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Police brutality and democratic governance: a case study of lagos state (2015-2020)

Chapter two


2.1 Emergence and creation of the Nigeria police

The emergence of the police can be traced back to the era of the mutual pledge system. Mutual pledge system was a fore runner to the institution of Police force in Britain. Under the mutual pledge system, villagers were responsible for their safety as well as protection of their settlements from thieves and marauders. It was a sort of collective responsibility for everybody. Ten families were grouped into collectives, called a tithing, and entrusted with the task of protecting their settlements from thieves and marauders. The tithing was rearranged into a hundred, supervised by one amongst them though appointed by the local noble. The appointee who is considered the first real police officer deals with more serious breaches of the law. With the passage of time, there was a reorganization of the mutual pledge system in such a way that hundreds of families formed shires, an equivalent of local government area of today. Similarly, the head of the shire, known as sheriff was appointed by a king or queen to supervise a certain territory and ensured that law and order was kept. In this arrangement, the sheriff soon began to pursue and apprehend law violators hence the creation of the Office of Justice of Peace in about 1326. In due course, the Justices of peace took on judicial functions in addition to their primary duty as peace keepers. A formal system of security watch developed in which the local constable became the operational assistant to the Justice of the Peace supervising the night watch, investigating offences, serving summons, executing warrants, and securing prisoners. Gradually, the mutual pledge system died-out for the following reasons:

  1. What was everybody’s duty being nobody’s duty
  2. People no longer had respect for the constables because some of them were illiterates
  • There was some reliance on paid night watchmen.

Thereafter, there emerged the industrial revolution which lured thousands from countryside to work in the larger towns. The low wages earned by the swelling population could hardly sustain them and as result, there was increase in crime which heightened the need for formal protection. The development of organic solidarity which replaced mechanical solidarity brought a change in communal social life and a decline in community sense of belonging. In response from established citizens, the government passed statutes creating new protection agency in England. The agency employed three Justices of Peace who employed six able and healthy persons as staffers (constables). Thereafter, law began to be more centralized and professional. In furtherance to this, a protection agency was created through the acts of parliament. With time, the protection agency was re-branded as the first organised Police force in London with members being cloaked in a distinctive uniform and led by two magistrates, who were later given the title of Commissioner. However, it is instructive to note that in as much as the people wanted the establishment of a protection agency; the institutionalization of a professional, uniformed protection agency was resisted by many people for the simple reason that they feared that an armed protection agency in the hands of the Central Government might threaten their freedom. Besides, the people were aware that the professional uniformed protection agency was principally established to protect the rulers rather than them. Despite the resistance of the idea of armed, military-style police on the British soil; it was introduced into Nigeria not necessarily to undermine human rights which were the bane of its rejection, but to protect the colonial masters as well as the interest of the metropolitan (British) economy in whatever form deemed necessary. Sequel to the stated, the police became a tool to harass, intimidate and employ violence against opponents, and in most situations lynch them. Expounding this assertion, Nwabueze (1992) declares that during the era of regionalism in Nigeria, each region had its own local police. However, he contended that the local police forces in the Northern Nigeria … were turned into the local arms of the parties in power. As a result, criminal charges against anyone in government were disregarded. The injustice inherent in the regional policing ignited the call for a single police force for the country. However, since the unification, one wonders if a change has occurred between what Nwabueze (1992) queried about and what is occurring in contemporary times where only members of the opposition are being hunted. The subversion of the rule of law and professionalism would have been off the media. But the disruption of campaigns by armed thugs as witnessed in the concluded gubernatorial elections in Kogi and Bayelsa States (Nigeria), where amongst other claims people were beheaded in one of the states in order to snatched election materials, but the burning to death of a woman leader of one of the political parties in inside her private residence will ever remain a horrible commentary in the annals of the elections in Nigeria. While the inactivity of the police remains condemnable, the purported body language or declarations of her allegiance to the federal government is difficult to comprehend. Agreed this is against Article 26 of the ICCPR that provides that all persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination equal protection before the law. But what do we make of the Police Act that kicks against any undue arrangement with any government or political party in Nigeria? Frustratingly, the body language of the police hierarchy seems to suggest that “failure to support the government is tantamount to rebellion, and therefore, a punishable offense” (Amnesty International, 2002). Disappointing as it may seem, all these aberrations and consequences on human rights are self-evident of the forceful imposition of policing on the Nigerian people by the imperialists. Undoubtedly, section 194 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Nigeria, 1999) that created the Nigeria Police Force as the National Police with exclusive jurisdiction throughout the country was silent on profiling the character of recruits; there was no background check on who and who must be recruited. Obviously, that seems to be the herculean task as all kinds of individuals have been enrolled into the force. Unfortunately, no one seems to view it as a handicap. Surprisingly however, the colonial masters accentuated on refined character as bedrock for recruitment in their land. But in Nigeria, the hypocritical stance of the colonial policing is vexatious. As a result, the police have been epitomizing darkness, brutality, deceit, recklessness and remain the sole proponent of uncompleted investigations. For example, the assassination of Chief Dikibo, a chieftain of Peoples Democratic Party in Rivers State and Chief Bola Ige, the Minister for Justice and Attorney General are still being investigated after about sixteen years as no person yet has been convicted for these high profile murders, even when there are possible clues (Coker and George-Geny, 2014). More worrisome, according to Coker and George-Geny (2014), is the allegation that many of the suspects have been rewarded with electoral and executive appointments. From the foregoing one could easily assert that there is a positive correlation between Nwabueze’s earlier assertions that criminal charges levied against persons in corridors of power are unseen (Nwabueze, 1992) and the prevailing circumstances nowadays. Of all follies, we have often argued that, there is none greater than reforming the Nigeria police force because her history since inception has been not only of exploitation and brutality, but also protecting the bourgeoisie as it is nowadays. Accordingly, the exploitation and brutality of the Nigeria police remains the reason many a person in government still prefer to keep the force as it is, to preserve the status quo, and thus, see reformers as idealists who have lost touch with reality. While it is lamentable that officers genuflect to perpetual adoration of wealth, murals of dictators, quack-pastors and occultists (who they now body-guard), political thugs, narcotics smugglers, murderers, and religious bigots, can the Nigeria Police still attain greatness and position of respectability? The pains, humiliations, frustrations and disappointments that have tried many souls whose loved ones have continuously been brutally murdered through “accidental charges” by police because they obstructed justice are troubling. At this juncture, we could be tempted to assert that the interpretation of human rights violations by the Nigeria police could be liken to Ayi Kwei Armah’s satirical novel: ‘The beautyful ones are not yet born’ because no one has yet succeeded in laying bare the total pattern of that novel (Armah, 1968). Likewise, no one too has been able to understand the Nigeria police in its entirety. Unfortunately, no one is really hot and bothered about this high level of police brutality being the masterminds by a few individuals whose deception, falsehood, greed and demonic influence is insulating all nooks and crannies of the Nigerian society. And as the year gradually rolls by, so overwhelming is the abuse of human rights that one is forced to pause a moment. Let one’s thoughts on the Nigerian society wander while one stands aside and ponder over the brutality of the Police in Nigeria (PIN), otherwise called the Nigeria Police Force (NPF). While disappointedly, the force suffer from identity crises and also have the odd reputation of snuffing out life from innocent Nigerians at the least provocation, it is undisputable that the police epitomize darkness, brutality, deceit, recklessness and remain the sole proponent of uncompleted investigations. This uncompleted investigation of several deaths has become very ravenous and devastating to an extent that officers have become leprous, both in colour and content. Contradictorily, the police insist that Nigerian citizens are their friends even when no one of us one is safe in their custody. Basically, it has been argued in some circles that until the Police in Nigeria (PIN) become a truly Nigeria Police Force, (NPF) nothing whatsoever can be done to better her corrupt image. For many, the police are walking corpses. Admittedly, there has been too much of oppression and brutal display of wickedness by the powerful rich against the poor and needy. In fact, the biting economic situation has reduced Nigerians to either beggars, destitute or prostitutes. The people have gone from bad to worse with virtually every succeeding administration. The people have never had a genuine and truly Nigeria police force that has ever put the national interest over and above parochial, personal and sectional interest. Regrettably, even today, there is nothing in the horizon to suggest any radical departure from the status–quo-ante; because human right abuses are waxing stronger and calling the shots. The Nigeria police have been so much been mismanaged in all spheres of protecting human rights especially at the least provocations that one is tempted to ask the underneath question. Does a government really possess superior wisdom to those outside it? There may be some debates here but one cannot be persuaded to accept that an individual or government as a group of individuals possesses superior wisdom. A thousand flowers, as the Chinese are wont to say, should blossom and a thousand thought should contend and so, one therefore believes that even a madman has an antidote to usher in a new beginning for the Nigeria police. Police force that is not in a hurry to collapse on itself should not disallow any mad man to make his prescriptions because there may be some untested and unknown wisdom in him. Really, general insanity could be diagnosed for a police force that abhors criticisms and claims to have superior wisdom to those outside it and it is only a mad man who will pray to identify with such an insane police force. In spite of this, there are still voices that claim the Nigeria police possess that power and authority to right all wrongs against human rights abuse for the restoration of sanity, discipline, morality and dignity of man in the society.

Police brutality and its implications

Undoubtedly, the police are granted enormous powers by law and the constitution to take preventive measures against the commission of all crimes in Nigeria. Under this premise, the law allows them to use such reasonable force as may be necessary for the prevention of crimes. But in the exercise of this authority, there have been many instances of inexcusable killing of guiltless victims by officers of the Nigeria police. This is particularly executed by junior officers who do not act single-handedly or on their own accord. According to verifiable evidence senior police officers are deeply involved in these brutalities. Regrettably, it is upsetting to observe that police management routinely frustrates any efforts to seek redress or justice by injured victims or their families by reassigning the officers responsible for the crime (Alemika, 1993). For example, in buttressing more of police brutality, the case of Chika Elekwachi, a pregnant married woman in Lagos who refused to be identified as a prostitute, and consequently led to being beaten mercilessly by the police to the extent of losing consciousness and going into brutality-induced premature labour for a baby that later died cannot be ignored. According to human rights watch (Human Rights, 2009), Chika’s vehicle was obstructed by a bus; thereafter, one of the three policemen in the said bus came out, pointed a gun at her and ordered her to park. To this, Human Rights Watch (2009) writes: Occurrences of police brutality of citizens, such as the Chika case, are worrisome and indicative of the indiscipline, impropriety and resultant disappointment in the police. Beating up a married and pregnant woman and stripping her naked because she took an exception to being called a prostitute is a display of insanity and indiscretion. The incident is a misdemeanor.’ and we are pained that police brutality is on the rise despite the pledged commitment of top echelon of the police leadership to renew professionalism in the Force (Human Rights Watch, 2009). It is unthinkable that a pregnant woman could be an object of cruelty. The incidence, extent and pattern of police abuse of rights of citizens in the society as earlier observed are hinged on the status of one involved. Cases of police brutality abounds. The case of Chika is one too many. Among other indictments, the organization said the police detain people to extort money or force a confession out of them. Obviously, some of the torture techniques employed in order to extract confession or extort gratification (Alemika, 1993) mirror a dysfunctional police system that operates in the country. More so, it is obvious from the foregoing that the report by the Open Society Justice Initiative (2011) against the police is not only a shocker, but an undisputable fact. According to the report, bribes are demanded from motorists at roadblocks with reckless abandon. At its worst, the report alleges the police massage Chemical Mace and hot chili pepper into the genitals of those it arrests in order to draw out dubious confessions to use as an excuse to summarily execute those they describe as “armed robbers.” In addition, the average police officer on the streets of Nigeria is, most often, armed with horse whip and many of them show considerable enthusiasm in using it on innocent passers-by without provocation. The Report further holds that those who get away with merely being horsewhipped are considered lucky. Many others fare much worse. Writing earlier, Odinkalu(2005) asserts that human safety and security are indeed human rights because they have a value of their own. Undoubtedly, he argues that the state has overriding influence in the security sector and as a result, the legitimacy and right of the people can only be sustained to the extent to which it can guarantee the protection of life and property of its citizens.

Theoretical framework

The Marxist Conflict Theory

The conflict theory propounded by Karl Marx (1818- 1883) is employed in this paper as its theoretical haven. The theoretical postulations provide a materialist interpretation of history, a critical stance against existing social arrangements, and advocate a reform to enthrone the rights of the proletariats (commoners), particularly in Nigeria where this study stems from. Marx argues vociferously, that the materialist view of history starts from the premise that the most important determinant of social life is the labour people are doing, especially work that results in provision of the basic necessities of life, food, clothing and shelter (Marx, 1971), but queried the abuses the proletariats are subjected by the bourgeoisie (owners of means of production). It is very essential to assert that these vicious abuses, including the threat to life, against the powerless contravened all agreements negotiated for safeguarding human rights from different International Human Rights Conferences, including the African Charter of Human and People’s Right signed in 1981 (and which became effective in 1986). Marxist perspectives view power as being concentrated in the hands of a minority in society and which is employed to harass, intimidate and exploit the powerless. By explanation, successive governments in Nigeria have different interests from the ruled (powerless), hence the abuses and dehumanization of the peoples’ dignity. The concentration of power in the hands of those who have economic control creates divisions within society. Elucidating further, Marx maintains that the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles, and that the state serves the dominant classes in society. In this vein, Marx sees the entrenched economic exploitation leading directly to political oppression, and turning the ruled (powerless) into servants of their socioeconomic interests. Substantiating, Marx argues that the abuse and denial of human rights always serve capitalist interests by pacifying intellectuals, paid directly or indirectly by government to justify and rationalize the existing human rights abuses while majority of the oppressed population is left in the underground of marginalization to mourn their subjugated status as people who have no choice but to accept their fate. Clearly, Marx may have been a prophet to have foreseen the entrenched economic exploitation leading directly to abuses of human rights, as government and all its agencies(as in Nigeria) suppress human rights using governmental directive to justify their cruelty against the people when he was writing.. For example, the police having declared through her body language allegiance to the central government against the statutorily mandate establishing it, majority of the populace have become servants of oppressive interests against their will. In this unholy union, police power, for instance, have continuously been used to oppress and display wickedness as demanded by the powerful rich against the citizenry. As it stands today, the biting economic situation has reduced Nigerians to beggars. The people are dehumanized than ever before with virtually every succeeding administration becoming hostile and cruel to their rights. Essentially, the people have never had a genuine and truly Nigeria police force that has ever put the national interest over and above parochial, personal and sectional interest. Regrettably, even today, there is nothing in the horizon to suggest any radical departure from the status–quo-ante; because human right abuses are waxing stronger and calling the shots. Conclusively, since the dominant ideology in a capitalist society like Nigeria is that of the ruling class, the socio-economic relations of production are under their control, therefore they reproduce and perpetuate the socio-economic class structure that has continued to maintain the imposed policing system that, after six decades of independence, still remains exploitative and abuser of human rights. The relevance of this theory to this paper rests on the fact that the dark spots of a leopard cannot be washed away by rain; the exploitative ideology inherent in Nigeria police points to a system of governance that regenerates and perpetuates the interests of the dominant (and bourgeois) class, while uncooperatively refusing to deliver to the citizens their fundamental human rights to restore their human dignity

Police brutality in Nigeria and it effect


Nigeria has been independent for 60 years, but was under military rule for half that time – which is why many Nigerians have become accustomed to living in fear of oppression and subjugation. However, when democracy was reestablished in 1999, an event that was supposed to herald the beginning of a new era, most Nigerians expected to finally reap the benefits of a democratic order that put them first through people-centred policies. Unfortunately, this dream turned out to have been largely a mirage.

As with many other countries and nascent democracies, Nigeria has had to confront numerous challenges. These include unemployment and underemployment, erratic power supply, infrastructural gaps, insufficient social amenities, poor healthcare services, the lack of access to quality education and the threat posed by violent extremism all in the past decade.

These challenges have compelled Nigerians, typically known to be hardworking and resilient, to endure these pains while looking towards the state to cater to their needs. One of the most fundamental responsibilities of the state towards its citizens remains the protection of lives and property. However, the Nigerian Police Force, which is saddled with the responsibility of ensuring law and order, is now seen by many as being unable to deliver on its mandate

Recent protests, led by Nigerian youth across the country’s 36 states, have been a direct response to police brutality. The protesters are calling for the police’s notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), long plagued by accusations of extrajudicial violence, to be disbanded.

On 11 October, the federal government disbanded the unit for the fourth time in three years. What, then, do these youthful protesters want really? In fact, their campaign is demanding good governance in its broadest sense, including a complete overhaul of the country’s national security architecture. These young people have demonstrated generational leadership, and their campaign has attracted international support from figures such as Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey.


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