BY EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO
The last three months has seen a global movement built up a momentum against the indiscriminate extra legal killings of black Americans by the police.
These series of worldwide advocacy campaigns were engineered by a notable campaign platform aptly called “Black Lives Matter”.
The protests that began in the United States for about three months have become a global thematic area of public communication and conversations to such a constructive dimension that it will somehow define the outcome of the November 2020 presidential election in the United States of America between President Donald John Trump and his rival Joe Biden.
The irony is that both the Republicans and the Democrats have showcased their strategies for compelling the police in the different states of the United States of America to behave in a much more professional manner and to carry out their law enforcement jobs without some racial profiling of blacks.
This worldwide campaign called Black Lives Matter reached a peak with extra judicial execution of a Blackman known as George Floyd.
We visited the website of the British Broadcasting Corporation for a timeline of black deaths called by police.
The BBC rightly began by stating the obvious that the waves of protests in the US over the killing in police custody of George Floyd are the latest outpourings of anger that have erupted after the deaths of black Americans.
Here’s a timeline of some of the major incidents from 2014 onwards.
17 July 2014: Eric Garner: Eric Garner died after he was wrestled to the ground by a New York police officer on suspicion of illegally selling cigarettes.
While in a choke hold, Mr Garner uttered the words “I can’t breathe” 11 times.
The incident – filmed by a bystander – led to protests across the country. The police officer involved was later fired, but was never prosecuted.
It came a year after the Black Lives Matter movement emerged in response to the acquittal of the man who killed teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida.
9 August 2014: Michael Brown: Michael Brown, 18, was killed by a police officer, in Ferguson, Missouri, who was responding to reports that Brown – who was not armed – had stolen a box of cigars.
The exact circumstances of the encounter are disputed, but Brown was shot six times, according to autopsy reports.
The officer involved later resigned from the force, but was not prosecuted.
The incident led to multiple waves of protests and civil unrest in Ferguson, boosting the Black Lives Matter movement further.
22 November 2014: Tamir Rice: Tamir Rice, a boy of 12, was shot dead in Cleveland, Ohio by a police officer after reports of a male who was “probably a juvenile” pointing a gun that was “probably fake” at passersby.
Police claimed that they told Rice to drop the weapon – but instead of dropping it he pointed it at police.
The police confirmed that the gun was a toy after Rice had been shot dead.
There were no prosecutions after this case. The police officer involved was sacked three years later for lying on his job application form.
4 April 2015: Walter Scott: Walter Scott was shot in the back five times by a white police officer, who was later fired and eventually sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Mr Scott had been pulled over for having a defective light on his car in North Charleston, South Carolina, and ran away from the police officer after a brief scuffle.
The killing sparked protests in North Charleston, with chants of “No justice, no peace”.
5 July 2016: Alton Sterling: Alton Sterling’s death led to days of protests in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Mr Sterling was killed after police responded to reports of a disturbance outside a shop.
The incident was caught on mobile phone footage and spread online.
The two officers involved did not face criminal charges, but one was dismissed and the other suspended from the police.
6 July 2016: Philando Castile: Philando Castile was killed while out driving with his girlfriend in St Paul, Minnesota.
He was pulled over by the police during a routine check, and told them he was licensed to carry a weapon, and had one in his possession.
I lost my best friend in a police shooting
He was shot as he was reaching for his licence, according to his girlfriend.
She live-streamed the encounter on FaceBook. The officer involved was cleared of murder charges.
Then came 18 March 2018: Stephon Clark: Stephon Clark died after being shot at least seven times in Sacramento, California, by police who were investigating a break-in.
The district attorney said that the police had not committed a crime, as the officers said they feared for their lives believing Mr Clark was armed.
Only a mobile phone was found at the scene.
13 March 2020: Breonna Taylor: Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician was shot eight times when officers raided her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky.
The police were executing a search warrant as part of a drugs raid, but no drugs were found.
How Breonna Taylor became a rallying cry at protests
Louisville police said they returned fire after one officer was shot and wounded in the incident.
The family has filed a lawsuit which says that Ms Taylor’s partner fired in self-defence because the police did not identify themselves, and he believed they were being burgled.
One policemen involved has been fired and two others put on administrative leave.
25 May 2020: George Floyd: George Floyd died after being arrested in Minneapolis, and held down by police officers, one of whom had his knee on Mr Floyd’s neck.
He pleaded that he couldn’t breathe.
Protests broke out in cities across the US, and there were demonstrations in other parts of the world.
One officer has been charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter, and three others will face charges of aiding and abetting murder. The historical context established aforementioned, has demonstrated that the PERVASSIVE affliction of White police killing black youths has indeed reached a climax with the murder of George Floyd.
THESE opening narratives about killings by police of mainly Black youths, will then logically usher us into the all important interrogatory on the relevance of law enforcement agency so we can then narrow it down to the necessity for compelling the police to be lawful just as this will then logically take us to our central theme which is on the Nigerian police force and the trajectories of extralegal killings.
F. Schiliro, and K-K. CHOO did a piece “the Role of mobile devices in enhancing the policing system to improve efficiency and effectiveness.”
In that piece they stated as follows: “Law enforcement agencies respond to, detect and prevent crime. Within this perspective, it is recognised that police officers played a significant role in adapting and responding to unexpected or unknown situations, as well as recognised situations, such as theft or domestic dispute”.
It is not in doubt that the policing institution is strategic to the overall objectives of maintaining law and order. Maintenance of law and order defines a Sovereign State.
It follows therefore that ”he who comes to equity must do so with clean hands”.
In this sense it is important that those who make up the components of the policing institutions of any nation must be persons who must institutionally abide by the rule of law and comply with extant professional ethnics binding them as officers of the law. Officers of the law are actually subject to the law because only the law rules and not brute force employed by the officer. In a democracy MIGHT IS NOT ALWAYS RIGHT BUT ONLY THE RULE OF LAW GOVERNS.
It is from this perspective that the campaign against police excessive deployment of crude force and brutality in the United States America as it concerns the extreme use of lethal force against blacks attracted global acclaim.
It is therefore shocking that whereas some persons in Nigeria of Nigerian origin who out of passionate dislike for these practices of police extra legal killings of blacks in the Diaspora, staged a protest to the Abuja embassy of the United States of America, these crowds of people have failed to enact the same passionate public protests against the persistent killings of Nigerian citizens by the police of Nigeria.
The Nigeria police force has gained notoriety as a killer squad and day in, day out, the bad eggs amongst the police force of Nigeria keep painting Nigeria bad in the eyes of the world going by the extremely high statistics of killings of innocent Nigerians and even persons said to be in conflict with the law. The police in Nigeria have killed many innocent people over demands for bribes by these rogue police operatives that are as low as N100 which is not up to $1USD. In Abuja, a bunch of policemen killed 7 persons who were traders in Apo Abuja but the Abuja High Court made caricature of the rule of law by failing to sanction these killers in Police uniform and it is this sort of impunity that has permeated the policing system to an extent that innocent detainees are routinely killed and the killers rather than get arrested and punished are actually promoted and transferred.
The constitution in section 33(1) makes it unlawful for the police to shoot and kill unarmed persons even if they are crime suspects.
The constitution of Nigeria is not adversarial but is such that states that everyone is innocent in the eye of the law until such a person has been convicted by a competent court of law in line with section 6 of the supreme law of the land.
The above and a plethora of other key legal provisions absolutely delegitimizes the application of torture and extra legal executions of suspects by police but sadly, these unlawful tactics have continued and these laws that seek to preserve the sanctity of human life have continued to be flouted and disrespected with impunity by the police in Nigeria.
Unfortunately Nigeria has no professional and an effective institutional mechanism for fishing out these killer policemen.
The Police Service Commission (PSC) is not efficient and professionally committed to this key task but is only available for promotions of police operatives.
The country’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has also not made use of her new found operational independence to prosecute these killer police operatives but is more interested in dishing out press statements.
The following is a pathetic narrative about how the special Anti-Robbery squad of the police killed a young girl in Abuja after they illegally arrested her in lieu of her boyfriend who is the actual suspect the police went to arrest but did not see him in his house.
In a petition titled: “RE: Alleged sexual assault, Assault and murder of Ifeoma Stella Agugu by Officers of special Anti Robbery squad who are still at large” some lawyers narrated this pathetic story of murder in the police station.
The lawyers wroye as follows: “The Above subject matter refers, we are solicitors to the Abuja family of Miss Stella Ifeoma (hereinafter referred to as ‘Our client ‘ ), and in whose instructions we write.
Sir, it is our client’s instruction that Ifeoma was arrested and whisked away in lieu of her Fiancé (Mr. Afam Ugwunwa) at wumba Village, Lokogoma, Abuja on 10th September, 2020 at about 5.00pm by men of special Anti Robbery squad (SARS) operatives whose identity we don’t know yet at the time of instruction, Sir, Ifeoma died in custody the day following. The picture of the deceased shortly before her arrest and death is attached herewith as annexure A.
Sir, according to our client’s instructions, the SARS operatives invaded the deceased fiancé’s apartment at wumba Village, lokogoma, Abuja at about 5.00pm in search of Mr. Afam ugwunwa Who was not present, They therefore arrested the deceased in lieu . According to residents and eye witnesses, Ifeoma was whisked away by the operatives same evening in a healthy state.
On 15th September, 2020 information reached the family that Ifeoma Stella Abugu is dead and her body lying with gwagwalada specialist hospital. Meanwhile our clients’ have gone to SARS office guzape , Abuja and made sensitive findings including that the officers who carried out the arrest were on illegal duty ; the matter has been transferred to Apo police division headed by DPO Usman for preliminary investigations ; and investigative police officer ( IPO ) Inspector Bulus is also investigating the matter currently”. This sort of murder take place every given day in Nigeria and due to impunity, the practice has continued and may not stop unless Nigerians in their millions should organise and carry out massive demonstrations for at least two weeks to drum up the fact that NIGERIAN LIVES MATTER AND TO DEMAND AN END TO POLICE KILLINGS. Nigeria needs to set up an agency made up of independent experts to conduct and review police and other security forces use of lethal weapon at all times and to have power to prosecute and jail police killer officers.
It is noteworthy to observe that the killing tendencies of the police operatives in Nigeria has even attracted the attention of the United Nations to an extent that the UN called for urgent action to end violence in Nigeria.
UN special reporter says deadly attacks rocking Nigeria could have a ripple effect throughout the region.
The United Nations special reporter on extrajudicial killings condemned rising violence across Nigeria and a “lack of accountability” for perpetrators. How her, her report basically focused on terrorism but the terrorism of the police against the citizens got some mention.
Agnes Callamard, speaking at a news conference recently in Nigeria’s capital, said the country needed urgent action to end the “pressure cooker” of violence that has claimed thousands of lives.
Nigeria is currently facing multiple conflicts, from attacks by the armed group Boko Haram to fighting between nomadic herders and farmers.
“The overall situation that I encountered in Nigeria gives rise to extreme concern … The warning signs are flashing bright red: increased numbers of attacks and killings over the last five years with a few notable exceptions,” Callamard said at a news conference.
“If ignored its ripple effect will spread throughout the sub-region given the country’s important role in the continent.”
She condemned police and military “brutality” across the country, and a “generalised system of impunity”.
“The time is now to prioritise the rule of law and to make it part and parcel of the Nigerian system,” especially for those living in extreme poverty, she said.
Cheta Nwanze, an analyst at SBM Intelligence, told Al-Jazeera: “In almost two decades of Boko Haram’s existence, I can’t recall any of the financial backers who has ever been brought to trial … We’ve not had a single high-level conviction of a Boko Haram member.”
The United Nations estimates more than 27,000 people have been killed and an estimated two million others displaced in Nigeria’s northeast alone because of Boko Haram.
Callamard spent months in Nigeria and investigated the scope of violence in the country. She has also assessed measures adopted by the government to tackle the killings.
“Nigeria is a pressure cooker of internal conflict. The absence of accountability is on such a scale that pretending this is not a crisis will be a major mistake,” said Callamard.
“The increased number of people living in absolute poverty, climate change and desertification, and the increased proliferation of weapons, altogether, these is reinforcing a localised system of violence,” she added.
The UN special reporter also examined safeguards over the use of the death penalty and laws applied by Islamic courts.
“I have also considered security repression against Shia Muslims, the indigenous people of Biafra, and against Ogoni people,” Callamard said.
She noted there had been key decisions made by courts but added, “These are not being implemented. I am hoping that the government will hear my call and demand that court orders are implemented”.
The Nigerian State must as a matter of urgency address on a huge scale the unprecedented waves of police brutality and assassination of suspects in custody.
*EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA)
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