The Nigerian Police Force and Extrajudicial Killings: Towards a Positive Legal Framework and Curbing the Menace
Media reports reveal the “brutal killing” of a pregnant female lawyer, Mrs Omobolanle Raheem, on Christmas Day last year, 25th December 2022, by a police officer in Nigeria’s commercial hub, Lagos. The incident occurred as the officer, an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) assigned to the Ajiwe Police Station in the Ajah area of Lagos State, tried to stop the deceased and her family while returning home following a Christmas Day church service. The deceased was reportedly shot as the car she was riding in attempted to make a U-turn beneath the Ajah Bridge. After being taken to a hospital in a hurry, she was confirmed dead.
Nigerians have denounced the horrible murder, including politicians, attorneys, and civil society organizations. Raheem’s extrajudicial execution serves as a sombre reminder of the police violence that led to young people’s EndSARS protests in Nigeria in October 2020. At this point, it is obvious that the Nigerian Police did not take any lessons from the EndSARS movement.
The incident occurred while Nigerians were still agitating over a similar case done by the same station in the state; some police officers from the same station viciously murdered a young man a few weeks ago before Raheem’s saga. That former murderer hasn’t been brought to justice as of yet. Recent reports about the Ajiwe Police Station have revealed wrongdoing by police officers. Nigerians are concerned that if nothing is done right away to prosecute the violators of the law, the matter will soon be swept under the carpet in the usual Nigerian manner. Sadly, the unjustified killing is one of the violations of fundamental human rights committed by the Nigerian police force. The violations range from torture, extortion, unlawful detention, unlawful arrest, arbitrary denial of bail, etc. But extrajudicial killing mostly leads to public outcry to the extent that if care is not taken, it will turn to protest.
Negative effects of human rights violations by the Nigerian Police Force
Human rights violations have several negative effects. The psychological effects are multiple and are amplified by the other stresses of living in a deprived society. The implication extends beyond the victims to the family, the community, and the nation at large.
When considering the consequences of gross human rights violations on people’s rights, it is hard to differentiate between the consequences’ physical and psychological effects. It must also be noted that human rights violations affect many people and adversely affect the general public.
In the case of Nigeria and the recent killing, the public has noted that Raheem’s murder is one of the numerous instances of police brutality and extrajudicial executions that have been repeatedly documented in Lagos and other states of Nigeria. Raheem was murdered just over two years after police extrajudicial killings sparked a national outcry that culminated in the #EndSARS protests of October 2020, during which millions of youth demanded police reforms, compensation for victims’ families, and punishment for trigger-happy police officers.
Victims’ families and friends do not suffer alone; society is being damaged through trauma inflicted on its members, and there is an instilled fear that basic human rights are neither guaranteed nor respected and that freedom is not represented. The unlawful killings of innocent citizens also send wrong signals to those within a political opposition, social, or religious setting, as well as to ordinary citizens, who cannot rightly claim to live in a free or safe society.
The Laws Guiding the Nigerian Police Force
The Nigerian Police Force is a creation of the Nigerian Constitution. It has a unitary structure, even though Nigeria is a federation. The nature and powers of the government are conferred on it by the Constitution and other enactments. In relation to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Section 214 provides:
(1) There shall be a police force for Nigeria, which shall be known as the Nigeria Police Force, and subject to the provisions of this section, no other police force shall be established for the Federation or any part thereof.
(2) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution,
(a) The Nigeria Police Force shall be organised and administered in accordance with such provisions as may be prescribed by an act of the National Assembly;
(b) The members of the Nigeria Police shall have such powers and duties as may be conferred upon them by law;
(c) The National Assembly may make provisions for branches of the Nigeria Police Force to form part of the armed forces of the Federation or for the protection of harbours, waterways, railways, and airfields.
By the above provisions, constitutional validity is given to such enactments as the Police Act, which provides the “framework for the Police Force and ensures cooperation and partnership between the police and host communities in maintaining peace, combating crime, protecting liberties, life, and property, and for related matters.”
Police officers, by their nature, protect the lives and property of citizens. They are meant to maintain law and order, arrest lawbreakers, and work to prevent crimes. In societies, they perform different kinds of duties. Larger cities have a more structured division of responsibility. Police officers may patrol the streets on foot or in squad cars, control traffic, or work as detectives investigating crimes. It could be safely said that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Police Act are the principal sources but not the only sources of police powers. There are other sources of police powers and duties, too. However, the same laws that entrust duties to the police also vest them with the powers with which to carry out those duties.
But currently, the reverse is the case. There has been misuse of powers to stop and search, improper use of powers to arrest without warrant, and abnormal use of powers to search premises, among others: Nigerian police officers now commit crimes at a predictable pace. Many who cannot afford to pay bribes face being shot or tortured to death by the men of the Nigerian Police Force. Because they cannot afford a lawyer or legal costs, victims’ families often cannot seek justice or restitution. Despite the government’s repeated promises to solve the Nigerian criminal justice system’s issues, no progress has been made. There is a flagrant and pervasive disregard for human rights and due process within the Nigerian Police Force. Before or during arrest in the street or at roadblocks, or later in police detention, people are subjected to enforced disappearances and illegally killed by the police. Many illegal killings tend to be extrajudicial executions, and the perpetrators (the police officers concerned) are rarely prosecuted.
In the recent killing that caused a public outcry, the spokesman for the Lagos State Police Command, SP Benjamin Hundeyin, described it as “unfortunate and avoidable,” assuring the public that justice would prevail.
“The ASP that shot him and two others with him have since been taken into custody.”
He also said the policemen will be moved to the State Criminal Investigation Department in Panti for further investigation. “The Lagos State Police Command condoles with the family, friends, and colleagues of Barrister Bolanle Raheem.” The Commissioner of Police, Lagos State Command, CP Abiodun Alabi, has been in touch with the family and the Nigerian Bar Association since yesterday and has given firm assurances that justice will definitely prevail.
The Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Usman Baba, also strongly denounced the fatal shooting of the victim. The Force Public Relations Officer, Olumuyiwa Adejobi, said in a statement that the IGP, who called the situation tragic and sad, ordered a prompt inquiry and prosecution of the officers responsible for the obscene and unprofessional behaviour.
The IGP noted that “the act doesn’t portray the Nigeria Police Standard Operating Procedure and core values.”
“In the same vein, the IGP commiserates with the family, friends, and colleagues of the deceased as he prays for the repose of her soul… “He further assures the general public of justice in the case while he warns officers and men of the Force to be professional and people-oriented in the discharge of their duties and operate within the ambit of the law, as the Force’s leadership will not condone any inappropriate or unprofessional acts,” the statement read.
Also, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has demanded that justice be served on the matter. The National Publicity Secretary, Akorede Lawal, has written that “We are aware of this unfortunate incident.” This is yet another crime against a lawyer. Regrettably, our member is gone… We shall ensure that justice is duly served.”
Curbing the menace
The fact that the police officers continue to carry out extrajudicial killings shows how inadequately the offenders among them are punished. Covering such issues has given policemen the confidence to continue committing extrajudicial killings. They commit these crimes because they know they won’t be punished.
The Federal Government and the Nigeria Police Force should reform the deteriorating force comprehensively in light of the rising police brutality. In addition to providing the police with proper equipment, training and retraining are required for the Nigerian police officers, particularly in the safe use of firearms and relations with the general public. The men of the Nigerian Police Force should treat Nigerians with dignity and respect.
Human rights education should also be included in the curriculum of police training schools during recruitment training at training camps.The curriculum of police colleges should be enlarged to adequately deal with human rights education, international codes and ethics for law enforcement officers, and how the craft and management of policing can embrace “human rights as central to good policing.”
Workshops, seminars, and lectures for the reorientation of police officers should be organised at the state and divisional command levels to enable them to acquire the proper orientation for policing a free and democratic society.
The regulatory body should prioritise those who know the law, such as those who obtain Legal Certificates, during the Nigeria Police Force recruitment process.Those ones would respect the law and would not be contravening the law in enforcing human rights.
Also, the Public Complaint Commission, which seems to be an effective agency for protecting and enforcing human rights, must “upskill” in its tasks.
Finally, an effective judiciary that is quick in dispensing justice is a guarantee or sine qua non against the misuse of police powers or violations of human rights by men of the Nigeria Police Force in Nigeria. Any police officer who goes beyond his authority and violates another person’s rights should be held accountable. This would curb the wrongful exercise of power by the police against the citizens.