Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Checking Police Killings

Nigeria Police
Since persistent public outrage has failed to stem the tide of extra-judicial killings by the police, a thorough prosecution and sanction of police personnel found guilty of murder is definitely one of the drastic measures the nation must take now. This step was taken in Rivers State recently when a court sentenced a policeman, Inspector Samuel Timothy , to death by hanging for killing citizen Onyekachi Nwasouba.

A graduate of chemistry, Nwasouba was forced by unemployment into the production and distribution of sachet water. It was on one of his trips to distribute the product that the convict who led a patrol team pursued Nwasouba to the front of his house. He shot him dead despite his protest that he was not a robber. That shooting of Nwasouba in 2010 is about one of many. Before 2010 and since then, police personnel have been involved in reckless and brutal killings of innocent citizens. This tragic proclivity of the police was captured in 2008 by Amnesty International. In a report entitled “ Nigeria police kill at will”, the global watchdog documented cases of torture and shooting of suspects.

These brutalities are often meted out to the citizens, under different guises. The police personnel shoot at citizens who fail to oblige them a bribe on demand. This could be as little as N100. In the case of Godwin Ekpo, a tricycle operator, his wife was shot dead after he refused to give a policeman a bribe of N2,000 he had demanded. Ekpo , his wife and four children were returning from church on a Sunday in Lagos when the family came under fire. While he survived, his wife died.

Thus rather than protect the citizens the police have turned their guns on Nigerians. Therefore, there is the urgent need to make the Nigeria Police personnel revert to their primary duty of protecting the citizens. To be sure, the leadership of the Nigeria Police may have tried at different times to instill discipline and steer men and officers from the path of routine killings of innocent citizens. But such efforts have not been too successful. For instance, even though different inspectors-general of police have warned their officers against mounting roadblocks, this practice continues. In fact, most of the extortions and extra-judicial killings take place at illegal roadblocks mounted by police personnel.

The police need re-orientation from their fixation on violence. Such re-orientation should begin at the point of recruitment when emphasis should be placed on character. But this has not been possible over the years because the recruiters who ought to administer the character test are themselves sometimes worse in corruption than the recruits. Sad tales of applicants who pay bribes in order to be enlisted into the police are commonplace. Even though some of the personnel have university degrees, they need re-education; and their values should be changed through regular trainings. The culture of brutality against citizens is so deeply entrenched that all the different units of the police are guilty of it: the regular police, mobile police , traffic police, among others. New curricula in police training schools should reflect the ethos of the society, the importance of Nigeria in the life of a police officer, contentment, character and a well-defined guiding philosophy of the country.

One way the police can check the escalation of the men’s proclivity for violence is to restrict the use of arms to special units and those who deal with the public should not be allowed to carry arms indiscriminately. Those who deal with the public should be trained in unarmed combat and the use of communication technology as well as less-lethal weapons like pepper spray. In this regard, they would only need to send for reinforcement from their armed colleagues in situations they cannot handle without arms.

Brutality most times involves the rank and file but it is obvious that the culture of impunity in the police has been sustained by the complicity of the superiors. In most cases, it is the divisional police officers and even higher authorities that shield their junior officers from investigation and prosecution. And in many cases, these superior officers are known to share from the reward of the crime of their junior officers. Thus for a change of values to be effective in the police, senior officers must model good behaviour, sanction their erring officers, end the era of shielding men and maintain core values of policing.

The welfare package of the police as it exists today is certainly not an incentive for optimal performance. The police personnel are poorly remunerated and some even pay for their own uniforms and kits. The inadequate funds that the government makes available for their welfare are further fraudulently depleted by some superior officers. In the rare cases where they are accommodated in barracks, the living conditions are deplorable. And because they are few compared to the population, they are overworked. All these conditions imbue the rank and file with a psychology that sees the citizens as their enemies. In this regard, the government should ensure that the police personnel are properly kitted, well remunerated and their post-retirement welfare fully guaranteed.

Ultimately, for the country to get effective policing, it must embrace true federalism and the police must be decentralised.

Credit: The Guardian

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