How Nigerian police jail innocent citizens

NIGERIA: Nigerian police force
Nigerian police force used to illustrate the story

Seated on his bed one sunny morning in October, Dolapo Samson laid out his plans for that Saturday – help serve drinks at a friend’s party, and then return home to finish his sewing, a vocation he embraced to keep himself busy after school hours. However, by evening of the same day, Mr Samson was sitting in a police cell, accused of leading a cult group to murder a police officer, and staring at a lengthy prison term.

On October 27, 2018, Akingboju Akindele, a deputy superintendent of police and member of the Anti-Cultism Squad, was allegedly murdered by a cult group in Agbowa, a sleepy community on the outskirts of Lagos. According to the police, the group waylaid the police officers and killed Mr Akindele in the process.

Mr Samson was among the dozens of suspects, including a former speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Joko Pelumi, arrested over the killing of the police officer.

He said the friend’s party began around 1 p.m. and about four hours later, sounds of gunshots rented the air causing the guests to disperse. He, however, stayed behind with the organisers to clear up the venue when the police arrived.

“When they came we didn’t know they were police officers because they were not in uniform and they were with cutlasses,” said Mr Samson, a student in the Marketing Department at the Lagos State University.

“It was when they took us to the police station that we got to know they were police officers. When we got to the police station we met others there. Some of the people there were picked from their houses.”

Mr Samson said his protests that he was a student fell on deaf ears and at around 11 p.m., a Black Maria conveyed all the suspects – 49 in total – to the State Criminal Intelligence Investigation Department at Panti, Yaba.

Paraded as a criminal

At around noon of October 29, 2018, a man came into the police cell at Panti, randomly pointed at six inmates, including Mr Samson, and took them upstairs to the police commander.

“Of all six he pointed at, only three of us were at the party together serving. They took us back downstairs, put us in a bus and took us to one hall inside the Police Command at Ikeja.”

At Ikeja, the six were paraded before journalists as the cultists who allegedly killed Mr Akindele.

“When they brought us out, there were pressmen already waiting, they asked us to sit on the floor and there was someone pointing a gun at our back.

“They didn’t let the press ask any question, they just brought the guns and placed them in our front, someone was asking questions and some of us were shouting we don’t know anything about what they are saying we did.”

On October 30, the 49 suspects were taken to the Ebute Metta Magistrate Court where Mr Samson and the other five inmates were arraigned for alleged murder while the rest were arraigned for breach of public peace. The latter group were granted bail while Mr Samson and co were remanded in prison and told to await the advice of the Director of Public Prosecution. The matter was adjourned till 6th November 2018.

By the November 6 adjourned date, Mr Samson’s classmates had sought the intervention of university authorities and also mobilised fellow students to protest outside the court premises demanding for the release of their colleague.

He was granted bail on that day and the case further adjourned till November 18 as the police continued to await the DPP’s advice.

The matter was eventually withdrawn by the police, on August 20 2019, for lack of evidence.


A Similar Experience

Ezekiel Ime, a chef in a private household in Lagos, woke up one morning to a complaint by his employer that some items in her wardrobe were missing. The items were later found by his employer’s daughter, but that did not stop his being arrested for stealing.

“By morning (of the next day), policemen had arrived and arrested me,” Mr Ime recalled.

“They collected my statement and hers (employer) too and they said N90,000 was missing. The police searched and searched and nothing was found. All they said was that I had drunk alcohol and I said yes that it was herbs for body cleansing.”

After three days in detention, Mr Ime agreed to pay the money to be let off the hook.

That agreement turned out to be a nullity.

“I had paid her a total of N85,000 when she came back and changed her statement that a wristwatch and gold chain also went missing with the N90,000 bringing the total to N125,000. At this point I said I cannot pay a dime more.

“She then insisted the matter must be taken to court and from there I was charged to court and taken into custody. I initially was not perturbed because I believed I will be released since I didn’t do anything but that was not what happened.

Mr Ime was subsequently charged with stealing and arraigned before a magistrate court. His bail was set at N200,000. Before then, the N90,000 he’d paid for the missing items were refunded to him.

“One of the days I appeared in court, the woman also came and she was saying that how can I be in prison and I’m not lean? She then requested that they change my prison because I was remanded in Ikoyi prison,” said Mr Ime.

“It was at this point that the magistrate intervened and asked what my ex-boss meant. So the magistrate ruled that it was obvious it’s a case of malicious prosecution and then she set me free.”

By the time the magistrate granted Mr Ime freedom, he had spent nine months in prison due to his inability to meet his bail condition.

“The police didn’t see any evidence yet they charged me to court and took me to prison.”

Teenage prisoners

At the New Estate Baptist Church in Surulere, Lagos, Kingsley Adeyemi, a prison missionary, recently helped secure the release of two under-aged brothers remanded at the Kirikiri Medium Prison.

He said minors are frequently arraigned and remanded in prisons.

According to Mr Adeyemi, the brothers – aged 13 and 16 – whom he met during a ministration at the prison were remanded following a street fight.

“He (Emeka, one of the brothers) told me police usually picked people at random in that area and then demand money, If you don’t have, they give you a case,” said Mr Adeyemi, the head of the church’s prison mission.

“I collected their particulars and, at home, while going through Twitter, I came across FLEMER (Free Legal and Medical Rehabilitation) Initiative and the story on how they had just helped a lady out of the same Kirikiri Prison, so I decided to write to them to help with the boys’ case.”

With the help of a pro-bono lawyer provided by FLEMER Initiative, Mr Adeyemi got the teenagers charged to court and the magistrate sent them back to Kirikiri Medium Prison.

“FLEMER had to write to the DPP that the case should be reviewed as it was not a case of stealing and armed robbery as charged but a case of fighting.”

The charges were eventually dropped and the teenagers set free in September.

Mbok Matthew, the founder of FLEMER Initiative, said most cases that linger in courts are shabbily handled both by police and lawyers while some had no business getting to the courts.

“We are currently handling one of such cases. There was a fight somewhere in Abeokuta on a Sunday, and on a Monday morning, the young man was going to work and unfortunately, he didn’t hear of the fight the previous day and the police picked him up. He was accused of arson,” said Ms Matthew, whose organisation offers free services to inmates awaiting trial in prison for minor offences.

“You see people spending a lot of time awaiting DPP advice in prison and the prosecution is not doing anything about it,” she said.

“Most of the time, until they see someone to pressure them, the advice is not always issued. We usually write directly to the DPP on the case we are handling and they have been responsive.”

In Nigeria, it is unlawful to detain minors in prisons as stated in Section 419 of the Criminal Code Act 2004, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria. In the case they are imprisoned they are not allowed to mingle with the adult prisoners as they are meant to be taken to a Borstal home. But across the country, only three are currently functional: in Kaduna, Ilorin, and Abeokuta.

The section states that “(1) No child shall be ordered to be imprisoned. (2) No young person shall be ordered to be imprisoned if he can be suitably dealt with in any other way whether by probation, fine, corporal punishment or otherwise. (3) A young person ordered to be imprisoned shall not, so far as the same may be practicable, be allowed to associate with adult prisoners.”

Silent police

Asked about cases where the police fail to obtain the advice of the Director of Public Prosecution before arraigning suspects, Bala Elkana, the Lagos police spokesperson, simply said he doesn’t “have the statistics.”

Kabir Badmos, a Lagos-based lawyer, called for the auditing of the Nigerian Police Force.

“The current state where the police do investigations and the Ministry of Justice is given the file later, accounts for many losses of criminal matters in our courts,” he said.

“If a lawyer has been part of the investigatory process, some of the errors being made by the usually legally ill-trained policemen would not have occurred.”

The lawyer said the police are able to get away with impunity because Nigerians fail to seek redress in law courts.

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