Dauda Mustapha, a taxi driver who plies the Abuja-Kaduna route, North-central Nigeria, had a horrible encounter with a Nigerian soldier, in November, while driving his passengers to Kaduna. He was beaten and humiliated by the unidentified soldier simply because he overtook the soldier’s car on the highway.
A video of the incident, filmed by one of the passengers in Mr Mustapha’s car, was uploaded on Twitter.
“Oga abeg, wetin I do you?” The driver, apparently frightened, is heard in the video speaking in Pidgin to the approaching soldier.
The soldier forcefully opened the car door, stretched his right leg into the car and continually hit the driver. The victim could be heard screaming in pain.
He jumped inside the front seat of the car and kept punching the man who appeared too frightened to fight back.
“You are talking to me? You are talking to me? Are you mad?” the soldier shouted as he kept punching the man who later fell off from the car and was on the ground, writhing.
The soldier kicked him again and then shouted, “God punish you! I will kill you and nothing will happen. You are an idiot!”
Some sympathisers are seen in the video begging the soldier to have mercy on the man, while others tried to help the victim up from the ground.
Mr Mustapha later told PREMIUM TIMES the soldier broke his car’s windscreen, apart from the bruises he sustained.
“I talk-am for my mind say till I die I no go forgive-am. I no know wetin I do-am. I get wound for my body. As I dey talk with you, headache dey wori me,” the driver said.
Mr Mustapha is just one of the many victims of brutality in the hands of Nigerian security officials.
A police officer, last year, in Calabar, Cross River State, allegedly assaulted and shot at a motorist who tried to overtake his car.
The victim, Adekunle Adewumi, a sales representative with a Lagos-based pharmaceutical company, said the police officer got angry with him for daring to honk his car horn while attempting to overtake him.
“They told me to thank my God that I was a female journalist, and not from any of the media houses based in Port Harcourt otherwise that they would have ‘wasted’ (killed extra-judicially) me and that nothing would happen,” the journalist was quoted as saying, after she was set free.
PREMIUM TIMES contacted Ms Abdu who declined to comment on the issue, saying that her employers would issue a statement which she said she would send to this paper. She did not, however, send a statement as of the time of filing this report.
In a separate incident, a group of armed soldiers were caught on camera assaulting two brothers in Asaba, Delta State, South-south Nigeria, in November. One of the soldiers threatened to kill one of the brothers – Godson Obaigbena, a 28-year-old graduate of Sociology, Delta State University, Abraka.
“One of the soldiers said to me, ‘I can kill you and nothing will happen,’” Mr Obaigbena told PREMIUM TIMES. “He said he would throw my corpse away,” he added.
Mr Obaigbena said the soldiers – about five of them – assaulted him because his car almost hit another young man who was riding a motorcycle.
He said the fault was not his, but that of the other man whom he said was riding recklessly, on top speed.
Also, a man who works with the Federal Ministry of Aviation, Abuja, narrated to PREMIUM TIMES how a police officer on a highway threatened to shoot him because he gave him N200 bribe, instead of the N500 the officer demanded, in November.
Nigeria has a deteriorating human rights record. With a weak criminal justice system, citizens, frequently assaulted by security officials, appear helpless.
The country’s human rights record is replete with cases of police officers who opened fire at unarmed citizens who refused to pay a bribe. Some, though left with permanent injuries, have lived to tell their stories, while others, unfortunately, did not – like the recent police killing of a keke rider over ‘N100 bribe’ in Port Harcourt.
“When you see a gun with a police (officer), it is equal to you seeing a gun with an armed robber”
PREMIUM TIMES recently spoke with some psychologists on the attitude of Nigerian security officials and why they frequently kill or threaten to kill unarmed civilians.
One common question we asked the psychologists was: What does it really mean when security officials say to unarmed Nigerians, “I will kill you, nothing will happen”?
The four psychologists, both clinical and counselling, said such remarks mirror the Nigerian system, the impunity in it, which has given security officials some sort of license to engage in unlawful killing.
“This has to do with the environment, this has to do with impulses they (the officers) have gathered.
“Because if one person did this and he was held responsible and a negative reinforcer was applied it would have discouraged this person from doing it, and another person who is observing would also desist from it.
“But when this negative reinforcer is not applied to dissuade people from continuing on a particular behaviour trend, it emboldens them,” said Udeme Okono, a counselling psychologist and the founder, Teletherapy Nigeria.
“It’s just like a child doing something bad and nobody says anything, he begins to normalise it. He feels it’s alright to do this,” he added.
Olumide Bankole, a counselling psychologist who works with a university in Anambra, said there is a general impunity in the Nigerian system which encourages security officials to think they can do almost anything, including unlawful killing, and get away with it.
One clinical psychologist told PREMIUM TIMES, “When you see a gun with a police (officer), it is equal to you seeing a gun with an armed robber.”
Nigerian security officials lack emotional balance while doing their job, he said.
Officers also victims of a broken system
Poor pay, poor work environment, ill-treatment by senior colleagues, and personal troubles also contribute to frequent bad conduct of security officials against citizens, the psychologists said.
Really, tens of thousands of officers of the Nigerian police receive some of the poorest pay even in the West African sub-region, and the worst hit are the rank and files – the force’s foot soldiers who spend decades in the line of duty but are hardly promoted, accommodated or paid well, according to a report by PREMIUM TIMES in 2014.
The report told a nauseating story of how police officers live in squalor in police barracks and outside the barrack, how they use personal money to buy their service uniform, and how they go to work with old and unserviceable vehicles that would often breakdown on the road.
“The poverty of the ordinary police officer, coupled with weak institutional governance predisposes him to engaging in all sorts of schemes for self-help and survival. While parallel organisations carved out of the police only perform part of its functions, their staff are better remunerated and motivated than the police,” the report quoted a former Chairman of the Police Service Commission, Parry Osayande, as telling President Goodluck Jonathan in 2012 while submitting a report on how to improve the welfare of police officers.
“We need to understand that this person may not be a very happy person, the condition of service may not allow this person to be at his best behaviour.
“A lot of these people are working under very harsh working conditions. The system could condition these persons to behave in a particular way,” said Mr Okono, one of the counselling psychologists interviewed by PREMIUM TIMES.
“Some of the policemen you are talking about are those on the highway. So probably they have been out in the sun (for long hours), and the poor pay they are receiving (could compound their problem),” Mr Bankole, one of the psychologists, said.
A 2014 research into how work-stress affects the psychological well-being of police officers in Ibadan metropolis, South-west Nigeria, supports a previous finding that “police officials, especially those who are stationed in the visible policing components, doing crime prevention duties such as patrol, attending to complaints, etc are more prone to committing suicide”.
The research, done by Thomas Adegoke, a lecturer in the Department of Social Work, Faculty of Education, University of Ibadan, said “members of (the) police force had experienced depression, tension, frustration, sadness and loneliness, and ultimately displayed impulsiveness, aggressiveness and rebellious behaviour.”
Police officers working under abusive supervisors are most likely to exhibit counterproductive work behaviour, a study done on some 250 officers in Ebonyi State, South-east Nigeria, showed.
Younger police officers are more likely to be unethical in their conduct, compared to their older counterparts, according to the findings of a research by two lecturers of the Department of Psychology, Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State.
“In Nigeria, there is no doubt that the age-old virtues (hard work, protecting family name, conscientiousness and diligence) have given way to obsession with materialism, compulsion for a shortcut to affluence, glorification and approbation of ill-gotten wealth which the younger generation has imbibed. The consequence is that youths are less inclined to observe ethical values and are more prone to break rules when opportunities are presented,” the lecturers stated.
Mr Bankole said the Nigerian police officers are also victims of the “broken” Nigerian system.
“The system itself has failed, it is corrupt. The system is structured in such a way that it only favours politicians.
“For the police, I think it is only when you get to the rank of maybe a commissioner, AIG, DIG that is when you may be treated like a human being. Their numeration is very poor and other issues like that.
“Look at the police officers that are being killed in the north, in all these Boko Haram-infested areas, what’s the compensation for their family? When you know that the terms of your jobs are not very good, it could also dampen their morale,” Mr Bankole added.
The four psychologists said there is a need to carry out frequent psychological evaluation on security officials. They also called for the setting up of counselling units for various formations of the different security agencies.
“There should be a psychological test on them before they go out for their work,” Nabila Yusuf, a psychology lecturer at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, said.
“It is from the test, you can now determine if the officers need counseling or not,” she added.
The psychological evaluation must, however, go side by side with systemic changes, Mr Okono said.
“If you continue to do psychological evaluation analysis and the system of doing things does not change, there will almost always be a relapse,” he said.
“If the system is working and there are consequences for every action, then the officials would be careful,” Mr Bankole said.
“Police authorities should strengthen their public complaint unit such that the unit should be able to investigate and take action on complaints against officers, so as to instil public confidence in the police,” one of the psychologists said.
What should you do if an officer threatens to shoot you?
The psychologists advise that you stay calm and obey every instruction, when you have an encounter with a security official who appears to be irrational, especially if he is armed.
“It could be suicidal to confront an armed security official,” Mr Okono said.
“It could even be more provocative for you to begin to say ‘I am sorry’ to these officers. So just stay calm and obey every instruction,” he added.
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