As an intro, the recent spate of bombings and the daily testaments of massive corruption have become the most talked about topic in recent days. Even worse is the seeming insensitivity and incapacity of the ruling class to protect the lives and property of its citizens. I want to, for a moment, give you something else to ponder on.
After so many years of procrastination, I finally completed the first ever fiction work written by John Grisham titled The Innocent Man (Murder In A Small Town) and I must say that was a book that totally commanded my attention. The subject of the book was about the life and times of a certain Ronald K. Williamson; a man who was unjustly sentenced to death row for a rape and murder he did not commit. Luckily, he had his conviction overturned before he was executed. John Grisham graphically chronicled the gross inefficiency of the police force and the district attorneys office in the small town of Ada in Oklahoma that without proper investigation condemned an innocent man with a turbulent history to death row. The story also showed several other men who were wrongly convicted.
After reading, I had cause to ponder; if a society as developed as that of the United States could be prone to such blunders, how much more our own society which is still grappling with much more basic needs?
I cast my mind back to when I did my National Youth Service Corp. My Community Development Service group was the Corp Legal Aid Scheme and it was saddled with the responsibility of providing free legal services to indigent citizens. Under this scheme, I came face to face with the fact that our judicial system is greatly flawed in providing justice. Worse still, the modus operandi of our police force leaves much to be desired. I encountered real life situations where innocent persons were bundled to jail without trial for crimes they did not commit and left in jail to rot. There was a particular case I was involved in where a young man who went to buy some food stuffs was wrongly arrested and incarcerated for 8 years. What was this man’s crime, you may ask? His crime was merely his ignorant presence at the scene of a crime. Unfortunately for him, at that moment he was purchasing his foodstuffs, the police swooped in, arrested him and several others who were present regardless of the fact that most were unaware that a crime had taken place.
It makes one wonder about the investigative tactics of our police. In an ideal world, a place where a crime has taken place is usually cordoned off to maintain the integrity of whatever evidence that may be obtained to aid proper investigation. Likely suspects are then invited or brought in for questioning after a thorough investigation has been carried out. After questioning, the police ought to be able to ascertain the involvement of such suspect or suspects due to gathered intelligence. Where it has been ascertained that there’s insufficient evidence putting a suspect and the scene of a crime, such a person ought to be released immediately. This is the fundamental concept of the presumption of innocence, right to fair hearing as enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Sadly, Nigeria is far from being an ideal society. I am yet to see where a proper police investigation has ever taken place without major violations of fundamental human rights. This is the major reason prosecutions instituted on the basis of a police investigation usually are incompetent and frivolous in Nigeria. Many a time, I have stood on behalf of clients who have been hauled to court on the basis of highly ridiculous and irresponsible charges that are at best laughable.
In the case of the young man whom I came across while serving, it was discovered that he had been languishing in jail for eight years without an arraignment. Further investigations revealed that the Investigating Police Officer couldn’t find the file for this young man to ascertain what the charge against him was. To make matters worse, the IPO resisted vehemently my request for an unconditional release. I then had to insist that there had to be an arraignment. It took another month for that to take place and fortunately, the magistrate upon hearing the about the gross violation of human rights and the irresponsibility of the IPO ordered for the immediate release of the young man.
The sad thing is that this is not the only common human rights violation committed by the police. Recently, we heard and even seen videos of policemen committing extra-judicial killings. In fact, one of the major reasons for the persistent attacks by the dreaded radical islamic sect, Boko Haram is the extra-judicial killing of its leader some years ago. Their attacks began initially as reprisals against the police until it degenerated to mayhem on public places and more recently,churches situate in the Northern part of Nigeria.
As if the situation is not bad enough, the police are used as tools of intimidation. This was clearly evident in the brutal treatment received by protesters during the fuel subsidy removal imbroglio that happened earlier this year. Whatever happened to the right of freedom of assembly? More so,the police are also used as tools by the ruling class to intimidate opposition. It makes one wonder what kind of democracy we practice in Nigeria.
There is no doubt that there are serious problems militating against the operations of the Nigerian Police Force. They are understaffed, ill-equipped and ill-trained and poorly paid to handle most of the security challenges facing Nigeria. There’s also the problem of corruption which has gone so deep and has entrenched itself in the higher echelons of the force.
I want to use this medium to commend the efforts of the current Acting Inspector General of Police Mohammed Dikko Abubakar, for taking the police out of our roads. The road blocks which were initially put up to check mate armed robbers on our roads and highways did nothing to reduce them. In fact, it fueled them as there are numerous reports of police men who became armed robbers themselves either by aiding and abetting or participating directly in such heinous crimes. Also, it had almost become a norm for the road side police men to demand bribes from commuters. On rare occasions, they shot those who refused to comply.
This singular act by the new Acting IG has reduced corruption a notch but there’s still so much to be done. The investigative capacity of the police force should be increased by proper training and re-training. The wages of these men who are expected to put themselves in harms way to maintain public peace must be reviewed as well. More importantly, a policemen should be versed in the tenets of the law so as not to abuse nor violate such rights that they’ve sworn to protect.
Only then can we avoid such violations of human rights that have brought so much infamy to the police force.
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