On Saturday, April 13, Mercy John got a call that shattered her life. It was abrupt: Your daughter has been shot dead.
The last time she spoke with her daughter, Ada, they had arranged that both would spend Easter together. A week before Easter, the 20-year-old was driving home with friends when six armed men accosted them and demanded them to stop.
Nothing identified the men as policemen, so the driver, Emmanuel Akomafuwa, did not stop. The men opened fire.
Ada died on the spot from two shots to the stomach. Emmanuel was hospitalised with one shot to the head.
It has since been uncovered that the armed men were police officers already facing “disciplinary proceedings” at the Lagos State police command headquarters in Ikeja.
“My daughter was not a criminal,” a heart-broken Mercy declared.
“The killers will pay dearly for this, because I can’t take it; I can’t stand it and I cannot allow it to go like that.”
Five of the men have been arrested. The sixth, named Dania Ojo, thought responsible for the direct shooting that killed Ada, escaped and has been since been dismissed and declared wanted.
Reports of police shootings of civilians have hit an alarming high nationwide. Behind it are those police themselves call “bad eggs” denting the force’s image and reputation, according to the Lagos command’s spokesman, DSP Bala Elkana.
“Even one incident of this is sufficiently disturbing, talk less of when it happens from time to time,” says Prof Chukwunonso Okafo, the Dean, Faculty of Law at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He also sits on the editorial board of the African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies.
“When an incident like this happens, you just hear it and very soon you don’t even hear what happens to the police officers involved. Killing a citizen is homicide. The average citizen is treated harshly by the system. When the police who are licensed to protect life are out to destroy it, something drastic has to be done and that should be made known to the public so that people will learn a lesson and other officers will be deterred, but we don’t hear that,” he said.
At least eight people have been killed in extrajudicial shootings and disproportionate use of force by the police in the last three months, a Daily Trust investigation found. It hasn’t just been civilians on the receiving end: two traffic cops on March 20 beat a civil defence officer, Ogah Jumbo, with batons until he slumped and died in hospital in Abuja.
An autopsy report ruled out any previous condition responsible for his death but noted “blunt force injury” to the head and “soft tissue” injuries from the beating.
Why a cop turns from serving and protecting to killing isn’t easy to understand. Before donning the uniform, a cop is first a human and like any other humans, is open to making mistakes, being aggressive, even violent, explains Anthony Agbor, a development sociologist at the Kwararafa University, Taraba State.
“It is the responsibility of police authorities to come up with ideas to manage the excesses of human beings authorised to serve as agents of law enforcement.
“No officer was born to be a killer or involved in extrajudicial killing or acts of inhumanity. The problem here is the police formation, how are they taking into consideration that the office, like every other human, is prone to having challenges in terms of character and relationships? The belief that every officer understands the law and is law abiding is one of those sociological questions that have not been clearly explained,” he said.
The sociological explanation is straightforward-the Nigerian society with norms, values, customs and traditions. All these ideologies over time are affected by economic, political, ethnic, tribal interests. And the police officer is found right in the midst of all these factors, explains Agbor.
Lapse in psychology
The ideology behind arming a law enforcement agent is to ensure the safety and security of individuals in the area the person is covering is guaranteed, says Agbor.
“At the same time, how much has the government given to ensure the psychological state of these armed individuals is checked at every point in time? There are tendencies that certain attributions could trigger aggression in them just like in every human being. At that point of aggression, the tool that is supposed to be for safety and security becomes a tool for aggression.”
That’s one reason, and psychologists are not even bothering to rule out psychological factors. Studies haven’t shown experiences expressly related to post-traumatic stress disorder, says Samuel Adekunle, a psychologist.
“Police job exposes a career police person to severe trauma and experiences you can call traumatic, so you can’t excuse those psychological angles from how the police carry out their activities. But a lot is hypothetical,” he adds. And a lot too, start with how the police are recruited.
Transforming to positioning
Being a police officer was once a vocation, like going into the priesthood, notes Agbor. But many today are turning to the force as a job, something sociologists call “transitory workers”.
“They are not there to protect but to make ends meet. Their function is not to transform the society but their goals are centred on selfish and egocentric positioning. When they come in, they see it as an opportunity to extort and in the process of extorting, if they are challenged, there is the tendency they could become trigger hungry,” he says.
Some of those transitory workers securing paramilitary jobs are probably political thugs and supporters of politicians who after getting into office want to compensate their supporters with jobs and just make referrals, Adekunle says.
It begins in recruitment-proper profiling and evaluation of candidates, he says.
“Who are they, what are their profiles? Some have been exposed to traumatic experiences before getting into the job. Abusing the rights of people and going to the extent of brutalising people is something strange to them, so if they now find themselves holding arms, that’s a veritable way for them to display those things they have already been used to.
“There is a strong need for psychological evaluation and assessment, even in recruitment, so you know who they are, their personality, what they can do, how much they can carry, how they can respond to stressful situation.”
“Once the hire is secured, the job conditions are concern. Long work hours, unhealthy work conditions, constant brushes with criminals and death could make them distressed,” says Adekunle.
“And they are looking for the next person to displace that anger on because they can’t really direct it to the police force, and that person may just be an innocent person on the street.”
The man on the street has also contributed by his attitude to managing relationship with police.
“Police is your friend” has been caricatured to mean “Police is your enemy”. People use “No permanent friend” to mean “police”.
“This stigma could trigger aggression because the masses do not accept them as people working for the protection of the masses. Even in communication, a police officer is downgraded,” says Agbor.
“Once a man is angry, it is the aftermath of that action that we only report. Remember most policemen are first human beings before they are law enforcement agents, and that human nature is always there,” he adds.
Experts believe that police officers need proper training, equipping and better psychological evaluation. The police force itself is moving to have individual officers named for extrajudicial offences while their superiors face consequences by standing trial in conventional courts.
Families bereaved in the wake of a loved one’s killing by the police are grieving and baying.
John says her daughter, Ada’s blood is crying for revenge for her innocence.
“The blood of my daughter will not go just like that, I want justice for her, that is what the family wants. Those policemen need to be arrested, they need to go down,” he says.