The #EndSARS protests that rocked the country and attracted global attention in October 2020 undoubtedly brought to the fore the enormity of rights abuses and deep-seated anomaly that seem to have existed in the Nigeria Police Force for long.
Unchecked extra-judicial killings, use of excessive force, harassment, extortion, profiling and other brazen acts of rights’ violation became the stock-in-trade of some policemen, especially those attached to the now disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad. The horrendous testimonies of the victims at the various commissions of inquiry have since melted the suspicions of those who doubted the extent of the rot in the Force.
Meanwhile, as the nation still struggles to move on from that episode, given the wreckage left behind by the hoodlums who disrupted the protests, there is again a growing concern over the seeming partiality by policemen when dealing with matters that concern northerners and southerners.
The raging farmers-herders crisis has been identified as one issue that is sharply dividing Nigerians across ethnic lines, but in what appears to be a fresh twist to the crisis, many southerners are increasingly alleging that policemen in the south have been brazenly biased, treating northerners preferentially against southerners, especially in the South-West.
“It’s an open secret and I have talked so much about it, just that we are helpless,” says a security analyst who preferred not to be named due to the fear of harassment.
Perhaps, a few examples would be helpful in situating the subject.
The gruesome killing of a first-class monarch in Ondo State, the Olufon of Ifon, Oba Israel Adeusi, by suspected bandits in December was an incident that frightened many people, but hopes were high that the police would fish out the perpetrators. However, an interview by the President, Ifon Development Union, Chief Olufemi Awani, a few weeks ago seems to alter the expectation. Awani said in an interview that while policemen from the office of the Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Federal Investigation Bureau, Special Tactical Squad, Abuja summoned leaders of the community to Abuja over some cows that were killed close to the community, they (people of the community) were not convinced the police were investigating the killing of their monarch. “The police are doing this when we have not resolved the problem of who killed our Kabiyesi; there is no investigation that we know of,” he added.
While that was shocking to many, a similar episode in Oyo State aggravated the fears of those who were alarmed by the worrying trajectory.
Sometime in February, the Divisional Police Officer of Igbon Division in the Surulere Local Government Area of Oyo State, Mr Ayodeji Adepoju, reportedly shot and injured an Amotekun operative in the state for arresting herdsmen whose cows destroyed the crops of a farmer in the Gambari area of the state.
The report, which was confirmed by the Amotekun Commandant in the state, Col Olayinka Olayanju (retd.), noted that the farmer had reported the invasion of his farm to the Amotekun Corps, who arrested the herdsmen. The herders in turn reported the case to the DPO who ordered the arrest of the two Amotekun operatives.
While Amotekun’s Unit Commander, Mr Araoye Amoo, visited the station to secure the release of the operatives, the DPO reportedly emerged from his office and shot one of the operatives in the leg.
In yet another classic instance, following the clash between Yoruba and Hausa people in the Sasa area of Oyo State, in which both sides suffered losses, there was disquiet when information emerged that only Yoruba people were arrested by the police.
The concerns heightened when the Pan Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, raised the alarm that only Yoruba were charged to court over the violence.
The spokesperson for the group, Mr Yinka Odunmakin, said, “Afenifere expresses total disgust at the charging (planned arraignment) of only seven Yoruba men over what was supposed to be a clash between Hausa and Yoruba in Shasa. The police should show more impartiality. Where are the arsonists who burnt down the Yoruba section of the market? Fulanis are above the law? A country cannot go on this way.”
Even though the suspects were later released, based on what the state Police Commissioner, Ngozi Onadeko, tied to the “no case” submission of the Director of Public Prosecution in the state, it would seem the people have yet to absolve the police of partiality in the case and some others.
While the already escalated ethnic tension and alleged bias by the police issues were still ongoing, there was an outrage over the arrest of some Odua People’s Congress members who arrested a Fulani warlord, Iskilu Wakili, in the Ibarapa area of Oyo State.
Wakili was said to have become a threat to the people of the area but was not arrested by the police until the OPC moved in.
They have eventually been released, however the impression among the people was that the police was out to protect Wakili and punish those who went after him, especially when the police had failed to arrest him despite reports of infractions filed against him.
Regional groups like Middle-Belt Forum and the Pan-Niger Delta Forum also condemned the imbalanced treatment.
Apparently unsettled by the action of the police and rising anger over the issue, Governor of Oyo State, Seyi Makinde, said, “I will like to use this opportunity to tell our people that the government is doing everything within its powers to ensure that there is no miscarriage of justice. Anyone that is found wanting or has broken the law, irrespective of their ethnic background or religion, would be dealt with by the law of the land.”
While many people found this disturbing, especially with the dwindling unity and peaceful coexistence in the country, it would seem the police are not alone in these perceived divisive actions.
What some soldiers did in some villages in Ogun State couple of weeks ago seems even more barbaric. In December, some of them stormed some villages in the Yewa North Local Government Area of the state accompanying herders that had been prevented from grazing their cattle in the community due to previous destruction of farmlands.
After escorting herdsmen to the villages, the soldiers flogged some of the residents. The residents had resisted the continued grazing of cattle on their farmlands amid repeated attacks on the community and the alleged killing of farmers who dared to protest the invasion.
Even though the video of the soldiers escorting herdsmen to the villages went viral and became a subject of public discourse, nothing has been done to the soldiers, while the residents that were flogged and their rights brazenly trampled upon, had yet to receive any form of justice. Their elected leaders also seem to have abandoned them to their fate.
SOURCE: PUNCH NIGERIA