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Posts Tagged ‘use of brute force by the Nigeria police’

Bail is FreeAlong with “police is your friend”, one inscription you are certain to see boldly written in every police station in Nigeria is “bail is free”. You might have even heard the police top brass make such claims in public statements. If you believe any of that, then you will believe anything.

But it ought to be free, or at least on paper it should be. Bail is the temporary release of an accused person, or a suspect, from police custody pending the conclusion of investigations or the final determination of the case, on the condition that he would report to the police station when necessary or attend court for trial. It flows from Section 35 of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution which intends to preserve the liberty of a suspect and is built on the assumption (at least among democratic states where the rule of law is more than a mere campaign slogan for politicians) that an accused person is innocent until he is proved guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction.

Anyone who has had a police case will tell you a different story. It doesn’t matter whether the arrest was for a criminal or civil offence or even a mere disagreement with a neighbour. The Nigeria police will demand money in exchange for your freedom, the amount charged and paid depending on such factors as the size of the greed of the investigating police officer, the profile and bargaining power of the accused and the nature of the case. It is now almost a non-issue. Bail payment is sacrosanct. And when you fail or are unable to meet the payment terms, the Nigeria police, who do not have the best of human right records nor regards for the rights of citizens, will torture you, even sometimes to death as was recently reported in Ibadan.

That this sad situation which is illegal and a mockery of the popular police lingo continues to prevail is however not the subject of this intervention. So many legal minds and human right groups have been in the trenches on this matter for so many years and the struggle continues. To them I pay my respects for the thankless job they are doing. My interest in this piece however is to ask what exactly the police do with the bail monies they receive from people?

You see, ideally, the bail payment is a bond placed as guarantee that an accused person will be available to the authorities when needed and forfeited otherwise. That’s ideally. Nothing about Nigeria as we know is ideal. Here it is a payment for freedom. Are there any records of such payments kept? Does the police issue receipts for such payments? Does the police account for such payments and/or forward same to revenue generating agencies of government? Are you really able to retrieve from the police any payment you make to secure bail after an arrest if investigations later indicate you are innocent of any offence?

The answer to these questions is obvious to all of us. What we have done is that, in furtherance of the rent seeking culture, we have created an industry for criminal minded police officers through which they dubiously make money from the public by extorting innocent and often hapless citizens. Because there is no consequence whatsoever for this, it is not uncommon for a team of police men, who need money to augment their paltry pay, to carryout raids, and round up innocent people including bystanders and pedestrians minding their own businesses, to whom they read no charges and cram them up in filthy cells. They then each have to pay a negotiated amount to secure release or be left to languish. This money collected is shared by the police officers.

This is a very sad situation. You don’t fully understand how bad it is until you have experienced it. When we talk about corruption, I wonder if we capture such as corruption. When you remember that the Police is supposed to be an anti-corruption agency of government but has successfully institutionalized this daily act of fraud, you then appreciate how deep the rot is.

Who do we look up to for help? The protection of the rights of citizens including enforcement of their bail rights lies with government. But when government itself is a culprit, disobeying court injunctions and rulings and infringing of the freedoms of expression of citizens, then there isn’t much to expect from them in terms of succor.

Nigerians, especially those who are not wealthy, who cannot afford lawyers, who are by virtue of their social status even ignorant of the law and their rights, will unfortunately continue to be taken advantage of by officers who are paid to protect them and a nation they had the misfortune of being born in.

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Excessive-Force-by-CopsThe resort to brute force and braggadocio by security agencies when intelligence, dialogue and the rule of law should be applied has proven time and again to be an ineffective approach to dispute resolution and crisis management world over. This is especially true when the subject of the dispute is an ideology, regardless of how illogical it sounds.

A long list of events and unfortunate incidences in our chequered history as a nation aligns with this fact. So many crises which have resulted in wanton destruction of properties and loss of lives including the 1967-1970 civil war could have been averted if reason prevailed and the state was able to rein in the excesses of overzealous security agencies.

A few recent examples will suffice for this intervention. For the last 6-7 years the Nigerian Niger Delta has known some appreciable peace and calmness without restiveness and disruption of oil production at the scale that was prevalent in the years preceding. This relative peace is the product of the amnesty deal, which, with all its inadequacies, has achieved what brute force and militarisation of the region had failed to achieve in decades. The dialogue and negotiated compromise initiated by the late President Yar’Adua, which continued to be implemented by the Subsequent governments, made this possible.

yusuf

Captured Mohammed Yusuf before he was killed

On the other hand, the Boko Haram crisis, which began somewhat like a joke, has continued to fester years on and this is following the ‘crush them’ approach of the government in its early days. The attack on the renegade sect and the extra-judicial killing of its leader Yusuf Mohammed led to the emergence of Shekau and this blood thirsty band of jihadists who have now gotten so strong they have kept our army busy in a full scale war for years now with frequent ‘soft target’ casualties in the hinterland.

It is unfortunate that we seem not to have learnt anything from our recent history and are rushing headlong into making the very same mistakes. Recent events suggest thus and I will share two examples of how the government is mismanaging a potentially explosive situation by the use of brute force where more intelligent and pragmatic actions would have sufficed.

The current agitation and street protests by IPOB and MASSOB for the actualisation

IPOB

A Pro Biafra protest

of Biafra is a direct consequence of the wrong decisions of security agencies in handling the arrest of Nnamdi Kanu. By now our government should know that ideas and movements are fuelled by a sense of persecution and they go out of hand when you present the said agitators with a martyr… someone who becomes the symbol of the struggle. The Mandela effect in South Africa should readily come to mind. The moment Mr Kanu was arrested, he went from just the guy on radio to a hero, which was exactly the scenario he wanted by coming home. His incarceration for a long period won converts to the movement. There is no mistaking the fact that the large crowds that have turned out for protests in his name are such that can snowball into a major uprising should it go violent.

Another example is the recent crackdown on the Shi’ia sect in Zaria and the arrest of

zak

Shiek El-Zakzaky leader of the Shi’ia sect in Nigeria

its leader. This we understand was the army’s response to the sect’s audacity in barricading the convoy of the Chief of Army staff. Given, no non state actor has the right to hinder the movement of other citizens no less the respected head of the army and such malfeasance needs to be corrected but when this leaves over 20 people dead and a lot of sect members across the country provoked and protesting, then you have inadvertently created for yourself, a whole new problem.

It should be clear to even the most casual of observers that our stretched army cannot manage any other crises while the Boko Haram situation lasts. Indeed, internal operations of this nature are not what a people should wish for themselves. But it would appear we are bent on courting them. Boko Haram is already one big mess following a failure of alternate reasoning. Making the same mistake that got us into this mess presents us as a people without a sense of history and incapable of critical reasoning.

Nnamdi Kanu could have been easily denied entry. He could have been allowed in and be closely monitored. He would have been no where as big a threat as he is now. Even when they decided to arrest him, he could have been charged immediately as the constitution provides. Instead of dismissing the protests as pro GEJ or PDP arrangements, the said leaders of IPOB and MASSOB could have been engaged in serious dialogue by government on the issues. As we all know, their grievance is directly related to their treatment or perceived treatment as Nigerians and such matters could be trashed out through engagement.

On the other hand, given the knowledge of the belief, and tendencies of the Shi’ia sect and the potential of extremists among them to seize the opportunity of any confrontation to advance personal or group agendas against the state especially in this highly charged times of insurgency, the army should have thought through its action of invading the sects headquarters. Should they have gone back so shortly after the initial altercation when things were still heated? Shouldn’t it perhaps have been the mobile police doing this? Could the leader not have been arrested without 20 people dying? Are there no ways of managing the situation so that it does not escalate? How do we allow a sect to acquire such arms as to even challenge the army right under our noses? What has happened to intelligence gathering?

While I do not claim to be a security expert, it is quite clear that brute force such as exhibited in examples above does not work. And when they help to achieve the initial aim, they leave in their wake so much more problems for everyone. Governments around the world employ the services of crisis managers and dispute resolution experts at the highest level of government for a reason. We must begin to look in that direction and learn to ask “who goes there” before we shot and not afterwards.

@nzesylva 

First published here on Dec 14, 2015

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