Nigeria's police: The horrifying truth

Nigeria returned to democratic rule on 29 May, 1999, after more than one and a half decades of military decadence.  Prior to the advent of the new democratic setting, the enclave called Nigeria witnessed an avalanche of corruption in high and low places, depreciation of time-honoured values, senseless and directionless leadership, massive crackdown of civil and environmental activists, and an unprecedented orchestration of extra-judicial killings by agents of the military junta, including the Nigerian police.

With the arrival of democratic rule, one could have convincingly heaved a sigh of relief from the military stranglehold.Unfortunately, the greatest dividend of democratic rule - the rule of law - continues to be a mirage. The Nigerian police, especially the dreaded Mobile Police, have become seemingly uncontrollable in the twin acts of brutality and murder.  Recently, the Irish Government agreed to sign a refugee repatriation agreement with Nigeria.This calls for an articulate understanding of the situation in Nigeria.Nigeria is in utter crisis. There is lack of trust amongst her 120 million people, comprising of more than 250 million ethnic nationalities with different cultures and speaking different languages.Nigeria of today could be likened to the cold war days. Justice is the most sought after but unfortunately the scarcest commodity.  Many notable Nigerians, namely Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe etc., are still in self-imposed exile.

It is pertinent to point out here, that 99.9 per cent of asylum seekers from Nigeria are from Southern Nigeira.Secondly, Nigeria's oil wealth comes from the south, but the oil-bearing communities and their people remain the most backward and most mistreated people of the Nigerian nation.John O' Donoghue may not have known of this condemnable situation.The north of Nigeria has held power for over 35 out of 40 years of independence and retains control of the Police and Military.

When Nigerian asylum seekers are repatriated to Nigeria, they are handed over eventually to the local police.  The following is a detailed account of the most recent activities of the Nigerian Police to whom O' Donoghue has chosen to do business with:

On 7 February 2001, a plain clothes policeman, Corporal Rabiu Bello attached to Kaduna State Criminal Investigation Department (CID) requested a young apprentice, Haliru Slau Agaba to buy a stick of cigarette for him.Haliru responded that he could not afford it.Corporal Bello "pulled out a pistol and pumped bullets into the young apprentice, who slumped" (The News, Lagos, 30.04.01).

Since this incident, the father of young Haliru, Mallam Agaba, has been running from pillar to post to seek justice over the murder of his son to no avail.

The other incident in February 2001, involved three policemen from the Central Kogi State Police Command.The threesome; Benhamin Oyakhire, Jimo Michael and Gershon Soba mounted an illegal road block, robbed some traders (an equivalent) of 100,000 US dollars, and set two of the traders ablaze in a brazen attempt to cover their tracks (PANA Press, 03.04.01).

On 27 March, 2001, a combined team of mobile policemen and military officers, stormed a second-hand auto-market in Lagos, shot four traders and took their money.When contacted, the Deputy Police Commissioner, Mr. Emmanuel said he was not aware of the incident (Vanguard Daily, Lagos 28.03.01).

Again, on Sunday, 18 March, 2001, Mr. Kalu Samuel Iroh was arrested with four others for an alleged traffic offence.The five were detained at Makoko Police Station but were later transferred to Barracks Police Station, Surulere where Kalu was "allegedly battered to death by policemen attached to the station.Kalu's death marked another instance of police brutality and extra-judicial killing of innocent Nigerians". (P.M. News, Lagoss, 05.04.01).   Also in March, writes the same edition of P.M. News, Lagos, a woman, Mrs. Iroh, roasting plantain (a local delicacy of the poor) by the roadside was killed by the bullets from the gun of a policeman. The police merely described the incident as an accidental discharge, and nothing whatsoever was done to contact the family of Mrs. Iroh, no apology was rendered, and no compensation was contemplated.

Adewale Ayube is a local popular musician. He was shot in the leg on 8 April, 2001, while returning to his house after a night gig.Four men of the dreaded mobile police jumped on him and demanded to be 'settled' - a local parlance for a bribe. Ayuba gave them some money but the four policemen were unsatisfied.Ayuba refused to add anymore and was consequently shot in the leg (Guardian, Lagos, 09.04.01).

The foregoing is just the tip of the iceberg as similar horrendous incidents occur frequently, most times unreported.When on April 12, 2001, a member of the National Assembly, Hon. Bello Ibrahim Yero was arrested for an alleged traffic offence, he was not only detained and physically assaulted, his captive pointed a gun at his neck saying 'you should thank God that we were in the town.If it were in the bush (i.e. the countryside) I would have shot you'(ThisDayNews, 25.04.01).The Nigerian Police is full of paranoid elements.Mike Okiro, Lagos State Police Commissioner told Newswatch Magazine that the Nigerian Police was suffering from the hangover of military regimes (May 01, 2001).

The United States Department of State - Nigeria: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (2000) confirmed that the Nigerian Police, army and security forces commit extra-judicial killings and use excessive force to quell civil unrest under the democratic Obassanjo Government (p. 2, paragraph 3). 

The lethal force used in the demolition and sacking of a whole village of Odi in oil-laden Bayelsa State will remain a sad monument of the Obasanjo-led brutal Government.The more than 250,000 inhabitants of Odi are still taking refuge in the bus afraid of further reprisals by the security operatives.Children of school age are left to languish with neither school nor health facilities. To demonstrate the helplessness of the situation, the Minister of Justice in Nigeria, Mr. Bola Ige was reported by Vanguard Daily of March 28, 2001, to have resorted to cursing the officers and men of the Nigerian police thus: "This illegal and illegitimate act, this N2,000 or N3,000 (money) you collect from innocent people, your arbitrary arrest and detention…will be used by you to bury your own children".  Mr. Ige, therefore further confirmed the nefarious and illegal conduct of the police in Nigeria.  It is this same police that his opposite number in Ireland is doing business with.

There is still a massive crackdown on groups such as the O'odua Peoples Congress, Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, the All Christian Youths Action Group, etc.  These groups have their members in various police detention camps for months without charges.A good number have died in detention; while some lucky ones have fled from Nigeria.All of these organisations are based in the oil-rich but criminally-deprived South of Nigeria, are civil groups that bear no arms, but are constantly hounded by the Northern-dominated Police Force. 

It is time for John O' Donoghue to review his perception of Nigeria vis-à-vis the asylum question. Most of the Nigerian asylum seekers are Christians, some of whom were even baptized by Irish priests in Nigeria.It would amount to sheer hypocrisy if the Irish Government continue with the present repatriation agreement with Nigeria. Without any pretension, Nigeria is presently unable to formulate and enforce policies that would protect and promote the fundamental human rights of her citizenry. At least, not with the present crop of policemen. The Irish Government should do more in helping Nigeria rebuild its Police Force than repatriating already traumatized asylum seekers.

[The above article was written by Ede Ahmed (the name used here is a pseudonym provided by the author for obvious reasons), an asylum seeker based in Ireland.

He wrote the article and provided it to RAR with the intention of highlighting the reasons why John O' Donoghue is not justified in colluding with the corrupt Nigerian police.]

1st June 2001

To Residents against Racism