Friday, January 02, 2009

Suspects’ right to life

OUR Constitution guarantees the right to life. Section 33 (1) says only a court can deprive one of life. On this basis, the liberty security agencies take in killing suspects is illegal. Some of the cases make it to the court. The most famous, of recent, is the Apo Seven — the police killing of seven people in Apo, Abuja, who, according to the police, refused to stop at a check-point. The police said they were armed robbers.

In other instances, the police kill commercial bus drivers who refused to pay bribes at various check-points. Officially, check-points are illegal. The police have no difficulty in finding explanations for these killings.

A month passes without these incidents. Two weeks ago, police in Ajegunle, Lagos, shot a motorist after an argument. The cases are under-reported. Few have resources to press for their rights. The commonest approach to this injustice is a petition to the Inspector-General of Police. The matter normally ends there.

The finality of death coupled with absence of any worthwhile compensation for wrongful termination of life should keep the police sober in dealing with suspects.

Stories of armed robbery suspects being forced to confess to crimes are legion. The police adopt torture in extracting statements from suspects. Some die in the process. Ironically, the caution on the statement forms says suspects can remain silent if they wished.

Official efforts at addressing these abuses, which include rapes, unlawful arrests and extortion, resulted human rights desks at some police stations. There is no change. While bail is free, with posters at police stations announcing it, relations pay huge sums the police dictate to secure the release of suspects.

The police, in Shagamu, Ogun State, on December 12 added to the frightening stories when they killed Mrs. Funmilayo Abudu, a 35-year-old poultry worker. The police said she was the leader of an armed gang that robbed a bank that day.

Mrs. Abudu was on her way to buy diesel for the farm. When she heard shots from battle between the police and robbers, she hid in the bush from where she alerted her office to secure the farm gates.

When she came out of hiding, police arrested her, ignoring pleas of her innocence, including the testimony of her boss, who identified her at the police station and confirmed she was on an errand for the farm.

She was later decked with charms, paraded as an armed robber, killed and her body dumped on the street.

What motivated the police to shoot an unarmed woman remains a mystery. Should the testimony of her boss not have counted? The police stick to their story that she was an armed robber.

Her husband, a vulcaniser is left to cater for their four young children. He has no means to fight for his blighted rights. Her killing, like many others, defies logic and defiles the Constitution.

The police should respect the right of everyone to life, including suspects.