Mobile Police – Not who you want to call
NAIROBI, – Chidi Odinkalu, chair of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission, was summoned for an interview with police yesterday over remarks he made in March about the judiciary and the police.
In a presentation on 5 March at an event organized by the National Association of Judiciary Correspondents, he said Nigeria was “in the throes of a severe safety and security crisis”. He said politicians, judges, magistrates and lawyers were part of the problem.
“The response of law enforcement to the incapability of the legal system to ensure convictions is an epidemic of third-degree policing, torture and extrajudicial executions,” he said.
Local and international rights bodies have regularly criticized the police for human rights abuses.
The Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (also known as NOPRIN) monitors police behaviour and is among their leading critics. In a 2010 report entitled Criminal Force, NOPRIN recounts several cases of police abuse.
“Personnel routinely carry out summary executions of persons accused or suspected of crime; rely on torture as a principal means of investigation; commit rape of both sexes,” it said.
It gave examples of suspects being bound, suspended from ceilings, kicked and beaten with machetes, gun butts, boots, fists, electrical wires and animal hides. Female detainees have been reportedly raped, and males have had sharp objects inserted into their genitals. Such behaviour, NOPRIN said, was sanctioned or even commissioned by some senior officers.
The number of extralegal police killings is estimated at 2,500 each year, although accurate statistics are difficult to ascertain.
“Killings happen out of the glare of the public eye,” said Innocent Chukwuma, director of the Centre for Law Enforcement Education (CLEEN).
The police spokesman, Deputy Commissioner Olushola Amore, could not be reached for comment on the accusations.
NOPRIN has identified two departments well-known for their violent methods: Department B, which responds to active threats to law and order or public safety and security; and Department D, which deals with intelligence gathering and criminal investigations.
A unit known as the Police Mobile Force, or MOPOL, falls under the command of Department B. It is a rapid deployment paramilitary outfit of some 30,000 men divided into 47 squadrons of roughly 632 men each. Known by Nigerians as “kill and go”, its personnel are feared.
Within Department D are the State Criminal Investigation Departments which operate in the country’s 37administrative divisions. There is no evidence-based policing here, critics say. Rather, personnel routinely abuse suspects under interrogation to obtain confessions of guilt.
Special Anti-Robbery Squads, under the state criminal investigation departments, are another feared unit, created initially in response to what NOPRIN said was “a perceived” nationwide escalation of gun-related robberies and killings. Human rights activists say genuine attempts to reform the police have not been implemented.
Given these problems, public perceptions of the police are abysmal. People tend to avoid the police. CLEEN’s Chukwuma said annual research indicated that 80 percent of Nigerians do not report crimes or problems to the police. “Rather, they use traditional means to solve problems,” he said, “especially in the rural areas”.
|[The police] routinely carry out summary executions of persons accused or suspected of crime; rely on torture as a principal means of investigation; commit rape of both sexes
Chukwuma said a public alienated from the police was an indicator of public alienation from the government which, occasionally, talked about police reforms but never followed through.
Understanding police behaviour
Many reasons have been cited for improper police behaviour: a repressive colonial police heritage; a poorly funded and ill-equipped police force; a highly centralized police structure plagued by political interference.
Recruitment has been compromised and police training is poor, leading to the hiring of unsuitable personnel. Salaries are bad, making police prone to corruption and other crimes.
Suspects are tortured for confessions because police lack the ability and means to conduct thorough criminal investigations. NOPRIN says in many police stations, one staff member oversees torture in a room specially set aside for this practice.
Human rights organizations acknowledge that police are killed in their hundreds or even thousands every year, which may in part explain their behaviour and their attitude to the public.
Police complain of poor working conditions, unhealthy environments, long hours and inadequate housing – all demotivating factors.
“Some policemen sleep in broken-down vehicles,” Chukwuma said.
“The thing that is striking [about police stations] is the scent,” he added.
Reforming the police requires considerable government commitment and funding. Enhanced training; curricular reviews at training institutions; the vetting of recruits and serving police; competent forensic technicians and fit-for-purpose laboratories; DNA analysis and modern finger printing capability; and community policing – are just some measures suggested.
A measure of reform is under way. Recently, the police force converted its academy to a university-level institution.
“There is only so much the police can do because often when they plan or begin something, newly-elected politicians come and halt the process,” Chukwuma said.
Since assuming office in January, Inspector-General of Police Mohammed Abubakar has said public recklessness, or abuse of human rights by police, would no longer be tolerated, irrespective of rank. As a start, he has opened special phone lines for people to lodge complaints against the police; disbanded checkpoints and roadblocks, which had become nodes of extortion; and set up a team to arrest any police manning illegal checkpoints.
The removal of checkpoints has reduced extortion and extrajudicial killings, said NOPRIN National Coordinator Emeka Nwanevu.
“The current Inspector-General needs to be supported by government in investing heavily in training – back to basics policing,” Chukwuma added. “Police work is driven by intelligence, so that funds and equipment need to be made available so that police can gather this and act on it rather than harassing and brutalizing suspects.”
Reformers would like an external oversight body for the police. The rationale is that this would help lessen police impunity. Reformers also want skilled civilians to staff police administration, ballistic and forensic centres.
“What we need are a non-police people who can help the police to plan and put in structures to improve their service,” he said.
Nwanevu, who was a member of a presidential police reform committee in 2008, said new recommendations by the current president and police inspector-general were expected to be made known within two months.
One likely reform, Nwanevu said, could result in improved police training. NOPRIN would also like to see greater involvement by civil society in ensuring that police act as expected. The organization also wants telephone numbers of divisional commanders to be made readily available to the public so that complaints can be made against specific officers.
Funding reform is another requirement. Currently, he said, money voted for the police never seems to trickle down to the station unit level, leaving them impoverished, dirty, lacking equipment (including basic administrative documents), and police wearing different shades of uniform. Reform, he said, would stop station commanders extorting money from the public to pay for these requirements.
“We are recommending a structured approach for the dispensing of funds for the police so that everyone in the command chain knows how much is available to them for their work,” he said.