The Sunday Trust of 26 December, 2010 carried the distressing story of how the brutality of a Divisional Police Officer (DPO) at Rigasa neighbourhood of Kaduna led to the death of a woman, Binta, with a nine-month old pregnancy.

Binta’s painful journey to death, as reported in the paper, started when her three year old child lost a slippers belonging to a co-tenant who used the opportunity to insult Binta continuously. For the sake of peace, Binta bought a pair of new slippers and sent it to the co-tenant. Instead of receiving it and let the matter die, the co-tenant beat the daughter who took the slippers to her and also engaged the nine-month old Binta in a fight. By the time she was done, Binta was bleeding.

Not satisfied that she has beaten the hell out of Binta, she went to the divisional police office and lodged a complaint that Binta has fought her. The DPO ordered three policemen to arrest Binta immediately. She was taken to the police station and detained all night in spite of pleas from her relations and husband. The complainant was not arrested.

When the police realised that her condition may lead to death, they called her brother whose name they found on her cell phone. With him, the police conveyed her to a nearby clinic in a police van. The clinic declined to treat her seeing her condition and referred them to Yusuf Dantsoho General Hospital at Tudun Wada, Kaduna. There, Binta gave birth to a baby girl who died five minutes later. And Binta too died that evening.

The husband called the DPO on phone and told him that he, the DPO, has killed his wife. It was then the DPO ordered the arrest of the complainant who is renowned in the neighbourhood for her quarrels. It was too late. She has run away.

A number of things made this story very sad. One, the brutality and subsequent death was over a bathroom slippers of just N80 (50 cents)!. The DPO should have reconciled the two instead of killing one of them and her baby.

Two, relatives of the deceased begged for Binta’s bail but the DPO denied it and insisted on incarcerating the woman even as she was bleeding from the beating she received from the complainant. He was so heartless an animal that he even refused to allow her drink water which she asked the husband to provide her with.

Three, unlike Maimuna who survived her serial rape to demand for justice, Binta did not survive to even tell her story, let alone demand for justice. Nor would her baby girl know the circumstance that killed her mother, for the baby died immediately after her birth.

Four, the response of the Kaduna Police Command is most irresponsible. All it did was to transfer the DPO to another division, as if he did nothing wrong. The Commissioner of Police even refused to answer a question raised by a journalist about the incident at a press conference. The command is keeping the result of the autopsy hidden.

This story, like that of Maimuna, epitomises the callousness of many in the Nigerian Police. By the refusal of the Kaduna command to sanction the DPO, the Police have clearly chosen to side with him in the case. It is not worth any punishment, in their judgement. The police by their action are asking the nation the following questions: So what, if a Nigerian loses his life in a police cell? How many such deaths happen across the country every day in police cells? Why would Binta’s be different even to warrant a whole oga DPO to be reprimanded? It is normal!

It is this camaraderie that damages the police beyond correction. The good among them are not ready to punish or expose the bad. The guilty is hidden and protected, unless he is inconsequential when he will be used as a sacrificial lamb. That is why Inspector Dantalle escaped from being charged in Kano despite his participation in the rape of Maimuna. The girl insists that he too raped her. But the police commissioner only demoted him to sergeant. Nigerian Police Force!

The police should not therefore blame the public for any generalisation. The Police force is one of the worst institutions of government in Nigeria and one of the worst human rights violators in the world. There is no crime that its personnel have not been committing in this country. They rape the vulnerable; they kill at the slightest provocation; many have been caught in armed robbery; they provide politicians with the security cover to rig elections and harass the opposition; they extort money from drivers; they hesitate to provide security to civilians when their help is needed; just name it. Only few people were able to come outsatisfied after having any business with the Nigerian Police.

The only two explanations they give to their incapacity are their inadequate numbers and lack of sophisticated equipment. If we may ask, did the DPO in Rigasa need three policemen to arrest a pregnant woman? Did he need any equipment to detain her in her bleeding state under the subhuman conditions of the Nigerian police cell, without food or water? All he needed to do was to behave like a human being, not an animal who is animated by the little bribe from a complainant to kill an innocent mother and her baby. It is that humanity that is missing in the Nigerian police. Its personnel could freely engage in human right abuses with impunity. And because their officer corps is raised through such a regime of violations it hardly reprimands its subordinates for any misdeed. Instead, the subordinate is encouraged by the assurance of espirit de corps to violate the rights of Nigerians again and again. The police have lost the power and wisdom of self-control.

The image of the police is in its hands. It can improve it by standing up to those who violate its ethics among its rank and file, if it likes. Who is surprised that the DPO of Kwali before whom the complaint of Maimuna’s rape and sex-slavery was brought pleaded with her relations to “forgive his men”? Who is surprised that the Police command in Kano has not reprimanded him too? They have grown through the rank and file of one of the most corrupt institutions in the country. They cannot be different. Ringim has the arduous task of proving himself different by changing the pattern of behaviour of his officers. He must punish where punishment is desired. He must show his men that Nigerians are more important than the uniforms the police wear.

On our part, I think Nigerians have been handling the police with kid’s gloves. We let them go with literally anything. We call ourselves educated when we do not even know the basic elements of our rights. There are institutions we can use to seek redress, not simply sitting down and crying before a newspaper reporter. The judiciary is there. Nobody is above it. What stops victims from lodging their complaints immediately their rights are violated with public complaint commissions, with their elected representatives, with their pastors and imams, with the human rights groups in their states, with just anyone they revere?

The police, for example, shiver at the sight of a lawyer and immediately start to do the right thing. Why do we fail to avail ourselves with the services of lawyers? If the victim cannot afford one, what of the state legal aid that offers free legal services just as does the NBA to such poor victims? Going public should even be the last resort, though the radio and the newspapers have been forthcoming here.

Educating us on our legal rights I think is the best contribution any government or private agency can offer towards curtailing these abuses. It will yield more dividends than concentrating on the present approach that is largely post-mortem and very costly. Let people know that where the police are involved in a violation, very little would naturally come out from them. They cannot be judges in their own course. This is a basic presumption in law. Recourse must be found in avenues outside the rotten department. Had the relatives of Maimuna not sought the help of the Hisbah and human rights groups in Kano, her case would not have been heard by the world. The police would have suppressed it as they suppressed millions of human rights abuses before. Even now, I agree that a more prudent independent investigation needs to be carried out by an independent body on Maimuna's case as suggested by many contributors.

Since the story of Binta broke out last Sunday, I have been in contact with Sister Maryam Uwais to learn what the women groups can offer on this. Fortunately, she has been in the picture too and has discussed it with Hajiya Saudatu Sani of WRAPA. Maryam also assured me via email that “FIDA, PSC, the NHRC and a few other NGOs have also joined WRAPA in ascertaining the fact in the Rigasa matter, which is the first step.”

The DPO in Rigasa was instrumental to the death of Binta. He should be charged with voluntary homicide. Simple. Binta did not need to be his mother before he could know that a bleeding pregnant woman requires urgent medical attention, not detention in a filthy police dungeon. His classroom training must have told him that his most important duty as a policeman is the protection of life, not destroying it. Here, he chose to destroy both the mother and her baby. His training also must have taught him the principle of fair hearing, the right for the accused to be heard before he is charged.

It is, however, regrettable that his practice taught him something different. It taught him to take bribe, take sides and kill the life. In addition, it taught him that he is a sacred cow.

Not this time. After killing his victim, the coward rushed to cover his ass by ordering the arrest of the complainant and seeking a transfer. He got it. But Binta too will get justice, even in her grave. The cow must be slaughtered this time. Let the coward be rest assured.

This case makes me to suggest the formation of an NGO that would specifically address issues bordering on police human rights abuses. It can be called “Friends of the NPF” or any other suitable word because the Police force cannot have better friends than members of such organisation. The police should not see this as a threat but rather as an aid that will help them solve one of their most pressing problems. Saving the police from itself must concern every Nigerian, in my estimation. The abuses are just too many and endemic for the force to extricate itself from. It requires a concerted external pressure. The cases are also too many for existing NGOs to be tackling while they also address their primary areas of concern.

The funding of such a group should come from individuals, groups and the government, which can channel its own through the NHRC and the police departmental vote. Such a group should be composed of human right lawyers, interested ex-police officers with proven integrity, human rights groups, community leaders in its branches and interested individuals. It could even be formed jointly by human rights groups. I hope readers will help to refine this rudimentary idea and go ahead to source the people who would be ready to follow it up to fruition.

Bauchi,
28 December 2010

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