Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ajegunle is a poor neighborhood in Lagos. It has a thriving culture with many more having come to the area from all over Nigeria and in fact West Africa in an effort to be in Nigeria's growing commercial metropolis, Lagos. However, the fact that many of Ajegunle's residents are poor, nameless and thus, faceless, makes its residents subject to discrimination and limits their access to justice. As a consequence, when a group of young men chose to exercise their right to protest, 4 of them ended up dead. They were shot to death by police officers on April 1st, 2010.

These four deaths stemmed from an earlier extrajudicial killing in Ajegunle. Charles Okorafor was shot dead while watching a Liverpool match at a public viewing center in Ajegunle. An eyewitness claimed that police officers came into the center to harass and rob the customers, asking them to lie face down on the ground and empty out their pockets. Okorafor refused to comply with the demands of the officers and eventually wound up shot in the head, according to other young men caught up in the incident.

On April 3rd, angry youths protested Okorafor's murder and the result was that 4 additional men were shot dead with at least 25 others wounded. One of the deceased is Tunde Olotu, whose brother Solomon Olotu explained that in order to prevent his brother's death from being concealed by the police, his family hid the body from authorities. According to Solomon,
“On April 3, at about 1.30 pm at Babani Street, near Ajeromi Police Station, my brother was receiving a call when a bullet hit him on the head and he fell.” Mr. Olotu said that his body was hurriedly hidden to avoid the police from seizing it.
“We rushed and buried him at the Amukoko Health Centre because the police wanted to collect the body from us,”
A human rights group, Labour And Civil Society Coalition (LASCO), wants an independent panel to look into the alleged killings. However, getting justice for individuals abused at the hands of men in uniform in Nigeria is typically a difficult task. One need only recall the Apo Six who were killed by police officers in a matter yet to be resolved. It is only when there is evidence of extrajudicial killings at the hands of Nigerian servicemen that the Nigerian government will react. This was the case with the recent airing of police officers killing alleged Boko Haram militants in Bauchi State on international media outlet Al Jazeera. The international embarassment forced members of Nigeria's national Assembly to finally discuss the matter even though it was common knowledge and admitted to by the Nigerian military that extrajudicial killings did take place during the violent Boko Haram incident that left hundreds dead.

In fact, there is only one time, in recent history, that a Nigerian got justice after being ruthlessly attacked by men in uniform. Uzoma Okere's merciless attack by naval ratings was met with national and international outcry mostly because it was caught on film and shared on the internet by an anonymous observer. She received the support of Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fashola, and the state's legal department which represented her against the military and eventually won a judgment to the tune of N100 million in damages. Had her assault not received the attention it did, and had she simply been a poor and disadvantaged individual, instead of the daughter of the well respected Sergeant At Arms of the National Assembly, it is possible that Okere might never have lived to take her assaulters to court.

Shortly after his declaration as the Acting President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan was also made the Chairman of ECOWAS, the West African economic organization. At that time, he said the following,
"Let it be stated ... that no place exists in this sub-region for ... [the] rape [of] the rights and indeed dignity of our people."

Given this public commitment to the protection of civil and human rights, it is only fair to expect Goodluck Jonathan to use the weight of his office as Commander in Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to ensure that the alleged murder of 5 young Ajegunle residents by the police is investigated. However, it is not enough to merely order a probe as is often the knee-jerk reaction of most Nigerian politicians. This matter of murdered Ajegunle protesters provides an excellent opportunity for Jonathan to prove to the majority of Nigerians who are poor and lack access to many opportunities that he indeed will follow through on his promises. This is particularly the case as a key local activist was arrested days after the protest. As such, any such investigation must be transparent, with the results shared with the nation immediately. Any individuals accused of wrong doing must be allowed the opportunity to defend themselves either in a court of law, or within any judicial structures reserved for the police. However, the families of the murdered victims and the wounded must be treated with respect and their concerns must not be swept under the wrong. Doing so, would only compound the recurring injustice of the underprivileged who, as shown in this horrible incident, are the victims of abuse and theft by those charged with serving their security needs.

Responsibility does not rest on Jonathan alone to address this Ajegunle incident. Nigeria's state governor has fashioned himself as a forward thinking politician focused on preparing the city and its residents for the challenges of a fast growing West African hub. For consistency sake, there must be a reaction from his office and a Lagos State program to address the concerns of residents who consistently complain of abuse at the hands of uniformed, and sometimes plain clothed, officers. It is no secret that police officers and other officials ride public transportation for free, demand a percentage of bus driver's earnings, demand bribes and far too often flee the scenes of violence instead of fighting off robbers. While it is clear that the police are generally underpaid (despite their large allocation in the national budget) and not controlled by state governors, Lagos State must find a creative way to identify and isolate those cause more problems than good while in their uniforms. In fact, given that there is little indication that states will receive control of police officers within their territories, it is imperative for governor's to find ways of addressing the lapses of the police force. 

There are additional implications that must not be ignored. According to results, the 4 deaths were tied to protests that sprung up in reaction to Charkes Okorafor's death. The fact that people would be killed during a protest serves to discourage the very democratic tradition of peaceful protest. This tradition is one to be encouraged and not dampened especially in a nation like Nigeria that has witnessed years of military suppression that lead to exile for some, incarceration for many and death for others. If Nigeria is to truly shed its repressive past and indeed achieve the democracy its people seek and its leaders assert will benefit the country, unexplained murders of protesters, extrajudicial killings of individuals, even murderers, unfounded arrests and unlawful detentions must not be allowed to remain the norm. Especially not for the majority of Nigerians who are unfortunately poor despite living in a nation afforded abundant natural wealth. Therefore, it is imperative for Jonathan and other leaders be they in the public or private sector to support free speech and the human and civil rights of all Nigerians irregardless of class, tribe, religion, sex or orientation.

This is particularly important now that young Nigerians are becoming more vocal about the state of Nigeria and the path the country is on. During the political vacuum caused by President Yar'Adua's long absence, young Nigerians from across the country marched in unison to the National Assembly to make demands and there are plans to continue to use peaceful protest as a means of galvanizing the masses and forcing representatives to interact with constituents. Those protests were well organized, advertised well in advance and received international attention on various social media networks and media outlets. The fact that these young men did not have the technological savvy and connections that other larger groups had in no way means that their opinions are less relevant. And, unfortunately, the murder of these poor Ajegunle men sends the message that democratic protest is only meant for a certain category and class of Nigerians.

There is a lot resting on the shoulders of Nigeria's acting President, as there would be for anyone charged with handling the many issues and challenges Nigeria faces. Despite this, it is unconscionable and would be a betrayal of justice if this administration does not actively support the respect of human life regardless of who the human beings are. The murder of 5 young Ajegunle men must not go unnoticed and unaddressed.

13 Curiosities. Add Yours.:

O'mary said...

Hello SSD,
I believe you meant to say April 1, 2010 not 2009..
This is a private msg just FYI, and not a comment..


@ O'Mary: Thank you so much for noticing the error and informing me. I fixed it. Much obliged.

Stanis said...

very sad indeed, somehow justice has to to prevail!

Anonymous said...

Whilst something needs to be done about this and the police involved need to be brought to book, it is clearly a state matter not a federal matter.

The President can only have so many irons in the fire, as a matter of broad national policy, the best he can do is expect all organs of government that report to him are effective in their responsibilities.

- Akin A. from FB

Jaycee said...

I really really dislike unsolicited shootings that lead to death. Sad.


@ Akin: how can it be a state matter when the police are controlled by the federal government which is obviously controlled by the acting President? If he does not 'comment' (privately or publicly) and/or fails to be seen taking action on behalf of the defenseless, what does that continue to say about Nigeria, its leaders and its people?

Merely hoping that Goodluck Jonathan (GJ) will, as you say, 'expect' others to do their job if he doesn't do his as the representative of Nigeria's citizens (regardless of class) will leave us with nothing, but what we have now, don't you think? While I do not believe GJ is superman, I still believe that this Ajegunle situation provides an opportunity for himself and others to do something good for the poor and set a precedence that such unlawful killings (which as you should know happen far too often), mistakenly or not, will not be tolerated.

Besides, I also noted that Fashola equally has an opportunity to react (if he is yet to do so, as I have not seen any reports that he has). I did that to express that the burden is not solely on GJ and the federal government. Lagos State stepping in should particularly be the case given that one of the protest organizers was arrested. ... See More

If someone had been hurt, arrested or talk less killed during the #enoughisenough protests would we not be shouting? So, why shouldn't I expect GJ to make sure that the next time anyone chooses to protest or stands up to corruption and bad treatment they won't end up shot in the head like Charles? Come on Akin, I hope you can understand where I coming from...


@ Stanis: Thanks so much for stopping by. I believe the investigation is ongoing and last I read, some police officers visited with the father of the first gentleman whose death sparked the protest, for a meeting. I hope that this incident will be addressed adequately and respectfully but all I can do is express my opinion and hope for the best.

How are things?

@ Jaycee: me too. It happens everywhere and in most democracies there is a process to limit and or prevent such happenings. Not sure what those processes are in Nigeria. Anyway, how body? Thanks so much for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

I understand that extra-judicial killing by the police in Nigeria is a national issue, some of which get exposure and others get swept underground.

The Boko Haram civil case that the police lost shows that people are ready to take on the police on this matter too.

My view is, the Acting President should clearly address the general issue by letting the Inspector General of Police know that issues of extra-judicial killings will no more acceptable as a matter of course.... See More

That should then filter down to state commissioners of police and the subsequent hierarchies to the direct reports of the policemen responsible for those crimes - hopefully there are systems in place that allow the police in one state to be independently investigated by those of another state like we have with police issues in the UK.

Finally, as you note, GJ is no superman, but everyone seems to have some agenda they want him to run their behalf because of their fervent activism - he can only dictate broad policy, if he has to go hands-on for every occurrence of injustice, he will get nothing done.

- Akin A. from Facebook


@ Akin: "as you note, GJ is no superman, but everyone seems to have some agenda they want him to run their behalf because of their fervent activism"

But that is exactly why we bother to 'vote' and assign certain members of society the privilege of leadership. If these individuals, or in this case GJ, don't want the pressure that comes with the job, they are free to bow out with their heads high. As you can see, I have absolutely no qualms with having expectations of Nigeria's leadership. Personally, I am of the opinion that it is a civic duty to have such expectations because without them, there is no accountability. This is already a problem in Nigeria because far too little of the population expect or demand better treatment or respect from their representatives, in my opinion.

Besides, Yar'Adua could not blink without everyone making demands of one form or another, why should it be any different for GJ? The length of term is inconsequential, I believe. He has proclaimed his commitment to various issues, civil rights being one of them, and as such, it is only natural that people, myself included, want him to live up to the promises he made. That does not mean that he will, of course, but failure to put pressure on 'leaders' goes against the foundations of democracy. And if democracy is ever to work in Nigeria, 'leaders' should expect and welcome such demands. ... See More

As such, there is absolutely nothing wrong in encouraging GJ, as I believe I did, to use the Ajegunle murders as an opportunity to reinforce an intolerance towards any actions that can be perceived as or is police/officer brutality.

While I admit that I see your point that GJ can simply give instructions to those charged with dealing with the minutiae, I do not believe that that, without additional action/reaction, is sufficient, especially since that goes without saying. Or, at least it should. But, even you mention the Boko Haram incident and that is only the most recent of several similar incidents. Nonetheless, there is absolutely nothing wrong with going right to the top to get redress.

And as for the "fervent activism" reference, I'm going to hope that was not intended to be derogatory. However, if that was the case, I will still let it slide, as I have no problem with activism, be it fervent or not. If folks want to walk in the streets, that's fine with me. If they want to go overboard and be "fervent", that's fine with me as well, as long as they stay non-violent. And, to those who feel otherwise or do not apprive, so be it. To each his/her own.

Hoping all is well with you and yours.

Anonymous said...

i always wonda au many robbers' bodies on tv r actually innocent victims. fashola shd do somethn

- Daydah from Twitter

RE - BadGalsRadio.com said...

Dear Sister can we write to these people ? asking them to do what they are elected to do - which is to investigate fairly and present the findings; before having a court make a punishment decision and then enact the punishment fairly.

I wish we could find the email addresses of the President and also Mr Fashola. I would be willing to draft a letter and make a petition site which we could circulate widely to ask people to sign and support this action. WE the People, need to do something NOW.

I am all for stringing up the murderers in everycase; yet I want to see the court system start to address these issues with direct response, from the office of the President Mr Jonathon and the State Governor Mr Fashola.

I cannot feel anyway good, as the police have murdered many people I knew personally over the years, and as yet I have seen nothing done about it. mostly we try to get money and visa for our people, to get them out to what we perceive as a safer environment. Lagos is just like New York, except with a larger quotient of Black Crime and Criminality because it is in the Largest Most Populated Country of Black People in the World. in europe they hang criminals and take them to court first. why can't we learn how to make that happen in Nigeria ?

The Nigerian Police are no different than any other criminals, except that in Nigeria they seem to always get a free pass, and never pay for their crimes. I for one am tired of it, and want it to be stopped - by those who are in charge of regulating it. The President and the Governor of the State. It's Time We Started Demanding They Do Their Jobs and Stop This Rouge Police Murder.

Citizens of Nigeria shouldn't have to live with the fear of Death every second of their lives. I am not afraid, because they have Killed The Fear in My Heart, when they killed my family in Nigeria.

Anonymous said...

Na wa for Naija

adeboy said...

may GOD av mercy and wash us clean from sins and sorrow. folashade

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