2 Major ways Police Brutality has affected Wellbeing of Nigerians
The police are officials charged with responsibility for ‘law enforcement and order maintenance’ in society. To discharge these twin responsibilities, the police are empowered to use force, indeed violence. National constitutions and statutes, international conventions and rules; police departmental orders and professional ethics regulate the use of force or violence by police. But despite these provisions, the police in most societies use force and violence beyond the limits permissible by law.
Police violence is generally conceived in terms of police brutality, torture, homicide, unnecessary use of excessive force, lethal use of firearms including extra-judicial executions of suspects, and sometimes-innocent citizens by the Nigerian police has been a menace for quite some time in the country. In Nigeria, police violence is widespread. Its manifestations include beating and kicking citizens, unnecessary use of restraints such as handcuffs and leg chains, unnecessary use of lethal firearms against suspects and members of the public, torture of suspects in order to extract confession or extort gratification.
In June 2020, Amnesty International published a report on SARS – the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, asserting that the unit continues to commit torture and other human rights violations while discharging their law enforcement duties. The report documents cases of extortion, torture and ill treatment by SARS between January 2017 and May 2020. It reveals a pattern of abuse of power by SARS officers and the consistent failure by the Nigerian authorities to bring perpetrators to justice. It highlights the deficiencies in Nigerian police accountability that contributes to, and exacerbates, these violations. For many years, SARS took the lead on the country’s most serious crimes such as armed robbery, kidnapping, assault and murder. But over time it has become notorious for alleged abuses committed with apparent impunity.
The government promised to overhaul the unit in 2018 following a months-long social media campaign by Nigerian activists protesting alleged human rights abuses by the squad. In January 2019, the police announced further reforms to the unit, but critics say the #EndSARS campaign has resulted in little change. In the damning report released by Amnesty International in June this year (2020), it said it had documented 82 cases of police brutality in Nigeria between 2017 and 2020. “Detainees in SARS custody have been subjected to a variety of methods of torture including hanging, mock execution, beating, punching and kicking, burning with cigarettes, waterboarding, near-asphyxiation with plastic bags, forcing detainees to assume stressful bodily positions and sexual violence,” the report said. Findings from a number of researches indicate that few cases are investigated and hardly any officers are brought to justice on account of torture and other ill-treatment.
In the following paragraphs, we are going to examine a bit more deeply, some of the ways police brutality has affected the wellbeing of Nigerians. This is important because this kind of education is important in preventing a further widespread menace and its effect on innocent citizens. It is also important so that if you have anyone close to you who have been a victim of police brutality, especially those who were not killed but somehow survived the experience, it won’t be difficult for you to understand what they are going through – and then, you can respond appropriately to their plights, helping them in whatever way possible to help them deal with the aftermath of such brutal experience.
Ways police brutality has affected wellbeing of Nigerians
At its worst, unlawful use of force by police can result in people being deprived of their right to life. Many people have been reportedly killed by the police in the last few years in Nigeria. While this is a vey sad development, we must be aware that it everyone has a role to play. Being educated and informed about these stuffs can go a long way to help prevent our citizens dying cheaply in the hands of the police. There are strict international laws and standards governing how and when police can use force – particularly lethal force. The UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials (BPUFF) is the key international instrument that deals with police use of force. The most important thing to remember is this: it is the utmost obligation of state authorities, including police, to respect and protect the right to life.
Under international law, police officers should only ever use lethal force as a last resort. This means when such force is strictly necessary to protect themselves or others from the imminent threat of death or serious injury, and only when other options for de-escalation are insufficient. Many killings by the police that we have seen around the world clearly do not meet these criteria. In the USA, George Floyd, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner and too many other Black people who have been killed by police were unarmed. The same is the case in Nigeria: all of the cases of people unlawfully arrested, detained, tortured and killed by the Nigerian Police Force members we totally harmless. In fact, many of them were killed while they were still pleading to be told what the offence they had committed was.
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There are just two problems I can see. Death and the other problems. Why did I make this categorization thus? From the records, most of those who have been victims of police brutality – or any other social menace for that matter – either were killed, or had to face down with any of the other problems that such encounter causes. Many of these other problems eventually led to death – and in the case where death didn’t happen, some of these other results which I have grouped together definitely happened to the people, and all of those achieved a singular purpose other than death – make the victims feel less than humans that they are! Let me make a list of all the “other problems” which I have decided to group together in this category, after which I will make you see why all of the other problems are all in the same family. Here they are:
- Loss of body parts
- Loss of peace and sanity
- Mental disorder
- Wrong accusation and stigmatization
- Resulting health conditions
- Sexual abuse
- Word abuse and name calling
- Unexpected disruption or one’s normal life and activities
- Loss of valuable possessions
- Public health damage
All of the items on this list are closely related in one way or the other, some of them being the cause of the others – and like I said, I have put all of them in the same group because, they are achieve the same goal, which is, make you feel lesser than human and change you totally into something you are not. Many people who have been victims of police brutality found it difficult to gain their normal lives back. Many became constant patients in the hospitals as a result of the aftermath of the encounter. Currently, there are growing evidences that the mental health and well-being of individuals and entire communities are affected after a high-profile incident of police violence and brutality.
One the part of people who are privileged to witness the scenes of police brutality at one time or the other, there are particular dimensions to the pain of seeing a fellow human brutalized or killed by a police officer, when it’s immediately apparent that the person being killed or brutalized is neither harmed nor a criminal. For most people, the historical weight these incidents lay on the heart of the public creates a collective trauma that’s evoked by just the sight and the hearing of it.
This is a big challenge and a call on our governments at all levels to rise up and do something about the incidents of police brutality in our society. Let our leaders listen to the citizens who are crying daily and are being killed daily in a land where there are kings and governors – with a constitution that clearly mandates them to keep these same people safe!
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