Chief Justice of Nigeria on Police Brutality

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Walter Onnoghen
Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen
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Chief Justice of Nigeria on Police Brutality

Embarrassed by the plenitude of cases before the courts concerning police misuse of power, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, has asked the courts to take proactive steps to curb the malady.

Walter Onnoghen
Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen

According to him, “I have observed, and received several complaints of the horrific incidents of Police brutality, inordinate arrest, detention and extortion of innocent Nigerians by police officers across the country. These incidents have assumed frightening proportions in recent times. The Magistrate Courts are currently overwhelmed with cases of such brutality, inordinate arrests and detention of Citizens.”

He continues: “As we approach election year, it is imperative that we curb these excesses through the instrumentality of the statutory powers of the courts. The Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) has given Magistrates oversight functions over Police Stations in their Jurisdictions.”

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The judiciary is wading in because neither the police authorities, who are hugely distracted and stuck in Neanderthal forms of policing under a unitary system, nor the federal government, which is reluctant to give up its powers of policing and yet is unable to fund or restructure the Police Force, has proved competent in doing anything proactive about the law enforcement agency.

They are satisfied reacting to cases of abuse, hauling a few erring policemen before their ineffective internal disciplinary mechanisms, and enunciating cosmetic changes. The rot is so overwhelming that it is hard not to see the tragedy the law enforcement agency has become.

It is not certain that the judicial intervention advocated by the CJN will go very far. It is worth trying, of course, and the principle of the intervention must be saluted. But the rot is much deeper than what the judiciary can fix, and the structure of policing so archaic that no amount of tinkering can do it any good.

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It is perhaps only the federal government, particularly the presidency, that still lauds unitary policing. They fear that state police would be abused by autocratic governors. They do not think state police can be structured in such a way that safeguards can be built into it. Paralysed by fear, too mendicant to fund the law enforcement agency, and too lazy to even supervise it well and build a disciplined and innovative crime fighting force, the federal government has allowed the Force to decay into a brutish and extortionate agency.

The police, like the herdsmen killings, should be a major campaign issue for the next general elections. Political parties which hope to win popular votes must discuss this grave issue and convince the electorate that they have great and implementable plans to give the country a new Police Force. Nothing else will suffice. It is time political parties earned, rather than buy, their votes.

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