Why police killings persist — Investigation

Why police killings persist — Investigation

Section 4 of the Police Act, Cap 359, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990   provides that: “ The police shall be employed for the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of offenders, the preservation of law and order, the protection of life and property and the due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged and shall perform such military duties within or outside Nigeria as may be required by them, or under the authority of this or any other Act”.

Sadly, rather than carry out one of its mandates of protecting lives, the opposite has been the case, as life is being snuffed out of innocent and defenceless Nigerians across the nation, by police bullets bought with taxes of those killed.

The latest of such killings was that of a 41-year-old pregnant female lawyer, Omobolanle   Raheem, in the   Ajah area of Lagos, by an Assistant Superintendent of Police, Drambi Vandi, on December 25, 2022.

To think that a similar incident occurred in the same area a week earlier, by a policeman from the same police division as Vandi- Ajiwe Divisional Headquarters, poses a question on the level of professionalism and training of policemen, especially in arms handling.

When to shoot

It also questions policemen’s knowledge of when to use arms. According to Police Force Order 237, a policeman is permitted to ‘shoot’ suspects and detainees who attempt to escape or avoid arrest.

It is therefore unlawful to kill any person unless the such killing is authorised, justified or excused by law,   according to Nigeria Criminal law.

Though there have been several arrests of errant cops and their subsequent dismissal from the Nigeria Police Force, for proper prosecution in court, only a few of these cases have had their conclusive end aired in public.

It is however worthy to note that only the Nigeria Police has on several occasions made the arrest, identity and pictures of errant policemen public, unlike other security agencies, including the Military.

Root causes

A holistic investigation into the remote causes of unlawful police killings showed that apart from the training on weapon handling acquired by recruits during the six months of training at the Police College,  a good percentage of them never went to the shooting range to perfect their marksmanship.

Most killings of innocent Nigerians were a clear indication of a lack of excellent focus and good hand-eye coordination which determine the target. Most times these policemen, especially the Rank and Files, during interrogation, revealed that they aimed at a vehicle’s tyre or victim’s legs only to miss the target.

Saturday   Vanguard gathered that training at the shooting range is restricted to those in the Mobile Squad and Tactical squads, whereas conventional policemen at the divisions, Area Commands and administrative units never visited the shooting range until they retire.

An instructor at one of the shooting ranges in Ogun state, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said frequent visits to shooting ranges by security agents also promoted mental fortitudes.

  He said, “The combination of calculating your distance, breathing, and eyesight when shooting a weapon requires strong mental toughness. It’s not easy to calibrate all the factors when adrenaline is released. Your nerves and stamina will sharpen the more you shoot. One needs to employ problem-solving and discipline to correct any errors or misses”.

Standard operation

Another cause for unlawful killings of Nigerians by policemen is the use of an analogue-based mode of crime prevention, detection and control in the age of technology.

The facial recognition software, for instance,   is a   technological minus in the NPF. This software is capable of matching a human face from a digital image or a video frame against a database of faces, typically employed to authenticate users through identity verification services.

With this, criminals are easily identified and apprehended, rather than flagging every car down on suspicion and shooting if the driver refuses to stop.  

Accommodation

Most times, some of these policemen, especially those in the Rank and File, vent their frustration and disappointment on the civilians they are meant to protect.

While some of them who are not privileged to live in the barracks come from a very far distance from their stations, they immediately report to the roads, fatigued and unable to comport themselves professionally.

Strength constraint

 Another major cause for unprofessionalism that results in reckless misfiring by policemen is the dearth of manpower, a constraint that leaves a policeman to over 400 Nigerians, which is a far cry from the United Nations standard for policing which stipulates a ratio of one policeman to 350 to 400 people.

Out of this number, a good percentage of policemen are assigned to protect so-called ‘Very Important Personalities, VIPs, either in the public or private sectors, with some of them treated as domestic workers, leaving the limited number to overstretch themselves, thereby creating operational difficulties.

Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a major cause of killings by policemen.  Being products of society, some of them had inculcated the habit of drinking into a stupor and taking hard drugs before being recruited into the Nigeria Police Force.

The investigation also showed that some of them get drunk while on duty and accidentally release bullets. Videos of such policemen with rifles sometimes go viral on social media. In some cases, these lightweight policemen even lose their service rifles.  

Impunity

Again, some of them carry on with impunity because of the individuals they are attached to as escorts, only to realize too late that they are on their own.

An instance was an accidental discharge by a policeman that led to the death of two guests at a birthday party in the   Egbeda area of Lagos, in April 2022.

Two months later, five police escorts to singer Damini Ogulu aka Burna Boy were arrested for shooting two fun seekers: Lawrence Irebami and another simply identified as Tolu, at Club Cubana in the Victoria Island area of   Lagos.

Way out

In an interview with the Executive Director of Crime Victims Foundation and a Police Human Rights Trainer, Mrs Gloria Egbuji, she asserted that there were dimensions of training needed for police officers at the moment, highlighting   Police offender’s relationships and handling of weapons as the most important training that calls for quick action.

According to her, “ It is the insufficiency of these that results in fatalities.The insecurity situation   in the country has   also engendered a lot of insecurity   and fear in the police officers and other security personnel making them overreact to very simple issues like stop and search which police use when absolutely necessary

“However the Police   Commanders must be trained on how to safeguard and deploy their personnel on duties including   their mental health .“My area of training   for them is   to define   and know the limit to exercise their authority and human rights of people, how they approach people   and the limit of police powers

“Statistically, these incidents would have been more but for the training and awareness my training has created, with     over 22000 officers trained

“ It will be recalled that most of those involved in these dastardly acts have not undergone our training because ‘Permissible use of firearms   and respect of people’s fundamental human rights form the core area of our training

“Perhaps the officers involved in these killings were also under the influence of alcohol or substance abuse. This further emphasizes the urgent need for police to invest more in training their officers on a continuous basis because crime is dynamic, to avoid future occurrences.

“Again, there are also indiscipline and abuses at some police Area Commands locally, in postings and other corrupt practices in posting the right personnel. Downright nepotism within the local security forces should be checked”

On his part, the Executive Director, of the Rule of Law and Accountability Centre, RULAAC Okechukwu Nwaguma, maintained that the persistence of unlawful police killings called for a deeper understanding of the root causes. 

He wondered if “After the October 2020 EndSARS protests, extortion, torture, extrajudicial killings and other forms of police brutality remain prevalent, then there is a need for serious reassessment to understand the causes and apply the appropriate solutions.

“There is no doubt that impunity, a consequence of the state’s failure to ensure effective investigation of incidents with a view to bringing perpetrators to account, is a key causative factor.   But I think that alone will not suffice unless another factor is addressed: the compromised process of police recruitment which circumvents the established guidelines and allows unqualified, unfit and untrained people to find their way into the police.

“ An additional factor is the failure to ensure psychological evaluation of candidates before they are recruited and periodically, while in service to ensure that they are mentally fit to be entrusted with firearms.

“ Other factors are the deficit in forensic capabilities, failure to enforce professional standards and poor working conditions which impoverish personnel and make them prone to corruption and violence.   All these contribute to the predatory behaviour and tendency to easily abuse and misuse firearms. 

“Unless there is a genuine commitment to implement reforms that address these problems, we will only continue to lament and condemn after every incident and wait for the next to happen. And then police authorities will do no more than give assurances of carrying out an investigation and that may be the end. Addressing these challenges calls for competent leadership both at the level of the police and at the political level”.

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