Nigerians. The movement later expanded to include demands for good and accountable governance, considering the unprecedented hardship in the country.
Within a few days of protests, on October 11, 2020, the Nigerian Police Force announced that it was dissolving the unit with immediate effect. The move was widely received as a triumph of the demonstrations.
However, it was noted in many quarters that similar announcements had been made in recent years to pacify the public without the unit being disbanded, and that the government had merely planned to reassign and review SARS officers to medical centres rather than disband the unit entirely.
The aftermath of the protest was the incident at the Lekki tollgate in Lagos State, where the Nigerian Army was accused to have fired live ammunition at peaceful protesters on October 20, 2020, thereby killing some and injuring several others, an incident the current Minister of Information, Lai Muhammed described as a ‘bloodless massacre’.
Recent Cases of Police Brutality
With all the damages, destruction, apprehension, unrest, fears, deaths on both sides (civilian and police), legal battles, and international attention that came with the October 2020 events, one would expect that incidents of police brutality should become a thing of history.
However, this seems not to be the case, as recent reports suggest that there seems to have been a surge of full-force police brutality in broad daylight without fear of being captured on camera or reported.
According to Human Rights Watch, a year after the October 2020 incident, Nigeria recorded about 164 cases of extra-judicial killings between January and September 2021.
There appears to be no end in sight to the highhandedness and brutality of citizens by some members of the Nigeria Police Force.
On January 11, 2023, operatives of the Nigeria Police Force guarding the palace at Ilasan, Lekki Phase 1 were captured in the video assaulting a lady when she attempted to record them during a conversation with an Uber driver. The lady’s phone was seized and she was also arrested.
Responding to the incident, the spokesperson of the state police Command, Benjamin Hundeyin said: “It is not a crime to record a policeman on duty as long as it does not obstruct duty.
“The Divisional Police Officer (DPO), Ilasan, waded in. He ensured the lady got her phone back immediately and subjected the officers to disciplinary actions. The lady claimed she was injured, for which the officer was mandated to offset her medical expenses. The lady went home happy. I equally verified from her.”
On October 2021, a day set to remember victims of police brutality, an Uber driver, Adedotun was beaten, brutalized, pepper-sprayed and forcefully dragged into a black maria by operatives of the Nigerian Police Force during the #ENDSARS memorial which took place at the Lekki tollgate.
While addressing pressmen, Adedotun said he was in his car when he heard people shouting. He decided to run for cover and left his vehicle. He further explained that on his way back, trying to locate his car, some police officers stopped him and started dragging and beating him.
Adedotun said while he was struggling to prevent the operatives from pushing him into their van, they pepper-sprayed his eyes.
In March 2023, a mobile policeman, Sergeant Olalere Michael, killed a woman identified as Miss Tosin, suspected to be his mistress, and later shot himself dead on school premises in Ilorin, Kwara State.
On April 21, 2023, some armed police officers were secretly filmed using a machete to smack two unidentified persons in Imo State.
In the 45 seconds clip, five officers were seen assaulting the two people in an open space while a sixth officer pulled out a machete from a parked SUV believed to be a police operational vehicle.
The sixth officer was captured in the video, smacking the two people multiple times with the machete.
On April 6, 2023, there was tension in Asaba, Delta State capital, following the killing of a middle-aged businessman, identified as Emmanuel Onyeka, by a police officer after the deceased reportedly refused to offer him an N100 bribe at a checkpoint.
The killing led to a serious protest in the capital city, as residents condemned the dastardly act of the police officer. The deceased, identified as Ibe Emmanuel Onyeka, was shot around the Ugbolu area within the Asaba metropolis.
The late Onyeka who is in his early twenties was said to be a phone dealer at the popular Ogbogonogo Market, Asaba.
On December 25, 2022, a cop attached to the Ajah Police Station, identified as an Assistant Superintendent of Police, Drambi Vandi, shot dead a 41-year-old pregnant lawyer, Bolanle Raheem, under the Ajah Bridge, in the presence of her husband and children.
Raheem, her sister, and four children were said to be coming from an eatery in their car around 11 am when the cop tried to stop them. Reports noted that her husband was trying to make a U-turn under the Ajah Bridge when the trigger-happy cop shot at the vehicle. The bullet hit her and she was confirmed dead at the hospital she was rushed to.
Gafaru Buraimoh, a resident of Happy Estate in Ajah, was hit by a stray bullet at about 10 pm while coming out of SkyMall on December 7, 2022, by a police inspector attached to the Ajah police station.
Reacting to the incident, spokesperson for the state police, SP Benjamin Hundeyin, said, “At About 2330hrs (11:30p.m) of Tuesday, December 6, 2022, a shooting incident involving men of Ajah Division, resulted in the unfortunate death of Gafaru Buraimoh of Happy Land Estate, Ajah.
“The officer behind the shooting, an inspector of police was immediately disarmed and has been detained as a full-scale investigation has commenced.” However, the identity of the cops was not revealed.
It was learnt that the shooting that led to Buraimoh’s death occurred during a raid of sellers of black market fuel at the Ajiwe gas station by the police. However, trouble started when the cops attempted to impound a black marketer’s fuel but he allegedly resisted. “His resistance angered the officers who started shooting indiscriminately,” narrated Buraimoh’s brother, Muyideen.
The duo of Odinaka and Obieche were two businessmen killed on April 24, 2022, by a drunken cop at a friend’s birthday party in a hotel bar at the Gowon Estate in Lagos State.
The two businessmen who were dealers in phone accessories at the Ikeja Computer Village were hit by gunshots from a cop said to be showing off and trying to impress the birthday host when mistakenly fired gunshots at the guests who were dancing.
Despite the promise of the Lagos police spokesperson that “those responsible will not go scot-free,” the promise didn’t see the light of the day, as no one has been prosecuted since the incident.
On January 1, 2023, a policeman attached to the Katsina State Police Command shot dead two people. The incident was said to have happened in the Filin Kanada area of the state. Three teenagers also sustained gunshot injuries.
Koleosho Abayomi is a security guard at the Lekki Peninsula Scheme II, in the Eti Osa Local Government Area of Lagos State. He was shot by a police officer enforcing the ban on motorcycle operations in Lagos on September 28. He was however fortunate to have survived.
The cop, alongside three colleagues attached to the Ogombo Police Station, stormed the Lekki Peninsula Scheme II to enforce the government’s ban on motorcycle operations on the estate when the incident happened. Reacting to the incident, the state police spokesperson confirmed the incident, including the payment of Abayomi’s hospital bills. The identity of the cop was however not revealed.
On January 22, 2022, Durowaiye was killed by a cop whose N20 sachet water he drank in Kogi State.
An eyewitness revealed that Durowaiye was alleged to have taken a sachet of “pure water” belonging to the policeman from the latter’s car to drink before he met his untimely death.
Reacting to the development, Kogi State Commissioner of Police, Edward Egbuka, confirmed the incident, saying a preliminary report from the Area Commander indicated that the accused cop only tried to defend himself when he had an altercation with the victim. Also, the identity of the killer cop was not revealed.
Godsent Obhafuoso was killed by a cop on August 13, 2022, during the burial of his master’s late mother in the Esan North East Local Government Area of Edo State.
While the victim was reportedly doing a video recording of the party and assisting his master to gather the money being sprayed on him, the policeman allegedly fired gunshots which hit a cameraman and Obhafuoso, who was pronounced dead at the Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital.
Though the state Commissioner of Police, Abutu Yaro, confirmed the incident, the policeman involved had yet to be brought to book and the family of the victim was seeking the help of the Inspector General of Police, Usman Baba, for his prosecution.
Oliver Ezra Barawani, a graduate of Taraba State University, was driving with his boss, Liu, an LG chairman, before he was killed by a policeman on June 4, 2022.
According to a Facebook user, Abainitus Hamman, the victim was allegedly shot by a cop at a checkpoint in Kpanti Napo near Jalingo.
He wrote, “Oliver Ezra Gone too soon! He was shot by a police officer at a checkpoint in Kpanti Napo, near the city of Jalingo. Until his death, he was a graduate of Taraba State University.
“Oliver Ezra was brutally killed for nothing. He was driving alongside the executive chairman of Lau LGA between Lakaviri and Jalingo. He was unarmed, innocent, and calm. Nigerian Police brutality has continued unabated! Instead of them dealing with the rising criminals in society, they kill innocent Nigerians.”
The state police neither reacted to the incident nor revealed the identity of the killer cop.
On May 27, 2022, Emmanuel Joseph, an All Progressives Congress Ward Seven youth leader in Calabar South, Calabar State, was killed by a trigger-happy police officer.
The incident occurred at the venue of the party’s primary, Cultural Centre, Calabar. The incident started when Saviour Nyong and Deputy Speaker of the Cross River State House of Assembly, Joseph Bassey, who were the two leading aspirants, arrived at the venue with their supporters.
The two aspirants began to exchange words and threatened themselves in a rowdy manner leading to the invitation of the Anti-cultism/Kidnapping officers who came and started firing bullets. Joseph was said to have been shot directly in the chest by a cop suspected to be the commander of the unit.
A source said after he was shot, the officer allegedly threw teargas canisters to disperse the people, covered the bloodstains on the ground with sand, and fled with his corpse into their office. In this case, also, the police did not react to the incident nor disclose the cop’s identity.
On May 23, 2022, a Journalist, Toba Adedeji, was covering a protest when he was shot by a trigger-happy policeman in Osogbo, Osun State.
A group of youth had converged on a bridge in the Olaiya area of the city to protest against the alleged extrajudicial killing of a youth by a policeman.
The protesters reportedly blocked the road and prevented vehicular movement, chanting protest songs and demanding justice for the victim whose funeral was being performed.
About 30 minutes into the protest, cops reportedly stormed the scene and shot into the crowd and journalists covering the protest to disperse them. The state police spokesperson, Yemisi Opalola, said the Commissioner of Police, Olawale Olokode, had ordered an investigation into the circumstances that led to the alleged shooting of Adedeji.
On July 11, 2022, Emeka Uwalaka, a National Diploma Civil Engineering student of the Federal Polytechnic Nekede, Owerri, Imo State, was shot by a policeman attached to the Nekede Police Division.
Uwalaka was said to be returning from church that Sunday afternoon when the cop shot at him with the bullet hitting the student’s hostel (BenJen lodge) gate in Umuokomoche, Owerri West Local Government Area of Imo State. However, the police didn’t release any press statement on the incident.
Stand of CSOs
Speaking to THISDAY on why there is a surge in police brutality, the Executive Director, of Centre Against Injustice and Domestic Violence (CAIDOV), Gbenga Soloki said, “There is a surge in police brutality owing to several reasons
“Firstly, the mode of recruitment of police officers and men, the process is not transparent and due diligence is not followed. Some checks are not conducted on those being enlisted into the police force. Some of the police officers and men buy their way into the system, and they will want to recoup their money by all means, and at all cost.
“The police do not have adequate records of some of those enlisted. The mode of discipline in the service is not tidy enough to discourage others. A situation where a police officer that has committed a grievous crime against a civilian is just dismissed only, won’t serve as a deterrent.
“Stiffer penalty should be meted to erring police officers. Human rights courses should be included in their curriculum. And stern monitoring of police activities both in the offices and on the road should be adequately considered.”
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Also speaking with THISDAY, the Executive Director of Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC), Okechukwu Nwanguma, said, “I think that we need to go deeper in our analysis of the root causes of police violence, brutality and misconduct.
“If two years, going to three years after #EndSARS and the devastating aftermath and impact on police-citizens relations, police brutality has continued on a large scale as we notice every day, then there are lessons that are yet to be learned especially by the political leadership, especially the executive and legislative arms of government.
“The Constitution gives the executive arm the responsibility for the police. Police reform seems not to be yielding the desired result and effects because the government has not mustered the political will to implement the proposed far-reaching reforms that should change the philosophical and operational doctrines of the Police.
“The fruits of the efforts to modernise and democratise the police through the review of the colonial Police Act are yet to ripe and be harvested. The Nigeria Police is still effectively under the political control of the president and the ruling party who do not comply with the Constitution and the Police Act in the management and control of the Police.
“The funds appropriated annually by the legislature for the police, apart from being grossly insufficient to meet the basic needs of the police, are also not fully getting to the police and the little that eventually gets to the police are not being accounted for.
“Nobody is held responsible for the mismanagement of funds meant for police training, equipment, operations and investigation. How much does a DPO get quarterly to run operations at the divisions? Don’t you know that most police checkpoints are set up to generate revenue and those checkpoints most times turn out to be avenues for police harassment and extrajudicial killings?
“Look at the example of the mismanagement of funds by the management of the Police Trust Fund for which the ICPC commenced an investigation and never concluded it two years down the line. Calls on the ICPC to make public its investigation report and findings have been ignored. The same indicted management of the NPTF has been reappointed by President Buhari who claims to be the champion of anti-corruption.
“When the National Assembly appropriates more funds to themselves and for several other needless, wasteful purposes than the funds appropriated for the Nigeria Police; when the welfare of police officers is not made a priority to the extent that apart from poor pay, officers also complain of being owed arrears of as long as six months; when the police do not have funds, equipment and tools to carry out investigation and yet, are under pressure to perform, they are made prone to corruption and violence. Do we then need to go far to understand why police brutality persists?
“When the police are unable to professionally and effectively carry out investigations due to poor resourcing and capacity deficits, and therefore have to secure the majority of convictions through confession (meaning torture), why is it difficult to understand why police brutality persists?
“The ground is simply made fertile for police brutality in Nigeria. And unless the government commits to improving policing resources, operational capabilities and welfare, which means to radically humanise the police, corruption and violence will persist.”
According to Human Rights Watch, a year after the October 2020 incident, Nigeria recorded about 164 cases of extra-judicial killings between January and September 2021. There appears to be no end in sight to the highhandedness and brutality of citizens by some members of the Nigeria Police Force
A situation where a police officer that has committed a grievous crime against a civilian is just dismissed only, won’t serve as a deterrent. Stiffer penalty should be meted to erring police officers. Human rights courses should be included in their curriculum. And stern monitoring of police activities both in the offices and on the road should be adequately considered