Despite receiving training on human rights of citizens, officers of the Nigeria Police Force have continued to unlawfully detain, torture, and harass members of the public, victims of police abuse told a human rights panel in Lagos.
The panel, which comprised members of the National Human Rights Commission and Human Rights Law Services, held a public hearing on police abuses in Nigeria on Monday.
Over 30 participants were in attendance including the Network of Police Reforms in Nigeria, Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action, and other civil society organizations.
A communique issued at the end of the hearing called for, among other measures, civil society organizations to initiate campaigns to hold Divisional Police Officers responsible for violations at their police stations.
In 2014, some civil society organizations collaborated with the Nigeria Police to develop a police-training curriculum that would replace the outdated colonial police training manual used in police training institutions.
The old curriculum lacked human rights content, a gap which the new manual set out to fill and further upgrade it to international standards for law enforcement education.
The Nigeria Police Force formally adopted the new training curriculum and the manual for use in police training institutions and for all level of police training and retraining.
But despite the adoption of the new curriculum by the Force, police officers have continued to abuse the human rights of Nigerian citizens and, in some cases, commit extrajudicial killings.
Monday’s public hearing, according to the organizers, was among strategies to assess human rights compliance by law enforcement agencies following human rights training based on the new curriculum.
TESTIMONIES OF TORTURE
Six victims of police abuse testified at the public hearing.
Sylvester Ihejirika, 27, narrated how he bought a 1999 model of Toyota Sienna from a car dealer in Port Harcourt for which he had a balance of N10,000 to pay.
He said the car dealer’s stern demand for the balance turned to threats and finally police arrest.
He was detained at the Olusegun Obasanjo Police Command in Port Harcourt for a day and later transferred to Benin, Edo State, where he spent another day in police custody. Thereafter, he was moved to Obada in Ogun State where he was held in police detention for over two weeks.
Mr. Ihejirika said he was beaten, maltreated, and his family members were extorted over N170,000, part of the money which was paid through electronic bank transfer to one investigative police officer known as ‘Scorpion.’
He tendered accounts details to buttress his claims.
During his ordeal, Mr. Ihejirika said he was not initially allowed to contact his lawyer or family member. He was finally released after two weeks in detention and without any explanation.
His request was for the police to release his car and refund the N170,000 extorted from him and his family.
Another victim, Paul Nwachukwu, who was detained at the same place with Mr. Ihejirika, corroborated his story concerning the misconducts of police officers at Zone 2 Special Intervention Force, Abeokuta, and especially the officer called ‘Scorpion.’
Blessing Taiwo, a 43-year-old Administrative Officer with Afri-Invest, Lagos, was arrested by the police on the accusation by her boss, Abiola Ojo-Sanni that she stole about $50,000 from the office while she travelled.
Her case was transferred, from the Ikoyi Division where she was arrested, to the Anti-Kidnapping Unit in Panti, Yaba.
She said while in detention, the police extorted various sums of money from her family and colleagues who were also detained along with her, adding that her younger sister and the wife of one of the co-detainees were sexually harassed by men of the Anti-kidnapping Unit.
Her case attracted media attention and led to the new Lagos Commissioner of Police, Imohimi Edgal, ordering an investigation into the sexual harassment claims, the report of which is yet to be made public.
Mrs. Taiwo requested that having been found innocent, she ought to be cleared by the police and restored back to her job.
A staff of an environmental rights nongovernmental organization, Chime Asonye, had gone to take photographs of the demolition of some slums in the Badia area of Lagos when armed police officers assaulted him and pushed him into a waiting Black Maria.
Later, he was taken to the Oshodi office of the Lagos State Task Force, along with other residents of Badia whose houses had been demolished, where he was made to delete the photographs he had taken.
He was released on the same day after he was made to enter an undertaking, on behalf of himself and other detainees, not to record scenes of demolition again.
Another lady, Ann Okpara, was arrested by officials of the Intelligence Response Team at the Lagos State Police Command Headquarters on July 14, 2017, at Igando, Lagos.
According to Mrs. Okpara, 36, she was arrested in lieu of her husband whom the police alleged was an accomplice to Evans, the billionaire kidnapper who is currently facing criminal trial.
Amidst tears, she narrated to the panel how she was manhandled in the process of her arrest and taken into detention at the Lagos State Police Command, where she was beaten to the point of coma.
The police officers who carried out the acts, according to her, included one Philip, Christian, and Idowu. She said she received injuries to her forehead, scars of which she still carries.
Her husband, Linus, thinking his wife had been kidnapped, reported the case to the Igando Police Station.
Mrs. Okpara said she was later led by the police to arrest her husband at their home in Igando and the man, a civil engineer by profession, is still being held at the Lagos State Police Command for over three months.
At the time of her arrest, Mrs. Okpara said she was nursing a baby who was delivered prematurely, adding that the police ignored it and took her into detention for over two weeks.
She further said the police collected N50,000 from her brother purportedly to release her; took her to their home and collected the few valuables they could lay hands on, including a rechargeable fan, ladies handbags which she sells and the husband’s car, a Toyota Camry, 1999 model. They further collected N40,000, N5,000 and another N20,000 from her husband.
Mrs. Okpara said her sister was threatened and intimidated at the Police Command and N1,000 collected from her. On August 9, she said the police demanded another N170,000 out of which N100,000 was given to them.
She requested for the release – or that he be charged to court – of her husband whom she said is asthmatic and also suffering from hernia.
In the case of Cosmas Iwuala, 49, who resides at Ejigbo, Lagos; he was arrested and detained in Asaba, Delta State, after he reported that his account was frozen by his bank on the allegation that N600,000 was illegally transferred to the account.
Although he offered to return the money to the person who paid the money into his account, he was still arrested and held in custody in Asaba, Mr. Iwuala said.
Mr. Iwuala said he was charged to court at Asaba and when the magistrate found no case against him, he ordered for his release.
Immediately he stepped out of the court, the police rearrested Mr. Iwuala and detained him for “several weeks.”
The victim said while in detention, he was made to pay N80,000 to be kept in a special and more ‘comfortable cell’.
He further said he narrowly escaped food poisoning after which his friend was made to write an undertaking which he was forced to sign before he could secure his release.
Mr. Iwuala requested that his bank account be unfrozen and that the police return the monies extorted from him.
In their recommendations, the panel called on the National Human Rights Commission to assist the victims identify all the police officers involved in the incidents, while also urging the Commission and NOPRIN to bring the violations to the attention of the Police Service Commission.
They also urged the victims to seek fundamental rights protection at the courts.