By Sam Esogwa
The brutal killing of innocent citizens by reckless and apparently blood-thirsty members of the Nigerian Police has become a recurrent decimal in our country. Hundreds, if not thousands of Nigerians, have lost their precious lives this way since the nation’s independence in 1960 – sixty years ago. Although the brutal killing of innocent Nigerians by policemen has been witnessed in various states in the country, the menace seems to take a different dimension in Rivers State in particular and Niger Delta at large, making indigenes of the region feel they are hated by the rest of Nigerians.
In fact, Niger Deltans see police brutality as an extension of their years of oppression, suppression, exploitation and marginalisation. Perhaps the evil of police brutality in Rivers State cum Niger Delta came to its peak and global fore in December 2019 when a team of policemen known as Eagle Crack, from Mile 1 police station, Diobu, Port Harcourt, arrested five mechanics, allegedly charged them for cultism and car theft, wickedly tortured them and allegedly killed one of them, Chima Ikwunado.
This was said to be in the process of torture and this left the other four with deep, fatal wounds. Before their arrest by the police, the five mechanics plied their trade at the Ikoku Spare Parts Market, Mile 2, Diobu, Port Harcourt. The illegal incarceration and torturing of the five mechanics and death of Chima Ikwunado elicited public outcry for the release of the remaining four now known as ‘Ikoku 4’.
Overwhelmed by the widespread criticism and condemnation of the heinous act, the police released the Ikoku 4 and curiously went ahead to initiate and conduct an autopsy test on the corpse of the late Chima Ikwunado. The case is currently pending at the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt, where the family of Chima is seeking justice.
But the gory tale of the brutalisation of the five Ikoku mechanics has not deterred some policemen from being reckless and irresponsible with their guns despite widespread calls for a change of attitude by security operatives.
That is why a certain policeman attached to the Rivers State Task Force on Street Trading, Bitrus Osaiah, could heartlessly murder his colleague, Sergeant Lavender Elekwachi, at Eneka, Rivers State for no just cause recently. Sergeant Bitrus Osaiah who was only being more Catholic than the Pope in terms of enforcing the state government’s directive on street trading has since been arraigned and is being held on the orders of a magistrate court.
The new commissioner of police in Rivers State, CP Joseph Mukan, has since visited the family of the late Sergeant Elekwachi to commiserate with them over the death of the latter. CP Mukan has also assured the public that under his watch, human rights abuses would not be tolerated.
That assurance appears to have gone down well with the general public who are now wishing that the CP’s words should be his bond. Although the Rivers State Police Command has commenced the prosecution of the killer of Sergeant Elekwachi, they should ensure that it is concluded to the letter and that justice is served. However, the Rivers police should not stop at that. The Command should also ensure that other victims of police brutality in the state get justice.
Most glaring of such abuse of human rights by the police is the case of Chima Ikwunado and the Ikokwu 4. The carefree way the police handled the matter and their failure to dismiss the E-Crack officers that maimed the poor Ikokwu mechanics made many to believe that the police was not ready to redress the injustice. But the truth remains that Chima and his colleagues had a right to life and to move about freely like every other citizen of Nigeria.
Unfortunately, that right was breached: they were arrested, branded thieves and cultists and tortured, with one of them dying in the process. The police therefore is under constitutional and moral obligation to give them justice and redress the wrong.
If they are already prosecuting the policeman that killed Sergeant Lovenda Elekwachi whose incident happened two weeks ago, then moral justice demands that the Rivers Police Command should also prosecute the officers that killed Chima Ikwunado and tortured the other Ikokwu 4.
The pursuit of justice here should not be one-sided or biased. The life of a uniformed person should not be deemed superior to the life of a civilian. Beyond the Rivers Police Commissioner’s effort to ensure that justice is done, these incidents of unjustified killing of Chima Ikwunado, Sergeant Lavender Elekwachi and so many others by the police underscores the urgent need for total overhauling, of the Nigerian Police Force. The time for police officers to be given reorientation has come. Further delay could be dangerous.