Nasarawa As Killing Field Of Police – By Emmanuel Onwubiko


wives of police officers protesting at the Nasarawa state police command today 2

Nigeria in the last three years has been in the news for the very ugly reason of the unprecedented violence that have occurred in different parts of the country but with specific dominance in the Northern parts of Nigeria.

The latest of such violent scenarios was the Tuesday May 7th 2013 mass murder of nearly one hundred police operatives in Nasarawa State, North Central Nigeria, by a suspected armed local secret sect known in local parlance as “ombatse” [meaning we have arrived] cult group.

The notorious Nasarawa cult violence has again triggered a national debate on the essence of strict enforcement of the principle of rule of law and the urgent need to end the regime of impunity that is directly responsible for this vicious cycle of bloody violence.

The dastardly criminal act of the massacre of police operatives by armed non-state actors while on lawful duty has again created a national sense of panic, fear and heightened anxiety among the civil populace regarding the ease with which police operatives and specific state institutions such as police stations are speedily collapsing under the heavy bombardment of a range of local armed groups and armed Islamic religious insurgents in Northern Nigeria.

With the screaming headlines in most newspapers regarding the high casualty rate with some asserting that a total of 88 police operatives were allegedly gunned down by the suspected armed local cult group in Alakyo near Lafia, Nasarawa State, most people you easily come across in the streets of major cities and towns in Nigeria will express a unified apprehension that if armed security operatives who ought to enforce the rule of law easily fall prey incessantly to different armed freelance attackers, then the precious lives and property of Nigerians who carry no weapons, are not guaranteed.

The quick cancellation of his foreign trip while in Southern Africa by the Nigerian President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, is yet another clear indication of apprehension and worry among the highest political power bloc that the threats posed by the different armed violent groups are capable of destabilizing our nation state. But the Presidency has clearly mismanaged the growing cases of sectarian violence and terrorism in the North.

On this Nasarawa incident, Feelers from the presidency are of the clearest indication that the rising insecurity heightened by the assassination of nearly one hundred police operatives in Nasarawa State while on lawful duty, has compelled President Jonathan to cancel his scheduled two day official visit to Namibia.

A statement by the Special Adviser, Media and Publicity to the President, Dr. Reuben Abati, noted that in view of recent developments at home in Nigeria, Jonathan had to cut short his visit to South Africa and aborted his state visit to Namibia which was due to start last Thursday [May 9th 2013].

According to the statement, “the President is returning to Abuja immediately to personally oversee efforts by national security agencies to contain the fresh challenges to national security which have emerged this week in Borno, Plateau and Nasarawa state.”

He noted that the President would on arrival meet with the Chief of Defence Staff, Service Chief, Inspector-General of Police and heads of national security services to review the security situation in the country.

But lots of critical minded Nigerians have questioned the rationale of the current federal administration to always activate such artificial panic measure and ‘fire-brigade’ approach whenever violence of such significant proportion like that of the killing of scores of police operatives in Nasarawa State, occurs.

Most thinkers are of the opinion that government at every level must show consistency in its determination to prosecute and punish in the competent courts of law, all suspected mass murderers rather than the selective approach of opting for dialogue and granting of amnesty to individuals indicted for such grave crime against humanity such as the bloody religious insurgency in Northern Nigeria whereby over 5000 Nigerians have been killed with no suspect convicted yet for these bloody violence.

Majority of Nigerians clearly believe that the lack of political will on the part of the federal government to respect the constitution by ensuring that all mass killers are arrested, prosecuted and sanctioned in compliance with section 6 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of 1999 (as amended), is the root cause of such boldness displayed by the armed cultists in the recent massacre of police operatives.

Sadly, some reactionary elements in the National Assembly were reported to have canvassed granting of amnesty to the culprits who executed these gruesome decimation of nearly one hundred police operatives In Nasarawa state and the characters who made such unconstitutional and inflammatory demand are roaming freely in the seat of power in Abuja and not yet arrested.

Before extensively dealing with the human rights implication of government’s failure over the years to bring suspected killers to swift justice, it is worthwhile dwelling in some length on the import of the word “impunity” which is the fundamental cause of the growing restiveness and violence unleashed on the public space by divergent armed non-state actors.

For researchers who contributed to the online free Encyclopedia, Wikipedia, impunity means “exemption from punishment or loss or escape from fines”.

They further stated thus; “In the international law of human rights, it refers to the failure to bring perpetrators of human rights violations to justice and, as such, itself constitutes a denial of the victims’ right to justice and redress. Impunity is especially common in countries that lack a tradition of the rule of law, suffer from corruption or that have entrenched systems of patronage, or where the judiciary is weak or members of the security forces are protected by special jurisdictions or immunities.”

Wikipedia recalled that the amended set of principles for the protection and promotion of Human Rights “Through Action to combat impunity”, submitted to the United Nations Commission (Council) on Human Rights on February 2005, defines impunity as “the impossibility, de jure or de facto, of bringing the perpetrators of violations to account – whether in criminal, civil, administrative or disciplinary proceedings – since they are not subject to any inquiry that might lead to their being accused, arrested, tried and, if found guilty, sentenced to appropriate penalties, and to making reparations to their victims”.

The First Principle of that same document states that; “Impunity arises from a failure by States to meet their obligations to investigate violations; to take appropriate measures in respect of the perpetrators, particularly in the area of justice, by ensuring that those suspected of criminal responsibility are prosecuted, tried and duly punished; to provide victims with effective remedies and to ensure that they receive reparation for the injuries suffered; to ensure the inalienable right to know the truth about violations; and to take other necessary steps to prevent a recurrence of violations.”

My conviction for blaming impunity for the widespread cases of violence in Nigeria was even strengthened by a report in some of the Newspapers of Friday May 10th 2013 in which one confessed member of the Nasarawa cult group actively sought to justify the killing of the police operatives by saying that they killed the police operatives in self defense.

The self confessed member of the Omatse sect who spoke with the Hausa service of the British Broadcasting Service [radio] said they killed a total of 90 policemen in “self defense”.

The member of the cult group also stated that they were informed of an impending police assault on their village and therefore mobilized to fight back.

“We received reports that police were on their way to our place, we do not know why ‘they are coming, so we prepared against their arrival”, he said, without disclosing his name.

The cult member in Nasarawa State who volunteered information to the British Broadcasting service on condition of anonymity also said; “They were up to 160 in about 12 vehicles; we stopped them and asked what brought them to our place and they told us that they came for one old man (the Chief Priest). We told them we were not going to allow them into our village unless they gave us a good reason”.

He said the police then fired tear gas, and the villagers retaliated by using knives and cutlasses.

Sad, pathetic and traumatizing to the national conscience as this recent brutal murder of scores of policemen is, it is unfortunately a continuation of a sinister pattern whereby the policing institution created by section 214(1) of the Constitution seems to have abysmally failed to discharge her constitutional duty of enforcement of the rule of law and the prevention of crime of all ramifications. The political authority has also not helped matter because they have failed to take cognizance of professional competence and merit as the precondition for appointment to the offices of Inspector General of Police and the respective state police commissioners. When an institution is headed by a leadership not properly picked based on merit, what you will see is the growth of failure of discipline which will gradually cripple the institution and disable it from discharging its constitutional duty to the citizenry.

Now, to the question of what constitute the qualities of a good officer to head the Nigeria police, I think I will borrow extensively from a recent research by Times Magazine editorial writer major Miller who asked some of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Chief critics, supporters and stakeholders to weigh in on what qualities are needed in a new police chief.

One respondent said the three qualities necessary for a police chief include recognition that change is a fragile process, secondly, an appreciation of the history and diversity of the constituency; and thirdly, recognition of the relationship between crime and social injustice. Of the three qualities mentioned above, the first which is recognition that change is a fragile process is of particular interest to us in Nigeria.

In offering further explanation the respondent said that the police department changes when the culture changes and it can fall backward if the new Chief fails to preserve an ethos of respect not just of the law, but of justice.

In appointing heads of our security agencies, consideration must be given to merit, competence, discipline and commitment to serve the nation and not the god-father as is the case now in Nigeria whereby most police chiefs are concerned with providing security to the political elite than the members of the law abiding public and thereby consistently neglect the all-important issue of intelligence-driven training for their operatives.

A number of factors have been blamed for this systematic collapse of the national mechanism of law enforcement symbolized by the Nigerian police force. Issues of corruption; indiscipline and lack of efficient and effective training and equipping of the police operatives with the modern facilities to combat crime are particularly notorious for operationally crippling the Nigerian police force as an institution.

Erstwhile chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Salihu Modibbo Alfa Belgore who delivered a paper in December 1st 2006 during a national conference on rules of court procedures and laws of crime, was of the considered opinion that the incompetence of the police operatives in investigating and prosecuting crime, is responsible for the sophistication and spread of such violent crime of epochal proportion.

Justice Belgore had rightly observed thus; “Preliminary Investigation has been abolished in many states and it should not be re-introduced. The police should be better equipped to face the sophistication of criminals who seem to move ahead of the police and security agencies.”

“As much as possible, every State Command of the Nigeria Police should have an up-to-date document analysis laboratory and finger print experts. In addition, more graduates in the sciences and engineering should be recruited into the Police force and other agencies that investigate crime and they should be properly trained in the new sciences, e.g. DNA tests, “he stressed on practical steps to improve police crime fighting capacity, he stated thus; “The present Police Facilities in Lagos, Ibadan, Enugu and Kaduna are in serious decay and should be renovated and upgraded in the interest of effective administration of justice.

Indeed, instead of recruiting general duties officers, specialists should be recruited and trained at the best institutions in the world. Adequately equipped training institutions should also be established in Nigeria and such personnel should be trained by expert instructors initially brought from reputable institutions overseas.”

The question that has to be responded to in pragmatic terms by the federal government is why successive administrations including the current one have neglected the all important necessity to build effective, formidable, well-disciplined, well-equipped and rights-based Nigeria police Force.

Section 4 of the police Act stated that; “The police shall be employed for the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of offenders, the preservation of law and order, the protection of life and property and the due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged, and shall perform such military duties within or without Nigeria as may be required by them by, or under the authority of, this or any other Act.”

On the human rights implication, the Nigerian government is obliged to protect all Nigerians including police operatives on lawful duties from being wasted and assassinated by armed non-state actors and whenever such unfortunate incident happens, it is the constitutional duty of government to bring perpetrators to Justice.

It is a crime against humanity for the federal government to negotiate with mass murderers because under the obligation to fulfill, states are required to take positive action to ensure that human rights can be exercised. Article 8 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) affirmed that; “Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law”.

In the same vein, section 33(1) of the constitution provides that; “Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.”

The Nigerian constitution imposes a primary duty on the Federal government to provide security and welfare of the people including protecting police operatives on lawful duties from being killed.

Government must take effective measures to bring to an end the growth of Ethnic and religious militias who have armed themselves with weapons of mass destruction and now constitute grave threats to the territorial integrity of Nigeria. Measures to stop the proliferation of small arms and light weapons that flood Nigeria from the porous borders must be checked even as Nigerian government must build modern and well -fortified security infrastructure in all our international borders.

* Emmanuel Onwubiko, Head; HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS’ ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA, is a former commissioner with the Nigerian National Human Rights Commission.




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