In Anambra, police violate rights of Nigerians with impunity, and people are helpless
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The Nigerian Police are notorious for the rights violations of citizens. Despite efforts of the police authorities to enforce discipline and ethical conduct among the rank and file, many of them continue to abuse the rights of Nigerians without recourse to laws and police rule. Alfred AJAYI report about the criminal acts of the police in Anambra State Police Command.
WAKING up on April 15, Ebuka Nwoye, a resident of Nkpor, Idemili North Local Government Area, had no premonition that would be his last day on earth. Before the sunset, Ebuka had become history. He was murdered by a trigger-happy policeman, a member of a patrol team, enforcing the COVID-19 lockdown.
The Anambra Police Command, through its spokesperson, Mr. Haruna Mohammed, described the 22-year old Ebuka and others as “miscreants”, who launched an unprovoked attack on the police patrol team.
Haruna said: “It was an unprovoked attack on Police patrol team with substance suspected to be acid by some miscreants. They snatched the rifle of the policeman after pouring acid on him, which prompted the other policemen to use force and retrieved the rifle”.
But, the bereaved family and other neighbours dismissed the claim of the police as a mere defence. A lady, who saw it all, explained what happened under the condition of anonymity.
“They are SARS [Special Anti-Robbery Squard]. The two boys were coming from where they went to play football. But before this incident, the police had taken somebody into their vehicle in our street that same day. He was bailed with N11,000. So, when they asked these boys to entre their vehicle, they refused. So, they started struggling with them. At a point, the boys started running and the police pursued them. One of them shot the boys, one died while the other was rushed to the hospital for treatment. The police quickly entered their vehicle and ran away. We later heard that the mother of one of the boys and a woman selling drinks in the same area are not in good terms and that the SARS man, who killed the boy, is a friend to the woman selling drinks. They were in her shop drinking when the whole issue started. The youths got angry and started rioting even at the shop of the woman selling drinks. The boy who was killed had been suffering together with his mother and other siblings. It is wrong before God and man”.
Their residence at No 24 Frank Moore Street, Nkpor, was a definition of abject poverty, a situation that has now been compounded by Ebuka’s untimely death.
Gone and gone forever
The vacuum created by the death of this young man whose remains is yet to be committed to mother earth seems too huge to fill. During a visit to the family on the 30th June, the bereaved mother of six, Kosarachukwu Nwoye, lamented the impacts of the tragic loss on her poor and helpless family.
“For my place, if the person dey for mortuary, you no dey go anywhere. Since that thing happen, I dey for my house here. Na hungry dey kill me. Government never come. Police never come. He never do anything. Even na twenty naira, make I buy pure water. That my pikin dey for mortuary. I no dey happy o. Nobody to borrow money make I go bury am. Ask this woman, for night, I no dey sleep until six o clock in the morning. Na money I dey borrow. I no dey sell now, I no dey buy. Since morning, I never eat”.
As distraught as she was, the bereaved single mother of six, solicited help to enable her take her first son, whose life was cut short by somebody employed to protect him, back home for burial in far away Ebonyi State.
“I need to carry my pikin put for underground make I strong to work carry food give that my small pikin. That one worry me plenty. Na God o, I no dey talk any police. He no come.I no dey talk of police. No be me go judge o, na only God. If I bury Ebuka, I go go anywhere, go work get food”.
On the 20th of May, a barber, Anthony Okafor, from Adagbe Avomimi village, Enugwu-Ukwu, lost his life during the enforcement of curfew declared by the Federal Government, across the country. The death was not directly caused by the police but by a moving vehicle, in his bid to evade arrest by the patrol team.
An eye-witness, Mr. Chukwunonso Udenze, blamed the police for the hot chase, which led to Anthony’s death.
“I was there live when it happened. It was just eight minutes past eight when the police people came. Immediately they cocked their gun, the boy started running and the moving vehicle hit him. I was telling them, ‘carry this boy to the nearest hospital there.’ They refused. They took the boy to their station”.
This development drew condemnations from the community and beyond. The Traditional Ruler of the community, Igwe Ralph Ekpe, attributed the incident to the overzealousness of the police personnel and advised them to always show civility in their relationship with the citizenry.
The situation made the youths to take to the streets in annoyance, impeding vehicular movement, as they chanted “No More Police” repeatedly.
A businessman, Ugochukwu Oraefo, once tasted police brutality but was lucky to be alive to tell his story.
“I would have been dead long ago if what the police officers, who stormed my house without warrant of arrest, succeeded with their sinister plan”.
Ugochukwu was arrested from his office and whisked away by police officers whose identity was initially sketchy because of the manner of their appearance.
He narrated his bitter experiences as the four darkest days of his life in the police custody.
“They told me there was a time some kidnappers were disturbing me and I gave them money. They asked – why did I not tell them before giving them money. They detained me insisting I must give them money. And if I don’t cooperate, they will kill me. They carry me up, put a table at the centre, put me on the table asking me to tell them how much I will give them. Because of the torture, I promised them money so that they will not kill me. So, they stopped the torture. They asked for my account and I gave them. They took me out of the office to a place I don’t know. I saw a pit in front of me. They told me if I don’t want to give them money they will kill me here. I started begging them not to kill me. Then, they took me back to Awkuzu SARS, in one of the offices there asking me how I would bring the money. I told them I will use my phone and do the transfer. They looked for someone I would do the transfer to his account. The man gave his account and I made a transfer of five million naira to that account. After that, they took me to their oga, the OC who said I must give him his own money also or he would order them to take me back. I paid the O.C another one million naira before they released me to go and the OC gave me his number and told me that I should call him anytime anybody looks for my trouble”.
The six million naira was later recovered from the SARS operatives with the help of the Inspector General of Police, who was petitioned by Ugochukwu’s lawyer on the violation of his rights.
“When my barrister came back to Nigeria, I told him everything that happened. So, he petitioned the Inspector General of Police. I commend the personnel who handled the case. They treated the matter well, and asked the officers to refund me. They paid the money they took from me remaining only 60,000 or 20,000 thousand naira. After that, we sued them to court. Court also gave us good judgment. They asked the police to pay me over five million naira. But they have never paid me anything since the judgment was given”.
Human rights abuses in the state are not carried out only by law enforcement agents. There also cases of violations involving fellow Nigerians. One of the commonest abuses of human rights witnessed in the area is Gender-Based Violence, GBV, which has seen women and girls harassed and exploited by the male folks.
Onyeka Onyaocha, a self-acclaimed police officer, from Nibo, recently succeeded in ejecting his mother, Diana Onyeocha, from their family house, after several physical assaults and threats to her life. It was gathered that the woman in her late seventies, who can no longer stand erect, has earlier had her belongings thrown out and destroyed by her own son, who had become too strong to be tamed by any of his elderly siblings.
Kenechukwu Agbo, the elder sister to Onyeka, narrated the ordeal of her helpless mother, who is now living with her, in the hands of her younger brother.
“He threw all the property outside. Everything belonging to mama, she no see anything again. He throw way everything including money. He say he wan mama to die. He tell mama to commot the house, that he no wan see mama again for that house. Na last born dey do that kin rubbish. He dey threat mama say he go pour mama acid. Every night, he dey threaten mama say him go kill her. Now, mama dey for my house for Awka. You don see me how we dey manage”.
Her husband, Jude Agbo, who was also disturbed that a biological son can be that ruthless towards his mother, noted that the woman had been emotionally and psychologically traumatized by the experience.
“That very night we take mama to our place, that guy carry cutlass, chasing mama. Before then, he throw everything about the woman outside, in terms of property and all are damaged. He broke even the house. The woman did him nothing, but he is saying that the house belong to him. The thing is not easy for me and my wife. Already, I am a father of seven children with mama now. We are just managing. Or wetin we go do? Even the woman is seriously sick. Mama dey cry every night about this matter. They saw everything. Somebody will commit such crime, I know government will know what they will do to him. We don report the matter to Human Rights Commission. Na dem dey handle the matter now. They go that very day the property were thrown out”.
Just recently, a quick response to a scary and life-threatening Facebook post, saved the life of a mother of four, who had been a victim of domestic violence for the past nine out of the twelve years of her marriage.
The woman, whose identity is hidden for security purpose is the only child of her parents, who got married as a teenager, in a bid to help her indigent parents. She said she had been serially assaulted physically, verbally, emotionally, and financially by her husband, a development, which had worsened her dangerous health condition.
Luckily, her ordeal attracted the attention of the National Human Rights Commission and non-governmental organizations.
When contacted, the co-ordinator of the Commission, Mrs. Nkechi Ugwuanyi, also declined comments, describing the incident as a sensitive.
“The National Human Rights Commission is involved in that case. But, unfortunately, I wouldn’t want to discuss anything concerning the matter now, because I want to protect the interest of the survivor because of how sensitive the case is. Until she recovers from the surgery she went for and if the need arises, we will invite her to grant press conference as regards to that. She will tell the world what happened, those who helped her, and other things she wants to say. That is just all I have to say now”.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, (UDHR), a milestone document, put together by the United Nations in 1948 set out fundamental human rights to be universally protected.
Article 3 says “everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person” while article 5 safeguards everyone from being subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. Article 7 submits that “all are equal before the law and are entitled without discrimination to equal protection of the law”.
The article makes it clear that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile”, while Article 10 gives everyone an entitlement in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.
Chapter of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) lists out fundamental human rights to be enjoyed by all the citizens of the country including the right to life, the right to dignity of the human person, right to personal liberty, right to a fair hearing, right to private and family life, right to freedom of movement as well as the right to freedom from discrimination.
None of these laws have deterred violations of human rights abuses in Anambra and other states of the Nigerian federation. In 2018, the National Human Rights Commission in the Anambra state documented 110 complaints on human rights abuses. Ninety-two of those cases have been concluded, fifteen on-going, while three are still being prosecuted. In 2019, NHRC received 195 complaints. Out of the 96 cases documented with the Commission as at June this year, 36 bothered on rape as well as domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.
An Onitsha-based human rights lawyer, Justus Ijeoma is worried about the development. He lamented:
“On your way to this place, you saw those extorting money brazenly from keke riders and those riding small trucks. You talk of unlawful arrest, prolonged detention, torture and all forms of degradation of human rights by law enforcement officers. One of the prominent cases of rights violations as contained in a recent report by Amnesty International, was that of a man called Miracle, who was detained in a starvation cell for about forty days, no food, no water at Neni SARS. When he was finally released after our intervention, Miracle was so traumatized that he was content and grateful for being freed from death and was very unwilling to pursue the matter. I recall how his mother and sister tearfully pleaded with me to “leave the matter for God” There are a thousand and one cases, some even more heart-rendering than these ones, going on every day that are not to the knowledge of the public”.
Human Rights Lawyer, Okechukwu Okite, also has some experiences to share.
“An old woman in Okpoko, someone came claiming that the son-in-law of the woman was owing him some money and that the woman was a surety. The woman denied being a surety, though she knew her son-in-law took money from the man for business. One fateful morning, the young man came with the police and arrested her when she was still in her nightgown, doing Morning Prayer. You see, barging into her house, violated her privacy. Taking her away and detaining her deprived her of personal liberty. And of course, the way they treated suspects in the police also violated the right to dignity of the human person. And of course, we had to go to court.
“During the last Ofala festival of Obi of Onitsha, the Police were mal-handling a citizen and a lawyer, who was dressed in native attire, went to them to know what the person had done wrong. They left the person and started beating the lawyer – ‘why should you come and ask us why we are beating somebody?’ Yes, they do not know he’s a lawyer. But he ought not to be a lawyer before they respect his rights”.
According to Mrs. Ugwuanyi, the incidents of abuse of rights are not limited to law enforcement agents. She noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has also precipitated a rise in human rights violations in the area.
“In Anambra State, some people derive joy in violating other people’s rights, intimidating them, and abusing the law with impunity. They sometimes misinform the police and use them to intimidate fellow citizens. In some cases, it goes beyond unlawful arrests as such persons are detained without trial. During the lockdown, we received several complaints on domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual assault. We resolved some of them while others are still on-going”.
A human rights lawyer, Barr. Ijeoma, said some police officers used the opportunity of the lockdown enforcement to enrich themselves.
“The highest beneficiary of this lockdown is the police. And I stand by my assertion. It’s just a very lucrative new shop opened for them. When the curfew was between 8pm and 6 am, by 7:30, police would cause hold up and some of the commuters would be cut off by curfew by 8 pm. the next things you see here is that the police would start diverting the people to their station, where they would extort money from them”.
Of grave concern to Mrs Eucharia Anaekwe, a Civil Society Activist is the increasing spate of domestic violence. She lamented:
“The thing is on the increase. But, most of the time, families frustrate these cases. They don’t want you to go further because of stigmatization, especially in sexual assault matters. This COVID-19 period, we have so many of them, some of whom are still in police net. A married man resident behind my house at Nibo here, raped a six-year-old girl and ran away. The parent finally found out and told the wife, who assisted in luring her husband back home with a very attractive contract claim. The man indeed rushed back home for the contract money and was arrested by the police. He is still in police net up till now and the girl has been receiving treatment. We’ve witnessed some cases of wife battery too. But the families took over two of them”.
Mixed feelings about contributions of Police and Judiciary to the fight against human rights abuses
On the contributions of the Police and the Judiciary to the campaign against human rights violations in the state, the human rights activists and advocates reacted diversely.
Barrister Okite is one of them:
“When you come to Anambra State Judiciary, we have good judges. Not that they are perfect human beings. But they don’t look at systems because they are police. They give judgment it is supposed to be”.
For the Co-ordinator, National Human Rights Commission, Mrs Ugwuanyi:
“We have a good relationship with the police. When it has to do with releasing a person that is unlawfully detained, they make sure that it is done. Even when the complaints are against police officers, the feedback I get from them is that it has been handled. They do not however make details of it was handled available to us”.
However, the people have their frustrations with the two institutions.
Barrister Ijeoma is dissatisfied with the police for unlawful arrest, long detention as well as collection of money for bail as well as indiscriminate remand by the magistrates.
“Police keep somebody in their custody. Twenty four hours, forty-eight hours, three days, four days. And then you approach them to ask for bail, the police will keep dilly-dallying because you are not willing to pay so heavily. I was at the CMU and one of the officers told me so abashedly – “Oga we collect money for bail here. This is not Obodo Oyinbo”. In the Judiciary, people are charged to court and some magistrates will tell you – I don’t have the jurisdiction to hear this matter. They remand them in prison custody. Other ones will give very stringent bail conditions that the person won’t find it easy to meet them”
Voice from the bench
The reactions of the Chief Judge of Anambra State, Justice Onochie Anyachebelu, were sought on issues relating to the Judiciary in the fight against human rights violations. He acknowledged the delay in determining such cases but attributed the development to a combination of many factors.
“Yes I agree with you, there are delays. One of the causes is that there are too many cases and very few judges. We have about thirty honourable judges currently in the state, including the Chief Judge. In the Chief Judge’s Court, for example, you have up to three hundred and fifty cases. I have to call about seventeen cases in one court sitting. In some heavy jurisdictions like Idemili, Onitsha, and Otuocha, a judge has up to five hundred cases in his docket. As a result, the courts are always congested. Besides that, there are technicalities in some cases. You give lawyers opportunities to file their papers, sometimes interlocutory applications, and reasonable applications for adjournments. You also blame the parties involved in any case for delay. I know we have hardworking judges and magistrates, but there are those who may not be as hardworking. Sometimes, the court staff may be negligent towards their duties. Do you know that up till now, everything is still being recorded longhand, which affects the productivity level”.
The Chief Judge, however, noted that despite all these inhibitions, Anambra is always number two or number three in the disposition of cases among the thirty-six states of the federation because according to him, fundamental rights issues, as captured by chapter four of the 1999 constitution of (as amended), are very equally very dear to the Judiciary in the state.
To this end, he enumerated efforts that had been put in place, particularly since he took over as the Chief Judge to reduce cases of abuse of human rights across the state.
“When I came on board, we started visits to detention centres. We don’t even wait for the court to prevent circumstances, where people are detained for some days or even weeks without coming to court, some for miscellaneous and unreasonable circumstances. Now, we have evolved the system, where some magistrates do occasional but regular visits to police detention centres, including SARS. They see the people being detained and question why they are being detained. And it has been yielding a lot of results. There are police cells you get to now and you see only two or three persons in detention. The visit includes assessing the hygiene level of the cells. We have already scheduled the next visit. Apart from this, we ginger our magistrates and honourable judges to be granted bail in reasonable circumstances and times. These cases of fundamental rights are very frequent in the court and the judges are trying their best within the limits of their times and availability, to dispose of them”.
One other major challenge confronting the battle against human rights abuses is non-compliance with court verdicts especially when the law enforcement agents are the offenders. Justice Anyachebelu agreed with worry that enforcing judgments against the police is normally difficult.
“Normally, you don’t expect the Judges and Magistrates to execute the judgments. That is basically the duty of the police. Yes, we have court bailiffs, but they cannot go into the field without police protection. So, when you have judgments to execute against the police. How do you go about it? The law provides procedures, which some lawyers take advantage of. But the fact is that when the police is sued, most of the time, the complainants too must have been joined. So, the people who get favourable judgment expect the persons, who reported them to the police to pay the fine, not necessarily the Police. It is a different thing in a case where police directly violate the rights of the citizens”.
The Chief Judge assured that the Judiciary in the state shall remain resolute in its resolve to ensure that incidents of human rights abuse are reduced to the barest minimum, through delivery of sound judgments as well as prompt trial and determination of matters. Justice however appealed to the citizens to always seek redress in court as the judges and magistrates are poised to uphold the law in every of such matters before them.
… Renewed assurance to protect human rights
Indeed there cannot be an exhaustive discussion on the violation of human rights without mentioning the police. This is premised on the fact that they are involved in the maintenance of law and order, which often bring them in contact with members of the public. However, if the recent assurances by the Assistant Inspector-General of Police in charge of the recently created Zone 13 in Ukpo, Dunukofia Local Government Area of Anambra State, Mr. Danmallam Muhammed, is anything to take to heart, residents of the state and those in Enugu and Ebonyi states may soon heave a sigh of relief from incessant human rights abuses.
AIG Muhammed declared:
“What we are assuring the public is our collective decision that we believe in professionalism. We believe in law and order. We believe in due process. As police officers, our main role is to the maintenance of law and order and we are going to do our best within the ambit of the law to ensure that the lives and property of citizens are being protected. And we are going to defend the rights of the people. The issue of human rights as enumerated in the constitution chapter four. Under my watch, we are saying no to illegal arrest and detention. We are saying no to torture. We are saying no extra-judicial killings. We are saying no to extortion of money from members of the public”.
Flanked by the Commissioners of Police for Anambra, Mr. John Abang, Enugu, Mr. Ahmad Abdurrahman, and Ebonyi, Mr. Philip Sule Maku, AIG Muhammed urged the citizens to feel free to report any crime, including human rights violations, through the commands in the three states, using appropriate channels.
Meanwhile, in his reaction to the allegations against the Police, the Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Haruna Mohammed, said the Anambra State Command, under the present leadership of CP John Abang, has zero tolerance for violation of the rights of the citizens and had not spared any officer found to have committed such infractions.
“Most of the people, who are accusing don’t seem to understand how policing works. All I can tell you is that the Police Command in Anambra State has not pampered erring personnel. Some of them had been investigated and penalized accordingly. As I speak with you, some police personnel are being tried either in the orderly room or at advanced levels, if they are senior officers. The present Commissioner of Police, Mr. John Abang, came in last year and left no one in doubt about his vision to run professional police, which will respect and safeguard the rights of every citizen. And I must tell you he has been true to his vision”.
On the Nkpor killing, the PPRO said investigations are on into the unfortunate incident, but the initial position of the command subsists pending the outcome of the investigations. Recall that the Police described the murdered boy as one of the miscreants, who attacked the police personnel, enforcing the lockdown and stay at home order, with acid, and attempted to take their rifles away.
“That matter is still being investigated. It remains an allegation until the on-going investigations are concluded. But for now, the command still maintains its initial position”. Mr Mohammed explained.
He warned the officers and men of the command against professional malaise as the police authorities will deal decisively with anyone, who fails in his or her professional calling.
Reasons for increasing cases of rights violation?
Many Nigerians have attributed the increasing spate of human rights abuses to poverty, ignorance, cultural and traditional inhibitions, fear of being hunted by violators, as well as general lack of interest in pursuing reported cases to a logical conclusion.
They also argued that treating wrongdoers, particularly law enforcement agents, as sacred cows, is counterproductive, and that slow investigation by the police delays justice.
The solutions, according to them, include sustained sensitisation of Nigerians on the need to report human rights violations and seek redress in court, delivery of sound judgments capable of deterring potential violators, increasing the number of judges and magistrates in the state as well as sweeping reforms within the police force to make its personnel respect the fundamental rights of the citizens at all times.
It is noteworthy that the National assembly has passed the police reform Bill for the second time, it is now left for the President Muhammadu Buhari to give assent top the bill.
Yet many people interviewed agreed unanimously that human rights abuses cannot be totally eradicated in the society, they maintained that they could be drastically reduced if all the critical stakeholders play the roles expected of them in the most patriotic manner.
They also agreed that prompt trials of human rights cases in court as well as adequate penalties for violators will go a long way in reducing the pains of the victims and their relations.