“Police is your friend” is a popular maxim displayed in Police Stations across Nigeria. That doesn’t matter anyway since Police Brutality in Nigeria is absolutely higher than it has ever been. Most Nigerians have experienced police brutality or any of its variants. These could be police harassment, extortion, torture, arbitrary detention and in extreme cases, extrajudicial killing. It is safe to say that the widespread fear of the Nigeria Police is justified. I bet you agree. Have you had an encounter with the Police? How did you handle yours?
I am my friends ran into some problems with the Police during the holidays. Below is our story and how we dealt with it.
How We were Robbed by the Police
The small fashion business which I started with three of my friends about 2 years ago was growing. The customer base was increasing and we made big sales during the festive season last year. This new year, we decided to treat ourselves well by buying ourselves a car and going on a vacation to Calabar for some enjoyment. We were on our way back from that vacation, all three of us in the new Hyundai Accent. Then we were stopped on the road by some police officers and asked to pull over. We came down from the car and these police officers started shouting orders with angry voices- ‘Oya open that boot’, ‘where una laptops?’, ‘bring your phone jaree, awon Yahoo boys’.
At that moment, I actually thought these may not be real police officers because I never had such experience before. Upon unlocking our phones, they immediately went to our social media chats, SMS messages, Gallery, Crypto and Forex applications. The chats with our associates in China from where we imported materials for our Fashion business were quickly pinned as our attempt to defraud foreigners using social media. Our crypto wallets were tagged as our way of laundering fraud money without being noticed and the policemen accused us of being internet fraudsters.
All attempts to explain to these officers fell on deaf ears. They would not hear that we ran a fashion business, not minding the various evidence of our business we showed to them. These officers seized our car key and our phones. We could not make phone calls. Their last resort was that we could either bail ourselves there with ₦50,000 each or if we get to the station. we would be detained and the bail price would increase per person. The three of us could not provide the money there, and we asked to make phone calls for people who would get the money for us. They let us make the calls. Unfortunately, after making the calls, no one could get the money to us because we were on the highway, very far from our State. We then asked the officers if we could make mobile transfer of funds directly to their accounts using our phones. They disagreed at first, insisting that they would detain us in cells if we did not bring the money. However, after much deliberations, they said they would accept mobile transfers only on the condition that we would pay ₦70,000 each. We had no option, we needed to get home, so we transferred the money to them, and they let us go!
The Pain of Loss and Our Resolve to Fight the Police
Kabiru would not have it. He kept on venting his anger throughout our journey home. “Efosa”, he said, calling my attention from the road, “How could we be robbed of our hard-earned money like that? detained and treated like criminals by the very people who were charged to protect us”? This got me thinking; our business is legitimate and we pay our taxes. Kabiru insisted we must do something about it otherwise we would never be safe, even in the hands of those who should ensure our safety. “These policemen would detain and extort more people, and who says it could not happen to us again? Some of these police officers have so much darkness in their blood as if their black uniform is a symbol of their evil hearts. But I know some other good police officers though, Segun added.
We knew we had to tackle this. It is our duty as citizens of Nigeria who pay taxes and it is our right as human beings with dignity to follow this issue up. We knew that there is no guarantee that the police officers would be brought to book even if we took action. And we also didn’t know what particular action to take at that moment.
Channels for Seeking Redress
The next day, we conducted some research on what could be done and we came up with the following options:
1.) Get a Lawyer and go to court; This was the most obvious option and the first to come to mind. We didn’t need any research to figure this out, actually. But court cases were always fraught with technicalities, long delays in getting justice and also quite expensive. We would definitely lose more than ₦50,000 each, or spend close to that amount in pursuing the case, and we were not even sure we would win. Technicalities in court can upturn the course of justice. It may well not be worth the stress, we have a business to run.
2.) Go to the National Human Rights Commission; This seemed to be a quicker approach. The commission would take administrative action by sending our grievances to the Commissioner of Police or the Inspector-General of Police, and they could even take up a case in court on our behalf, saving us the expenses. But then again, there was no guarantee that the commission would take up our case seriously, and getting a government agency to help you against another government agency didn’t sound very promising. The success of our case would depend greatly on the weight of evidence we had against these police officers, and in the willingness of the Commission to follow it up with tenacity.
3.) The Police Public Complaints Unit; This is a department of the Nigerian Police Force that deals with public complaints of police brutality. Getting the police to deal with its own officers may be the best way to seek redress, or it may leave us exposed and lead to more persecution by other police officers who could make us a target. Anyway, we have heard news of some police officers being expelled from the Force, and even charged, prosecuted and convicted. We have also heard rumors that these officers who were presented as having been dealt with properly, were simply redeployed to another State, in a jurisdiction where no one would recognize them. Anyway, we were not ruling out this option either. We visited their website using this link. From where we got their contact information. We also learned that every State Police Headquarters have a Human Rights Office where we could go and make our complaints.
4.) The Public Complaints Commission; This commission generally handles complaints against any public officer, civil servant or government office and can be reached here. It seemed a bit wide including them in our options because they deal mostly with Civil servants and other public officials, but we did not rule it out.
There are also many other Non-government organizations which could help in different ways. And we resolved to find these NGOs and see how they can help us too. We decided that since we could not afford option no.1, and there was no guarantee that any single option would provide a remedy, we decided to take options 2 to 4.
The Irreplaceable Role of Evidence in Claims of Police Brutality
Upon enquires, we understood that whatever channel we would use for seeking redress, concrete evidence was key. Evidence to identify the officers, and to link them with the corrupt practice. Thankfully though, we have a video camera which was attached on the car’s dashboard and captured everything that happened. The camera was able to capture their faces, their names, and numbers as written on their uniforms. Everything that happened that day was recorded. Also, the records of the mobile transfers which we made to their account was extremely relevant. With this evidence, we filed our complaints. And we had hope. Real hope that we would get remedy for the injustice done to us.
Social Media is a Potent Weapon Against Police Brutality
To fuel the flame of our complaints, we also used our social media and other available media channels to tell the public of our plight with the policemen, and the steps we had taken to seek redress. We also released the video footage to the public. Getting reactions from individuals and organizations made the agencies before which we laid complaints to give priority to our case and make efforts to bring the Police Officers to justice.
Hope: how it is almost ending…
Having done these, we had hope. Hope that Human Rights are still real, recognized and enforceable in the Nigerian society. Hope that the Nigeria Police Force still had some discipline and dignity towards its duties, not minding the misconducts of ‘evil’ Police Officers among them. Hope that the ordinary Nigerian citizen can get justice without bribing his way through. Our Joy lies in the fact that by taking steps to enforce our rights instead of sulking and complaining bitterly without doing anything, we would give others hope and encourage them to take steps in enforcing their rights too.
What you can do?
We now encourage citizens to rise up and gear up. Here are a few suggestions to help you anytime your rights or those of any other persons are being violated:
- Make efforts to discreetly take pictures or record videos of the event as this will serve as invaluable evidence in seeking redress. Try to capture the faces of the police officers, and if possible, their names and numbers too.
- Remember to be discreet, evil police officers are known to be trigger happy too.
- Making wired transfers instead of cash would also provide evidence.
- Take note of the location where the event takes place. Police Officers are territorial.
Truly, there is no guarantee of getting a remedy, but the assertion of our freedom and dignity serves as warning bells to the bad police officers to keep off, or they could get burnt by our ‘wahala’. Activate your rights today!
Have you had any experience of Police brutality? How did you handle yours? Are you taking any precautions to ensure that you do not fall victim to police brutality, extortion, and harassment? Let’s have your thoughts…
Oscar is a budding young Lawyer, resident in Enugu, Nigeria. He believes that the power to transform Nigeria lies in its people. His interest lies in areas such as Human Rights, Alternative Dispute Resolution, Intellectual Property, and Business Law. He believes that the people of a Nation are it’s most valuable resources, but can also be it’s downfall, if not empowered and enlightened.
He is currently a member of the Institute of Chartered Mediators and Conciliators. He also gained valuable experience in Human Rights by volunteering at the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria and has conducted many Human Rights projects as a leader in the ESUT Law Clinic.
His passion and fulfillment lies in sharing knowledge and connecting with people, learning to give more Love to humanity and improving his personal and professional skills. His hobbies include traveling, music, painting and playing chess.