By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
On Christmas Day in a most deja vu manner, the life of an innocent citizen Bolanle Raheem, a lawyer, wife, mother, mother-to-be, and real estate manager, was terminated by an officer of the law, ASP Drambi Vandi of Ajiwe Police Station Ajah in Lagos. It was a most bizarre experience, reminiscent of previous official murders which we have recorded in our chequered history of Police-Community relations. For, in the last forty odd years, too many innocent Nigerians have lost their lives in extra-judicial killings, through the notorious ‘accidental discharge’, drunkenness and simple disregard for the sanctity of human life. The Nigeria Police is notorious for its brutality, extrajudicial actions, arbitrary methods, impunity, and above-the-law mentality. This indeed gave rise to the 2020 anti-SARS Movement. Enough, Nigerians said, was enough! Sadly, the lesson has not been learnt!
One of the differences in the Raheem case is that the assailant is a senior police officer, an Assistant Superintendent of Police who by police standards is a well-trained and experienced officer, having served for thirty-three years. Lawyer Bolanle Raheem was a mother who went out that Christmas morning to enjoy one of the very simple things of life, with her family – shopping after a church service. There was no way she could have posed a threat to anybody least of all because of her pregnant state. Some policemen under the bridge at Ajah asked her husband to stop and before he could find a suitable place to park, a bullet was fired by the ASP into the pliant body of a pregnant, law abiding female lawyer in the presence of her husband, her sister and other kids. Where on earth does this happen without a serious repercussion on the rogue policeman? Can we ever assess the traumatic effect on husband and the kids in the vehicle? If he is not punished by the State, there will be a permanent curse on him and all the powerful forces that may want to shield him from the hands of the law.
While this ugly story was making the rounds, it was reported that another citizen, Gafaru Buraimoh had been killed on 7th of December 2022 by Inspector Imeh Johnson from that now notorious Ajiwe station. How many other killings have they carried out that never came to light? We may never know. This history of police killings is not new. The most dramatic was that of twenty-four old Dele Udoh an athlete who had come from the US in 1981 to represent Nigeria in a continental sporting event. He had chosen to represent Nigeria even though the U.S wanted him too, only to be killed by a policeman in Ojuelegba. The shooting was spuriously attributed to ‘accidental discharge! Of course, there have been many other deaths since then. Amnesty International says that in 2018 there were 841 of such deaths. The general feeling is that Nigerian policemen lack the discipline, civility and courtesy required of them while dealing with the public.
Nigerians who encounter policemen at check points across the country notice a high level of impunity, beggarliness, and recklessness all combined in different degrees. They lack self-dignity. In the past, they secretly collected money from commuting drivers and passengers. These days, it is open. They dare you to complain. As a rule, commuters are banned from making calls or using their mobile phones when they get to checkpoints. This is because they want to prevent a recording of their nefarious activities. Anyone who travels by road from Lagos to Benin can testify to the abuse which policemen inflict on travellers to the Deep South. After every kilometer there is a checkpoint where policemen do nothing but harass and extort hapless Nigerians.
Life has become too cheap in Nigeria. Policemen and some law enforcement officers violate lives at will. Apart from murders routinely occurring, there are acts of violence which are promoted on social media. The prominence given to one murder reinforces belief in the primacy of violence. ‘I will kill you and nothing will happen’ is common refrain among police officers. Achebe voices these words through a soldier in Anthills of the Savannah when the soldier says: if I kill you I kill dog!
Men of the Nigeria police need training and retraining. Civil society is not an enemy. Firing shots at citizens must be a last resort. The irony is that when they encounter criminals they are not as trigger happy. They argue that the criminals are better equipped and simply scamper for their lives. Yet when they encounter hapless Nigerians they become hyperactive and aggressive.
Nothing can restore the life of Bolanle Raheem. But we need a closure. There must be justice. The offending officer must be used as an example to others. No moron should put up an argument in defence of the officer on account of his long service to the nation. Indeed, his long years in service ought to be reason for caution and diligence. This tragedy could happen to anyone. Our kids and dependants who go out in Lagos often return home with stories about police misbehavior. How long shall we tolerate this insanity? How many lives more will be lost before we reform the police? I am almost sure that the murderous officer was under the influence of alcohol or hard drugs or both. I once had a police orderly who threatened to shoot my cook because the latter offered him eba instead of tuwo shinkafa Of course, he was promptly arrested after he fired a warning shot into the air! He was under the influence! There have been others who got so drunk that they killed guests at a wedding party they were meant to secure!
The time to reform the Nigeria Police is now. We need State Police and Local Government Police to complement the federal police. Nigeria society currently treats the police like scum. They are not given the tools to work. Police Stations are a dread. Their systems are not computerized. They are underfunded. Majority of them in turn behave like scum. The hierarchy is not disciplined. There is institutional indiscipline through dubious promotions, favoritism, and special postings. The junior officers know that their ‘ogas’ aren’t above board. The senior officers who want to do the right things are shoved aside. Incredibly, when our policemen are posted outside Nigeria, they excel and are highly recommended.
All the police officers at Ajiwe Police Station should be posted out immediately. A new DPO should be deployed to head that station. Bolanle Raheem deserves justice. Her unborn baby who died a tabooed death the mother’s womb deserves justice. To prove to the public that it is not complicit in the officer’s act, the Police High Command must bring the murderous officer before the law. Justice must not only be done; it must be seen to be done. It will serve as a deterrent to others who are potential killer-cops! We do not know how many lives the moronic officer had taken in the past. This may just be nemesis catching up with him. Else, how do we explain the cavalier manner an officer of 33 years standing shoot at an innocent passenger? Was he under the influence of Monkey Tail like most policemen who are deployed on patrol?