Police Brutality in Nigeria and the End SARS Protest of 2020: The Issue of Stereotyped Criminal Profiling
By: Emaediong Ofonime Akpan Esq. (LL.M) Email: email@example.com.
The trio of Robert Park, Ernest Burgess and Louis Wirth in the early twentieth century must have seen a vision of the Nigerian society when they asserted that social forces create criminal interactions.
In their opinion, criminal behaviour was not a function of personal traits or characteristics but rather a reaction to an environment that is inadequate for proper human relations and development.
On the other hand, the Nigeria Police Force specifically it’s ‘rogue’ unit SARS believe that the physical characteristics of a person are an indicator of their criminal tendencies which are enough to warrant the use of Lethal Force at any sign of refusal. Several accounts of citizens interfacing with the Nigeria Police Force are characterized by human right violations and extortion amongst others.
Policing on Trashed Theories of Criminal Behaviour: Nigeria’s Reality
As protests rock the country the accounts of victims often told by a witness and accounts of survivors show a clear pattern of criminal profiling on the basis of biological determinism which has long been expunged. This criminal profiling implies a person is a criminal on the basis of their physical appearance.
The Nigeria Police Force through its SARS Unit (which has been disbanded documentarily) subjects a large number of citizens to horrendous human rights abuses. While they adopt the biological determinism theory in criminal profiling they go a step further to making this a stereotype.
For the SARS unit, the following physical characteristics of a person is an indicator of their criminal tendencies these include; tattoos, body piercings, hair colour and style, car, mobile phones and shoes.
The Nigeria Police Force is still an ardent follower of Lombroso who himself had questioned the validity of his theories on biological determinism in identifying who is a criminal. As opposed to employing modern trait theories which recognise that human traits and physical characteristics alone do not produce criminal behaviours.
The Nigeria Police Force seems to have a knack for stereotyped criminal profiling because it allows them to pick and choose who should fall by their gun power without any ‘mental effort’. It would seem to harass young citizens’ offers these Police officers the opportunity to get back at the society for the lives they cannot afford by harassing and abusing the rights of citizens who can afford or appear to afford that life.
The foregoing begs the question is the Nigeria Police Force suffering from an ulcer wound whose stench has begun to have everyone turn their noses? Is the Nigeria Police Force meting out brutality on its citizens for turning up their noses?
The Human Right Standard of Policing in Democracies
The police are expected to provide for the protection of public safety and the rights of all persons. The police ought to be an independent organ of the Executive and be subject to the direction of the courts and bound by their orders.
In Nigeria, this is far from reality. The Police Force and its kind operate on the dictates of the government of the day whereas their roles are clearly the enforcement of law and order which stems primarily from the Legislative arm of Government and by extension the judiciary.
Every law enforcement agency is representative of, responsive and accountable to the community as a whole. All police officials are part of and have a duty to serve, the community. Members of the police are to exercise their functions, powers and duties as impartial servants of the general public and the Government of the day.
Members of the police are not to participate directly in political activities. Additionally, they cannot be ordered or forced to exercise their functions or powers or deploy police resources to promote or undermine any political party or interest group, or any member of such a party or group.
In the political landscape of Nigeria, the police and other security agencies are a common factor in any show of power contest, ranging from elections to constructive political criticism, amongst others.
An End to Police Brutality in Nigeria: Reality Check
- Punishment of Erring Police Officers
The Nigerian legal framework has a plethora of laws that seek to protect and punish erring offenders especially where the abuse of the human right is concerned.
Nigeria is also a state party to several regional and international human rights treaties that prohibit the use of torture and other ill-treatment including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT), and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR).
Section 8 of the Anti-Torture Act, 2018 criminalizes the offence of torture prescribing an imprisonment term not exceeding Twenty-Five (25) years. This provision of the Law appears to better adorn archives as opposed to being set in motion to protect citizens especially from the Nigeria Police Force which ought to be protecting them.
This provision which should have resulted in several convictions has been defeated by the “fruitlessness” of trial-within- trials.
There are no video recordings, no witnesses who can attend court except the erring police officer. There appears to be an unwritten code that assures Police officers that their crimes against citizens can be excused on all accounts.
This is further escalated by the fact that in most law enforcement agencies mobile phones are not allowed perhaps to ensure that ‘what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas’.
- Use of Lethal Force: Defining Parameters
Nigeria’s Constitution and the Nigeria Police Force Order 237 (Rules for guidance in the use of firearms by the police) provide much broader grounds for the use of lethal force than is permissible under international law and standards.
The Force Order permits police officers to shoot suspects and detainees who attempt to escape or avoid arrest, “provided the offence is such that the accused may be punished with death or imprisonment for 7 years or more”.
Escaping custody or resisting arrest is punishable with seven years’ imprisonment under Nigerian legislation which means that any person attempting to escape can be shot in Nigeria.
The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials provides that law enforcement officials shall not use firearms against persons except in self-defence or defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury and in any event, intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life, etc.
In addition, Basic Principle 24 admonishes State Governments and law enforcement agencies to ensure that superior officers are held responsible if they know or should have known, that law enforcement officials under their command are resorting, or have resorted, to the unlawful use of force and firearms, and they did not take all measures in their power to prevent, suppress or report such use.
The framework for holding officers to account is to include criminal, administrative and disciplinary sanctions. Police Force Order 237 lacks any requirement that use of a firearm is necessary to achieve the aim of apprehending the suspect, that any less extreme measure could be used to capture them, and that the harm caused in using a firearm is proportionate.
Consequently erring Police officers have capitalized on Order 237 which allows them to shoot with impunity anyone who flees, in clear contravention of international law and standards.
The review process of Police Force Order 237 started in July 2015. On 3 October 2019, the police IGP announced a revised version of Force Order 237, which he said was carried out in a bid to contain the misuse of firearms by policemen.
Despite huge promises, Nigerian citizens continue to fall in their prime by the gun barrels of police officers. The 2020 protest in Police brutality will span for much longer because over the years words have not metamorphosed into actions.
The use of Lethal Force must be redefined in line with international standards. There is a need to remove the age-long cloak and make Police officers accountable for their wrong use of firearms. Without individual responsibility, the brutality of the Police Force will continue. The Police Force will continue to make excuses and cover-up erring officers.
3. Social Welfare of Police Officers
The problem of the Nigeria Police Force is endemic. As much as operational modalities need to change, the welfare of Police officers must be re-evaluated to ensure that they receive commensurate wages for their service to their country. They must be given adequate health insurance, occupational hazard entitlements the list goes on.