Curbing police menace in Nigeria

In Nigeria, the relationship between the Police and law-abiding citizens is wrapped in distrust and suspicion. This is because everyone in Nigeria is a perceived victim of police brutality, unprofessionalism and harassment.

When Nigeria police was ranked last in the world by a global security and economic organisation, no Nigerian citizen spoke in defence of the police force because, the truth often suppressed at home by police authorities and goverment has eventually gone viral abroad.

It is disheartening that one could hardly leaf through Nigerian online news outlets without coming across reports of police brutality, murder and harassment. If these stories are to be believed or confirm true, Nigeria police may statistically have killed more Nigerians extra-judicially than armed robbers.

With a police force bedeviled by indiscipline, corruption and unprofessional conducts, it is not uncommon to see SARS, the police division created to combat armed robbery, handling land disputes, or harrasing any young individual with expensive phones as internet fraudsters because of the kind of money these cases usually generate.

Scenarios

I was once travelling with my boss some time ago from Anambra to Enugu in a Green Ford Expedition SUV when we were stopped by police at the checkpoint on the express way. Mind, there was no reason for stopping us. Nigeria police usually call this kind of harassment and witch-hunt routine stop and search.

You don’t have to be driving above recommended speed limits, or fail to use your turn signals or beat the red light or have broken taillamps, or damaged windshield, no. You only need to be in a car driving and you will be stopped by Nigeria police for the only reason to check if your vehicle papers have expired or if your driving license needs renewing. The motive? They usually collect a fee (bribe) upon any missing or expired car document papers. It is really a wild goose chase, stopping cars randomly in hopes to find one with a missing paper or expired documents. The more cars stopped, the better odds of finding one with a missing paper. It is the reason you’re stopped without having to break any driving codes or rules. Anyways, the policemen, over four in number with three using their bodies as strategic blockage to prevent any movement of the “suspect vehicle” flagged us down while one approached the driver, peering at me in the front and my boss behind.

After demanding for vehicle papers and finding everything intact, he asked to see the cargo area of the SUV and upon sighting a radio receiver, his face was lit with joy of expectation. Without delay, he demanded for the receipt of the radio set. My boss inquired if he was expected to carry the receipt of a handheld radio set in his car? The law officer did not respond directly but insisted on having the receipt. After a few minutes of arguing, my boss asked the policeman to have the radio set to himself. A trick that worked like charm; the radio has no value, not costing above $12 and my boss wasn’t about to negotiate or drive back home to get the receipt. The policeman instantly blurted, “Oga no be so, nah, you wan’ dash me your property? Find us something make you dey go”. A Five hundred Naira note exchanged hands in “understanding”.

Usually, And if the cars keep having an up-to-date papers and registration, Two things are improvised : 1. You’re either asked to open your trunk or boot of your car and a receipt is demanded for your personal effects like laptop, TV set, radio set by the police right at the middle of the express road. (As i just narrated) Mind you these are supposed to be mobile gadgets that is meant to be carried about….also, the principle of implied ownership is unobserved by Nigeria police either in true ignorance of the law or in the pursuit of extortion.

2. Or, Rarely, but they could invent a non existent vehicle paper on the spot and ask you to produce it, failure to do so ends in a threat of arrest and you are meant to part with a sum. Arguing about the legality over the document will have you delayed for hours in your journey or still dumped at the police station.

Traveling from Warri in Delta state to Enugu– a Journey of about 5 hours– after the Christmas and New year celebrations, I was stopped at the famous Onitsha Head bridge by a team of policemen wearing bulletproof vests with SARS inscription. I had done over 3 hours of the journey and was looking forward to crossing the ever busy bridge and beat the massive traffic at Upper Iweka in Onitsha. And I was pulled over. I knew the routine and wasn’t fretting or anxious about what I must have done wrong to earn a stop.

One of them came and asked for the content in my boot, to which I answered it was just my personal effects. He asked to take a look and I alighted to open the boot. Seeing nothing of interest, he demanded for vehicle papers and driver’s license.

I reached into my glove compartment and produced my driver’s license, insurance, vehicles registration and roadworthiness certification all intact. I was confident and calm, event though the burning desire and anxiety was eating me to complete the journey in time to honour some appointments.

I was waiting and expecting the officer to hand me my documents to continue my journey… when he folded the papers, I extended my hand to receive them but he suddenly demamded for my vehicle’s plate number receipt!

I thought I didn’t hear right.

He explained, ” did you buy this car direct Belgium (used abroad), or as second hand in Nigeria”? I answered to the former and he said I should have the receipt for the plate number registration.

My spirit was crushed and I silently resolved not to part with any money or even plead. I told the policeman that plate number registration is done before vehicle papers and insurance without which you cannot register a car, seeing that all valid documents carried the car’s plate number registration. He insisted I produce the paper notwithstanding.

Firmly I told him without mincing words that paper does not exist! He was angry but I didn’t care. I briefly scanned their ranks and approached the most superior officer in rank, who to my astonishment was arguing with a commercial bus driver over illegal fees police usually collect daily. I knew then it was hopeless seeking his intervention.

I came back to the officer detaining me, and brought out my phone and called a friend, an Assistant Commissioner Of Police, and explained to him right in the presence of the policeman. The ACP asked me to give the policeman the phone. On handing my phone to him, he took the phone straight into the bush to take the call, not wanting me to hear the usual lies he was bound tell.

He came back grudgingly handing back my stuff and phone to me.

Recommendations

Now, it’s not against the law to film policemen effecting arrest but Nigeria police will never allow it. The fastest way to get your phone destroyed, take some beatings and even get arrested is to attempt to film or take pictures of a policeman effecting arrest or doing interrogation.

And this is where Nigeria could stem the rising tide of police menace an ensure accountability in the country; make a law enabling a citizen to record police encounter! Just like the law compelling doctors to treat gun shot victims without police report, because police usually demand a report from hospitals before gun shot victims could be treated, a situation that has caused loss of lives even when no law mandates hospital to inform the police before treatment is carried. Where citizens are empowered by law to record arrests and interrogation by police, it would greatly improve accountability and obliterate the planting of weapons on corpse and branding them armed robbers. The incidence of the Apo six comes to mind. A situation where 6 young people were gunned down by police and weapons planted on them to brand them as cultists.

To the best of my knowledge, Nigeria police are the only body in Nigeria empowered to institute criminal proceedings. Not a bad idea but a situation where the police are reluctant to prosecute its own or conceal evidence of wrong doing in respect of an officer gone rogue, it then behoves a Justice department is set up, independent of the police to investigate and prosecute erring police officer if there are enough prima facie evidence that a police officer is culpable of a crime.

Conclusively, it is recommended that all investigative, detective police officers, especially those deployed for stop and search, investigation and patrol have a minimum educational qualification of National Diploma (ND) or Ordinary National Diploma (OND). Permit me to be factually blunt; most of the Sergeants, Corporals, etc in Nigeria police force are budding illiterates who are not well acquainted with the law they are meant to enforce.
To have an effective police department is to have officers and men who are abreast with prevailing trend, fad, an up-to-date worldview and broad knowledge. Nigeria’s Police force unfortunately do not represent the educational qualification of the average Nigerian, neither can most on the road hold an intelligent conversation.

I have encountered a police officer who accused a doctor for drug abuse when he found painkillers in his car, even with NAFDAC approved seal and number.

With Nigeria still having her people guided and guarded by officers with SSCE and Junior WAEC on the road, there’s going to be friction and lack of synergy between the police and average Nigerian who is armed with a Bsc Or HND.

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