A Statement By The Pro Democracy and Leading Civil Rights Advocacy Group; Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) on The Entire Anti Special Anti-Robbery Squad Fiasco, The Police Constant Harassment of The Media, Calling for A Surgical Overhaul of The Police Through Constitutional Reforms In Addition to Setting Up Judicial Commission of Inquiry into The Extrajudicial Killings by Police And To Audit All Detention Centers Run By Police and Security Forces.
HURIWA narrated what was contained in the report to be a record of the experiences of the victim of the excesses of disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in Enugu State, in the person of Mr Chinedu Ogbodo, who incidentally has also petitioned the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, to come to his aid and put an end to the continuous detention of his workers by the deadly disbanded unit.
Ogbodo who hails from Amechi Awkunanaw in Enugu South Local Government Area of Enugu State, speaking through his lawyer who signed the petition, Obinna Ugwu, explained how one Inspector Celestine Nyigba, led his men to the project site.
He narrated how in the early hours of Sunday, 11th October 2020, at about 4 am, Inspector Nyigba led a team of operatives to raid a project site, smashed through the security house and without provocation or any reason, violently pounced on the security guards who had gone in to shield themselves from the rain. He said the security guards have since been held in the SARS facility, Enugu.
He said one of the unarmed night guards was shot on the legs, while some other sustained various degrees of injuries and were bundled out of the project site like common criminals, even when they were not caught in any violent crime.
“Ogbodo was appointed by his community as the site supervisor for the community’s development project situated in Amechi Awkunanaw. He was entrusted with the responsibility of overseeing the entire work on the site.
“In the discharge of his responsibility, our client secured the services of some night guards from a private security service outfit based in Enugu and headed by one Alhaji Ahmed which security outfit deployed about five (5) of their personnel to the project site equipping them with torchlights, whistles and clubs necessary for the discharge of their duty to guide the site and call attention in the event of any ugly situation.
“According to our Client, when he resumed work at about 9 am of the same day, he discovered to his greatest dismay the overwhelming absence of the night guards which left the store unprotected, thereby occasioning the breaking into the same store with several items such as a high voltage electricity conductor (that is, High Tension cable) worth about Thirty-Three Million (N33,000,000.00) Naira, steel reinforcement rods worth over Seven Million (N7,000,000.00) Naira, Eight Hundred and Fifty (850) bags of cement among other valuables carted away.
“In view of the above therefore, it is our clients’ most humble desire and prayer that you use your good offices to come to his assistance by causing an immediate release of the innocent security guards whose fundamental human rights have been terribly infringed upon for urgent medical attention so as to avoid a possible loss of the lives of innocent Nigerians,” part of the letter read.
HURIWA is shocked that despite the fact that even the President Muhammadu Buhari, Senate President Ahmed Lawan and virtually the entire leaderships of the different levers of government have continued to applaud the Police following the widely reported public notice on the dissolution by the IGP of SARS, It is clear that the crimes against humanity for which a lot of the SARS operatives were accused of committing, are being replicated many hours after the celebrated DISBANDMENT OF SARS.
Special Anti-Robbery Squad; a unit in the Nigerian Police, was established in 1992 with the mandate of combating armed robbery and other related crimes. But it quickly garnered notoriety for brutal violations of human rights, which includes arbitrary arrests and detention, sexual harassment, barefaced extortions, torture and extrajudicial killings.
Since 2017, many Nigerians on social media had begun trending a Twitter hashtag #EndSARS calling for the disbandment of the unit. Last week, young people began demonstrations against police brutality, which have swept Nigeria, demanding justice for victims and intensifying the clamour for reform and accountability.
Mobilised through social media, the youth-led rallies in several parts of the country initially targeted the federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a notorious police unit long accused of harassment, extortion and extrajudicial killings, have also been challenging growing anger among the youth over unemployment, corruption and economic mismanagement.
Authorities on had Sunday last week announced the scrapping of SARS and the redeployment of its officers to other police units, which fell short of expectations for many protesters, who have since pledged to continue fighting for accountability, an end to police violence and a complete overhaul of the security apparatus.
Worrisome is that in the midst of the clamour, these protesters have been met with violence and excessive use of force. As such, we are skeptical of the authorities’ pledge to end police atrocities because the past claims of reforming SARS have turned out to be empty words.
That the police are still using excessive force on peaceful protesters, which has led to injuries and deaths in Lagos, Ughelli, Abuja and Ogbomosho, throws through the window claims of any commitment to ending violations of human rights by Nigeria police. This is of utmost concern to us as civil rights advocacy group.
Beyond the Anti SARS Fiasco, there have been cases of police constant harassment of the media of which the latest being the arrest of a publisher in Abuja on the directive of minister of state for budgets.
In all democratic societies, all over the world, the media has a role to play. That role is to inform the populace of facts. In addition to providing current events, the news media have a distinct role in a democracy to oversee the actions of the traditional branches of government and thereby prevent abuses of power by those branches
Evidently, lack of surgical overhaul of the police through a constitutional reform, which it does not look like the current national assembly members can do even with over a billion naira budgeted for their routine and ritual of constitution amendments has far reaching implications.
This is because, the one thing we all agree is that Nigeria is in desperate need of police reform. Not just SARS reform, but police reform. Nobody in their right senses believes that the Nigeria police is their friend.
They are to be avoided at all costs, lest their trigger happy fingers create more chaos than they are worth. At the same time, how can we continue to live in a society where nobody is held accountable, and there is no law and order?
OUR POSITION AND WAY FORWARD
As an important arm in governance and social control, attention has to be focused on the police. Corruption, inadequate funding, poor governance, and public attitude to the police force, under-staffing, and inadequate training have been identified by scholars and policymakers as major problems of the Nigerian Police.
The Nigerian Police Force has not been able to contribute effectively and efficiently to the maintenance of national security of Nigeria because of indiscipline. There is lot of laxity, insolence and disrespect among men and officers of the Nigerian Police.
Corruption, inadequate funding, poor training, and interference of governments in Police duties, understaffing and poor training are results of circumvention of standards. Rules and orders stipulated by the Nigeria Police Acts and provisions by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are not adhered to. This results in their dismal performance.
We, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) do recognize the objectives and goals of the ongoing nationwide protests, which is to address the excesses of the now banned Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigerian Police Force.
While we commiserate with all the innocent victims of alleged SARS brutality and the families of those who have suffered fatalities in the hands of this notorious police department, we wish to state that with the current outcry by the Nigerian youths against police brutality in the country, the need for the complete overhaul of the very foundational structure of the Nigerian Police Force informed by genuine commitment, political will and constitutional reform cannot be overemphasized.
In line with the demonstrators whose demands now appear to have widened to include calls for reforms across the country’s entire police system and the call for an independent body to investigate police abuse, according to a list of demands widely shared on social media, we are recommending for the naming of Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the extrajudicial killings by police and to audit all detention centres run by police and all security forces.
No doubt, many pundits have acknowledged that the Nigerian Police Force is faced with numerous frustrations such as opaque recruitment processes, inadequate training, poor remunerations, poor working conditions and benefits, and a non-existent development incentive, which according to them informs the attitude of the police towards the citizenry and the output of policing in the country; yet, there is no justification whatsoever to the spate of brutality the Nigerian police is leashing on the same citizenry they have sworn to serve and to protect.
Currently the sorrow of Nigerians, justifiably so, against their own very police service men and women, is so overwhelming that a surgical reform needs to come in fast. Hence, we are by this statement calling for a holistic reform that strengthens and sustains police-citizens relations, revamps community confidence in the police such as constitutional reform, especially on the sections that govern the establishment of the Nigerian Police Force.
Observably, the present Section 214 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), which governs the establishment of the Nigerian Police Force is no longer fit for the purpose. The Nigerian Police requires an enforceable legislation, which will be in line with international human rights laws, and explicitly specify its functions and powers.
COMRADE EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO:
HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA).
OCTOBER 18TH 2020.