Police deserve respect from the public and the public deserve same from the police.
This is the view of the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Fatai Owoseni who stressed the need for partnership between them.
Mr Owoseni was addressing members of tricycle operators who were protesting the killing of their member, Mr Godwin Ekpo by a police Corporal attached to the Isheri-Oshun Police Station in Alimosho area of Lagos State.
The protesters said the death of Mr Godwin in the hand of policemen was one of the many cases in which defenceless Nigerians had been “murdered” by policemen.
Sometime in the early 80s, the country was thrown into deep mourning for losing one of its high profile athletes, Dele Udoh.
To many, the concern and emotional outpouring was not just because of the death of the promising young man but because of the way in which he died.
Udoh, then a foreign-based athlete, was cut down in his prime by police bullets at a check-point in the Ojuelegba area of Lagos.
The “slaughter” of Udoh by an overzealous policeman was said to be as a result of an argument that ensued between them at the check-point. The police claimed that Dele’s death was as a result of “accidental discharge”. That was how and when “accidental discharge” became one of the lexicons in the police circle.
Despite the huge outcry over his death, what has become more worrisome now is that since after the death of the great athlete, many more innocent and defenseless Nigerians have been “murdered” by policemen for little or no reasons.
Despite efforts by government and police authorities to prevent some policemen from giving the institution bad name, the rate of killing keeps increasing.
Against the Inspector-General of Police’s and Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mr Fatai Owoseni’s instruction against mounting of road blocks by policemen, an eight-man team from Isheri-Oshun Police Station in Alimosho area of Lagos, had mounted a checkpoint at Obalagbe bus stop Ijegun, where they allegedly extorted various sums of money from tricycle operators.
Obalagbe bus stop was the scene of the recent death in the hands of trigger-happy policeman attached to the Isheri-Oshun Police Station.
Mr Godwin Ekpo, his wife, Idongesit and their two-month-old baby were said to be returning from a church programme at 10:00 p.m. on Wednesday last week when the eight-man police team stopped him and demanded money from him. He told them that he, with his family, was returning from a church programme.
As he moved to park well, it was gathered, one of the policemen identified as Aremu thought he was running away and fired a shot at the back of the keke. The bullet hit the woman in the neck. Her husband was also seriously wounded. Mrs Idongesit died instantly while her husband was rushed to Igando General Hospital and later moved to Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja for treatment; as his condition was said to be critical. The following day, it was alleged that Mr Godwin had also died.
Enraged by this, members of tricycle operators’ union Ikotun to which Godwin belonged went on protest.
In their numbers, the tricycle operators that ply the Ijegun-Ikotun route literally shot down Ikotun. They trooped out to the road on Thursday, September 17 to protest what they called frequent police brutality and killing of their members. Their placards explained their grievances. Some read, “Isheri Police, your generation will suffer,” “Stop killing us,” and “We are law-abiding citizens and have rights to life”, among others.
One of the leaders of the group, Osas Olobi said when members got wind of the death of their member; they had to gather to protest the killing.
“Last week at Iyana-Isheri bus stop, a policeman from the same station wanted to arrest one of our members for not giving him N100. As they were dragging over the matter, the policeman opened tear gas canister in his eyes. The man died the following week because he was asthmatic.
“We are tired of frequent police harassment and embarrassment. They do not allow us to operate freely as stipulated by law. They always extort money from us almost at every bus stop. Each operator spends not less than N2, 500 daily.
“Some of our members, 13 of them, were arrested and detained at the station for refusing to give them money. One of us called one woman who is a member of a human rights group. When she came, the DPO and his men manhandled and seized her camera and phone.
“Surprisingly, the DPO himself cocked his gun to shoot the woman and we shouted shoot, shoot so that we will know what will happen,” he said.
Kabiru Olaoye, one of the operators told Southwest Report that he was at his bus stop (Obalagbe) watching how the policemen were stopping and collecting money from tricycle operators.
He said: “It was around 10:00 p.m. when the man was stopped by the policemen. The man told them that he was returning from church with his family. The next thing I heard was a gunshot which had killed the wife of our member and seriously injured him.
“When I saw what happened, I started shouting and some residents quickly formed a crowd at the scene and prevented the policemen from leaving. They cocked their guns. Out of fear, the crowd dispersed and the policemen fled.
“Today (Thursday), we heard that Godwin, our member had died. That was why we are protesting.”
Another member of the tricycle drivers association in the area, Nse Okon, said tricycle drivers in the area were being constantly harassed by the police at the Isheri-Osun Police Station, adding that they have a peculiar mode of operation
Okon said: “Any time an operator is arrested, he will pay at least N2, 000 before he will be set free. I do not know whether we are working in order to take care of our various families or working to feed the police that are being paid with tax payers’ money. They connive with the head of Agbero to extort money from us.
“Instead of buying the operator’s ticket for the stipulated N100, we buy them at the cost of N1, 300. We are handicapped as government has allowed them to decide our fate. Government should save us from the hands of these Agberos.”
Southwest Report gathered that policemen at that station were fond of unlawful arrest and detention of drivers who refused to give them money.
It was also gathered that the protest against the death of Mrs Idongesit who was breastfeeding a two-month-old baby, led to the release of 13 other tricycle drivers, who had been arrested and detained under contentious situations.
A visit to the Isheri-Oshun Police Station revealed that there were armed policemen in more than five security vehicles. An Armoured Personnel Carrier was also stationed very close to the station.
The member of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Comrade Chinazo Ifechigha, who was allegedly assaulted by the police during the Thursday protest called for justice.
She accused the DPO of encouraging his men to molest and brutalise the masses that they were meant to protect.
“Because I refused to compromise my position as a member of a group that defends the defenseless and the voiceless, he said he would disgrace me before everybody.
“He pointed a gun at me and the crowd dared him to shoot. He then ordered his men to beat me up because I refused to give him my phone. He embarrassed me before the protesters. But I stand firm to get justice for the couple; and I want my phone back.”
The Commissioner of Police, Mr Fatai Owoseni, who confirmed the incident, said the policeman, Aremu had been arrested and detained.
Addressing the protesters at Oropo bus stop in Ikotun, Mr Owoseni pleaded with them to be peaceful, adding that justice will be done.
He added that the DPO of Isheri-Oshun had also been issued with a query for disobeying the Inspector-General of Police’s instruction against mounting of roadblocks.
He said: “The police are doing all they can to ensure that the deceased’s children are taken care of. The police corporal involved has been taken into custody. When we complete all necessary disciplinary action, he will be charged to court for murder.
“The team leader and the DPO of Isheri-Oshun Police Station have also been issued queries for disobeying the IGP with regard to policemen performing duties without wearing their uniforms, and without a properly-labelled police van.
“The Inspector-General of Police does not condone such ugly acts. We at the Command headquarters here frown at it. I have visited the home of the deceased, I have seen their children and we sympathised with them. We will ensure that they are properly taken care of.”
He also stressed the need for community partnership and mutual trust among the police and the public.
Source: The Nation