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Monday, 04 December 2023 07:55

[OPINION] Unsolved Cases of Police Brutality: Would Mandatory Body Cams Be the Answer? - Matthew Ma

“The effectiveness of mandatory body cameras in reducing instances of police brutality has been a recurring question. While it is clear that requiring police officers to wear body cameras would help curb some incidents of excessive force without proper justification, the use of body cameras could also lead to the elimination of some necessary police violence that is at times misclassified as police brutality.”

The issue of police brutality has been a highly debated topic for many years, with numerous cases remaining unresolved due to insufficient evidence. In recent years, one solution that has gained momentum is the mandatory use of body cameras by police officers. These cameras can capture interactions between officers and civilians, providing crucial evidence for alleged cases of police brutality. However, the use of body cameras also raises concerns about privacy and potential misuse of footage. Some argue that these cameras may not always capture the full context of a situation and could be used to distort events. Others assert that mandatory body cameras could be a breach of police officers’ privacy rights. Additionally, some are concerned about the financial burden of implementing and maintaining body camera programs. Despite these challenges, many believe that mandatory body cameras could be an effective tool in promoting police accountability and reducing incidents of police brutality.

The use of body cams by police officers has been a topic of discussion in Nigeria. One of the main arguments in favor of mandatory body cams for police officers is that it could potentially reduce incidents of police brutality. Having a video recording of police interactions with citizens could provide transparency and accountability and discourage officers from using excessive force or engaging in other forms of misconduct. However, the effectiveness of body cams in reducing police brutality in Nigeria is still subject to debate. Recently, reports of police brutality and harassment have caused widespread shock and outrage among the public. Unfortunately, Nigerians have grown accustomed to such situations. Still, recent revelations about law enforcement responses to crime scenes in Lagos and other parts of Nigeria have sparked a unique level of concern. Policymakers are now considering the use of body cameras to establish accountability in the criminal justice system. Body-worn cameras, also known as body cams or BWCs, are devices used by law enforcement officers to record their interactions with the public. In developed countries, body cams have been promoted as a means to “hold officers accountable” in cases of police misconduct. In the US, for example, body cams were seen as one solution to address incidents that led to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others. Even those who were initially skeptical of body cameras have come to recognize their value as a tool for accountability for police, the local community, and the nation. The recording of police encounters can serve to protect not only citizens but also law enforcement officers who are wrongly accused of misconduct. Bodycam footage can verify witness accounts or testimony at trial, helping to prosecute serious offenses. Despite the tremendous promise of introducing body cameras in Lagos, not a single officer I have seen is equipped with one.

In March 2021, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State unveiled an essential new plan to promote accountability and transparency among police officers in the State. Speaking at the Banquet Hall, Lagos House, Alausa, Ikeja, Sanwo-Olu announced that officers would now wear body cameras while on duty. The initiative received positive feedback from Prince Ifalade Oyekan, Head of the Law Enforcement Training Institute, and other officers in attendance. Sanwo-Olu emphasized that this move would enable the State Government to respond more effectively to security challenges and is a crucial part of his administration’s commitment to providing adequate security. The Governor believes that the use of body-worn cameras is a groundbreaking step that will enhance safety in the State and increase transparency and accountability of law enforcement agencies. The Governor believes that a combination of modern technology and well-trained officers can effectively combat security challenges. This new technology equips law enforcement officers to protect lives and property better, making Lagos safer for everyone. Sanwo-Olu emphasized that this launch brings the government closer to fulfilling its security agenda, as it enhances officer productivity and professionalism while streamlining law enforcement. By using body-worn cameras, the government can prevent abuse of power and promote accountability and safety among officers, who can use the devices for sharing evidence and gathering intelligence. As two years have passed since the introduction of new technology, it begs the question – has it been effectively implemented? Furthermore, it is crucial to contemplate the possibility of body cameras becoming a mandatory requirement for all police officers on a national level, taking into account the policies of other states across the country.

There appears to be no end in sight to the brutality of citizens by some members of the Nigeria Police Force despite calls for its reform. Ironically, this, among other things, was what led to the protests by youths for the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a unit in the Force created to tackle robbery and other crimes. The protesters, mainly young people, launched the #EndSARS campaign and raised five key demands, which included the abolition of the squad, immediate release of arrested protesters, justice for victims of police brutality, the establishment of an independent body to investigate police misconduct and salary increase for cops. On October 11, 2020, the Federal Government announced the disbandment of SARS. But there are still claims that officers of the disbanded police unit still patrol streets in plainclothes, extorting, arresting, and torturing citizens without reason. Two years later, extrajudicial killings continue to rise. In fact, the highhandedness and brutality of the cops have increased with families grieving over the senseless killing of their loved ones. The December News from the PUNCH newspaper and Amnesty International has chronicles ten victims of police shootings and events leading to some of the extrajudicial killings across the country in 2022 alone.

On December 25, 2022, a cop attached to the Ajah Police Station shot dead a 41-year-old pregnant lawyer, Bolanle Raheem, under the Ajah Bridge in the presence of her husband. Raheem, her sister, and four children were said to be coming from an eatery in their car when the cop tried to stop them. Reports noted that her husband was trying to make a U-turn under the Ajah Bridge when the trigger-happy cop shot at the vehicle. The bullet hit her, and she was confirmed dead at the hospital she was rushed to. The killer cop was an Assistant Superintendent of Police. The death of Gafaru Buraimoh was linked to the cops at the Ajah Police Division. Buraimoh, a resident of Happy Estate in Ajah, was hit by a stray bullet while coming out of SkyMall on December 7, 2022, by a police inspector attached to the police station. It was gathered that the shooting that led to Buraimoh’s death occurred during a raid of sellers of black-market fuel at the Ajiwe gas station by the police. However, trouble began when the cops attempted to impound a black marketer’s fuel, but he allegedly resisted. His resistance angered the officers, who started shooting indiscriminately, narrated Buraimoh’s brother, Muyideen. Reacting to the incident, spokesperson for the state police, SP Benjamin Hundeyin, said on December 6, 2022, a shooting incident involving men of Ajah Division resulted in the unfortunate death of Gafaru Buraimoh of Happy Land Estate, Ajah. The officer behind the shooting, an inspector of police, was immediately disarmed and detained while a full-scale investigation commenced. However, the identity of the cops was not revealed.

Igwe Odinaka and Chikere Obieche were two businessmen killed on April 24, 2022, by a drunk cop at a friend’s birthday party in a hotel bar at the Gowon Estate in Lagos State. The two businessmen who were dealers in phone accessories at the Ikeja Computer Village were hit by gunshots from a cop said to be showing off and trying to impress the birthday host when they mistakenly fired gunshots into the guests who were dancing. Despite the promise of the Lagos police spokesperson that those responsible will not go free, the assurance did not see the light of the day. Koleosho Abayomi is a security guard at the Lekki Peninsula Scheme II in the Eti Osa Local Government Area of Lagos State. He was shot by a police officer enforcing the ban on motorcycle operations in Lagos on September 28. He was, however, fortunate to have survived. The cop, alongside three colleagues attached to the Ogombo Police Station, stormed the Lekki Peninsula Scheme II to enforce the government’s ban on motorcycle operations on the estate when the incident happened. Reacting to the incident, the state police spokesperson confirmed it, including payment of Abayomi’s hospital bills. The identity of the cop was, however, not revealed.

On January 22, 2022, Paul Durowaiye was killed by a cop whose N20 sachet water he drank in Kogi State. An eyewitness revealed that Durowaiye was alleged to have taken a sachet of “pure water” belonging to the policeman from the latter’s car to drink before he met his untimely death. Reacting to the development, Kogi State Commissioner of Police Edward Egbuka confirmed the incident, saying a preliminary report from the Area Commander indicated that the accused cop only tried to defend himself when he had an altercation with the victim. Also, the identity of the killer cop has not been revealed. Godsent Obhafuoso was killed by a cop on August 13, 2022, during the burial of his master’s late mother in the Esan North East Local Government Area of Edo State. While the victim was reportedly doing a video recording of the party and assisting his master in gathering the money being sprayed on him, the policeman allegedly fired gunshots, which hit a cameraman and Obhafuoso, who was pronounced dead at the Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital. Though the state Commissioner of Police, Abutu Yaro, confirmed the incident, the policeman involved has yet to face the law, as the family of the victim continues to appeal to the Inspector General of Police, Usman Baba, for his prosecution.

Oliver Ezra Barawani, a graduate of Taraba State University, was driving with his boss, Liu, an LG chairman, before a policeman killed him on June 4, 2022. According to a Facebook user, Abainitus Hamman, the victim was allegedly shot by a cop at a checkpoint in Kpanti Napo near Jalingo. Oliver Ezra was brutally killed for nothing. He was driving alongside the executive chairman of Lau LGA between Lakaviri and Jalingo. He was unarmed, innocent, and calm. Nigerian Police brutality has continued unabated. The state police neither reacted to the incident nor revealed the identity of the killer cop. Emmanuel Joseph, an All-Progressives Congress Ward Seven youth leader in Calabar South, Calabar, was killed by a trigger-happy police officer on May 27, 2022. The incident occurred at the venue of the party’s primary venue, the Cultural Centre, Calabar. The incident started when Savior Nyong and Deputy Speaker of the Cross River State House of Assembly, Joseph Bassey, who were the two leading aspirants, arrived at the venue with their supporters. The two aspirants began to exchange words and threatened themselves in a rowdy manner, leading to the invitation of the Anti-cultism/Kidnapping officers, who came and started firing bullets. Joseph was said to have been shot directly in the chest by a cop suspected to be the commander of the unit. A source said after he was shot, the officer allegedly threw teargas canisters to disperse the people, covered the bloodstains on the ground with sand, and fled with his corpse into their office. In this case, the police also did not react to the incident nor disclose the cop’s identity.

Toba Adedeji, a journalist, was covering a protest when he was shot by a trigger-happy policeman in Osogbo, Osun State, on May 23, 2022. A group of youths converged on a bridge in the Olaiya area of the city on April 11, 2022, to protest against the alleged extrajudicial killing of a young man by a policeman. The protesters reportedly blocked the road and prevented vehicular movement, chanting protest songs and demanding justice for the victim whose funeral was being performed. About 30 minutes into the protest, cops reportedly stormed the scene and shot into the crowd and journalists covering the demonstration in order to disperse them. The state police spokesperson, Yemisi Opalola, said the Commissioner of Police, Olawale Olokode, had ordered an investigation into the circumstances that led to the alleged shooting of Adedeji. Emeka Uwalaka, a National Diploma Civil Engineering student of the Federal Polytechnic Nekede, Owerri, Imo State, was shot on July 11, 2022, by a policeman attached to the Nekede Police Division. Uwalaka was said to be returning from church that Sunday afternoon when the cop shot at him, hitting the student’s hostel (BenJen lodge) gate in Umuokomoche, Owerri West Local Government Area of Imo State. However, the police did not release any press statement on the incident.

Despite claims of comprehensive police reform, instances of human rights violations by Nigeria’s police force continue to occur with alarming frequency. These violations include extrajudicial killings, harassment, arbitrary detention, and extortion, all of which are committed with almost complete impunity. While the previous administration made efforts to restructure the force and curb the activities of “rotten” police personnel, there is still much work to be done. One solution that I suggest is the implementation of body cameras for all police officers on duty. Despite the hierarchy’s insistence that illegal roadblocks will not be renewed, some officers still extort money from citizens at these checkpoints. Despite numerous reports of this behavior, few officers are ever punished. In today’s advanced age, we have the technology to monitor police activity and hold officers accountable for their actions. The success of the Biometric Verification Number (BVN) and compulsory SIM registration programs for telecommunication subscribers prove that we can achieve results with technology. Therefore, it would be appropriate for the police hierarchy to procure body cameras for officers across the country. This technology would allow a central administration office to monitor the activities of each officer wearing a camera, ensuring transparency and accountability in all police actions.

In recent times, the issue of police brutality has sparked a widespread conversation, particularly in light of the experiences shared by individuals with Nigerian police officers. The effectiveness of mandatory body cameras in reducing instances of police brutality has been a recurring question. While it is clear that requiring police officers to wear body cameras would help curb some incidents of excessive force without proper justification, the use of body cameras could also lead to the elimination of some necessary police violence that is at times misclassified as police brutality. It is crucial to establish a system for monitoring police officers’ interactions with citizens in real time. The routine use of body cameras by police officers could help minimize the all-too-common situations of “the officer said or did” versus “the arrested person said or did,” ultimately leading to the swift and accurate dispensation of justice.

At present, there is no legislation requiring police officers to use body cameras in Nigeria. However, Dr. Kayode Ajulo, a constitutional lawyer, has advocated for the inclusion of this technology in the proposed Police Act. He has even pledged to donate body cameras to the Nigerian Police in partnership with NGOs if the Act is passed and approved by President Muhammad Buhari. During a 2021 interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Dr. Ajulo recommended that the Nigeria Police (Establishment) Act of 2020, the Administration of Criminal Justice Law, and the Administration Act of 2015 be modified to require security agencies to utilize body cameras during their interactions with the public. By incorporating body cameras into the Police Act, investigations can be facilitated. Dr. Ajulo criticized the body camera introduced by the Lagos State Government for law enforcement officers, stating that it did not meet the required standards and was not mandatory by law. He called for stringent punishment for officers who fail to comply with this technology. The adoption of modern policing equipment, such as body cameras and wearable cameras, is essential for recording interactions with the public. The status of the proposed legislation remains to be determined.

Body cameras for police officers can be highly beneficial to officers, communities, and citizens alike. By providing credible evidence in cases where compassion is needed, these cameras can offer a more detailed level of taped evidence than eyewitness accounts currently provide. This will help to restore credibility and accountability to police interactions, reducing complaints and litigation filed against police departments. Additionally, the presence of cameras may help to improve behavior on both sides of an interaction, as individuals are aware that they are being recorded. In highly controversial cases involving the use of lethal force, body cameras have the potential to reduce conflicting stories and minimize speculation and media sensationalism.

Finally, it is essential to protect the implementation of body cameras from political interference. The effectiveness of police body cameras has been a subject of discussion, with various interest groups expressing their views on the matter. Some advocates believe that the cameras will decrease incidents of police violence, improve accountability for unethical behavior, and enhance community relations. On the other hand, some groups seek to evaluate the cameras’ performance during high-pressure situations, such as checkpoints where police may encounter armed robbers or kidnappers. This will enable a determination of whether the police were overpowered or working with criminals. The use of body cameras promotes accountability, ensuring that the public is served and criminals are apprehended equitably. It also decreases police misconduct and corruption. While it is important to note that not all or most cops are corrupt, those who engage in misconduct will have no place to hide their misdeeds when they know their actions are being continuously recorded.

Rev. Ma, S.J, is a Jesuit Catholic priest and PhD candidate in public and social policy at St. Louis University in the state of Missouri, USA.

 

 
 
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