The continuing menace of police brutality

August 21, 2020
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Few days ago, around 22nd July, 2020, the Nigerian populace woke up to the news that another video of police brutality, harassment and torture had gone viral. The video depicted officers of the Nigerian Police who had identified themselves as Wyclef and Gboyega and some unnamed accomplices questioning a young lady who was in handcuffs and who was being grilled for every inch of her life on matters that were not only intrusive, but which were personal and not relating in any way to the official matter which the officers had come to Ibadan to investigate and make an arrest for. Towobola became one more victim in the long list of Nigerian persons; young people, who the police have forcefully taken, intimidated, harassed, embarrassed and damaged their names and reputation while acting with clear impunity, disregard for law and the procedure for handling suspects; bearing in mind the principles of legality and the constitutional rights of accused persons; which arguably, Towobola wasn’t at the time of the questioning. It becomes clear from the line of questioning by the Police that the predators in uniform were only so glad that a vulnerable, defenseless and scared young lady had fallen into their nest.

Questions about and around the sexuality of the young lady; how many men she has been with, why she didn’t stay with the man who deflowered her, to mention a few of the saddening enquiry were shamelessly asked. The interrogation clearly focused on mocking the young lady, making wicked and crude insinuations about her person and character, whilst all of this was being recorded by the perpetrators of this dastardly act, who subsequently released this video into the main stream.  The Inspector General of Police on the 23rd July, 2020 ordered that discreet investigation be undertaken. A tweet by the police said, “The Inspector-General of Police has ordered discreet investigations into the circumstances surrounding the dehumanizing treatment meted out to a female citizen in the above viral video…”  The question on the mind of several Nigerians remain: after discreet investigation has been undertaken per the instruction of the IGP, what next? What’s the effect of this on the continuing menace that police brutality, harassment, torture, extortion (and all of the impunity that the Nigerian police keeps meting out at every point) have become in Nigeria? On 30th April 2018, Ugochukwu, a 32 years old trader was allegedly arrested without warrant; detained, tortured for six days, with his life threatened by officers of the Nigerian Police and even a mock execution staged to scare him into meeting the demands of the Police to extort monies running to 6 million naira from him.

On March 6, one Hamilton Osahenehen Obazee was allegedly killed by SARS in Edo State. These are just few cases of the impunity of the Nigerian Police and the public outcry and debates that trail such acts. It is worthy of note however that no sooner than the media frenzy, faux outrage and attention of the public has been moved from such acts, usually by the statement by the Nigerian Police that investigation is ongoing and the perpetrators would undergo internal disciplinary measures of the Nigerian Police, nothing is then heard about any such measures, what they entail and how they serve as deterrent. In more than one case in fact, the perpetrators have been known to return to such post to perpetuate even greater ills and with greater impunity.  What then is the hope of the common man? What is the legal framework if any to put a lasting end to such impunity as displayed by the Nigerian police? S. 341 of the Police Act prescribes that: In the individual exercise of his powers as a police officer, every police officer shall be personally liable for any misuse of his powers, or any act done in excess of his authority.”

The Act also provides in its S. 338-340 that “every police officer is required to use his best endeavour to uphold the good name of the force, and to further good relations with the public.” The enforcement of these provisions unfortunately is not representative of the Nigerian situation. The Nigerian Police Force has been known to shield many erring officers with such administrative bottlenecks as “discreet investigation”, thereby thwarting the quest for justice for the victims of the wicked acts of such officers. It cannot even be argued that the officers were acting in the line of duty or in capacities naturally incidental to their duties, as time and time again officers of the Nigerian Police Force have acted outside of the procedural rules and the Practice Direction of the Police vis-a- vis the Nigerian Constitution (which is the grundnorm upon which other laws of the land derive their validity).  Chapter 4 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended, provides the following rights to suspects under the law. 1. Right to life, human dignity (freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment, torture) personal liberty, and privacy). 2. Right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. 3. Right to remain silent during criminal investigation and trial processes. 4. Right to notice of charges within a reasonable period. 5. Right to be arraigned before a court or tribunal, and to a judicial proceeding in language(s) understood by the suspect (including interpretation of proceedings in language understood by suspect). 6. Right to be arraigned before a court within a reasonable period. 7. Right to be represented by a counsel of one’s own choice provided one is able to pay for the services (and to state legal aid for indigent persons in cases of capital offences).8. Right to bail. 9. Right to cross-examine prosecutions witnesses and to present witnesses.10. Right to speedy trial. 11. Right against self-incrimination and compulsion to testify against or for oneself. 12. Right to a fair, open and impartial judicial process. 13. Right against unduly long detention without trial. 14. Right against retroactive laws. 15. Right against double jeopardy – (multiple trials for the same offence). 16. Right to an appeal in respect of the decisions of a court of first instance.

The actions of the Nigeria Police are mostly with flagrant disregard of these fundamental rights.  Perhaps the Nigerian problem isn’t the absence of legislations, laws or a legal regime for the lasting end to the dastardly acts of the Nigerian Police but the lack of a will and desire for the enforcement of the abundant legislations. Lord Chief Justice Hewart in R v. Sussex Justices ex parte McCarthy ([1924) 1 KB 256, [1923] All ER Rep 233) instructs that justice should be seen to be done. “Justice should not only be done but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done” Justice for Towobola doesn’t end with discreet investigation or the arrest and detention of the perpetrators who have now been arrested (good development as that might seem). Justice for Towobola consist in undoing the harm that has been done by the officers of the Nigerian Police; as much as possible.  Justice for Towobola consist in a public apology- published in at least two print media by the Nigeria Police to the person of Beelolase Towobola Qulthum; compensation/damages for the harm to name, reputation and integrity of the young lady occasioned by the acts of these officers; therapy and mental rehabilitation at the expense of the Nigerian Police Force for the young lady and appropriate punishment for these erring officers to serve as deterrence to other officers in the Force.

Adebimpe, a legal practitioner, writes in via fumsymoon@gmail.com.

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