Nigeria: Bolanle Raheem and Matters Arising

Zayd Ibn Isah writes Raheem’s death is one too many.

The tragic death of Omobolanle Raheem has sent shockwaves across Lagos State and the entire country. Bolanle, 41-year-old, was a property lawyer with over 10 years call-to-bar experience. She was brutally murdered by a trigger-happy Police Officer on a stop and search duty in the Ajah area of Lagos.

Narrating the story to sympathisers, the husband to the slain lawyer, Gbenga Raheem said he took his family out for Christmas shopping after Church service when the unfortunate incident happened.

The police have done a lot to pacify the deceased family and to calm frayed nerves. The Lagos State Police Command swung into action immediately and arrested the police officer that carried out the dastardly act alongside his accomplices. They have also visited the family of the deceased to commiserate with them and to promise them her killer will face the full wrath of the law. The Inspector-General of Police has released a statement through the Force spokesman that the deceased’s killer would be brought to book. Even President Muhammadu Buhari has sent his condolences to the deceased family and assured them of justice.

Reactions have continued to trail her killing in spite of the President’s assurance of justice for the victim. There was a protest in Lagos State demanding for justice for the Lawyer. The Nigerian Bar Association, Civil Society Organizations and social media influencers have not only condemned the killing, but have also called for justice for the Lagos Lawyer.

Omobolanle has joined the list of innocent Nigerians murdered by security personnel. Sadly, these crooked security operatives are constitutionally mandated to protect those they have sent to early graves over reasons best known to them.

Normally, when tragedy of this magnitude occurs, especially, if it involves an agency whose primary responsibility is to protect lives and property, Nigerians tend to tar every personnel of the organization with the same brush. In one of the angry reactions on Twitter, a popular TV host tweeted: “Bolanle Raheem was my real estate agent. She supported me in my goal and was always cheering me on. She was so hardworking, positive and such a cheerful spirit. She has a husband and child. I can’t even say more. The Nigerian Police Officers are killers”. Does that include the ones that have never handled a gun since they joined the Force? And what about the ones that carry arms and ammunition on a daily basis, but have never killed anyone extra-judicially? Are they killers, too? Is it not in this same Lagos a Policeman with AK47 rifle was assaulted by a young man in broad light, yet he didn’t raise his hand, let alone pull the trigger? In as much as the murder of Omobanle is painful and tragic, rubbing the dastardly act of one person on others is hasty generalisation.

The Police Officer’s action is antithetical to the acceptable conduct of Nigeria Police Officer, and he will be treated for who he is – a murderer. The Police have rules of engagement. Police Force Order 237′ states that law enforcement officials shall not use firearms against persons except in self-defence or in defence of others against imminent threat of death or serious injury”.

Bolanle’s death has brought to our national discourse the over-flogged topic of police reform. Police reform aims to transform the old cultures, policies and practices of police organization, so that the police can perform their duties with recourse to democratic principles, human rights and the rule of law.

The Nigeria Police Force has undergone several reforms since 1960. The recent one is the signing into law of the Police Trust Fund Bill by President Muhammadu Buhari on June 21, 2019. This law seeks to actualize the vision and mission of Mr. President for the police to provide additional sources of funding for optimal performance of the police force.

Many Nigerians are in a haste to see a reformed and proactive police force. But there are few others who have given up on the system, that the police force as it is, is incorrigible. They only want to “japa.” That no amount of reform can work except if there is a complete overhaul of the current police structure. By complete overhaul, they meant relieving all police officers from the rank of the Inspector-General of Police to the lowest rank of their sacred duties and replace them with new ones. What manner of reform is that?

However, there are some Nigerians who are advocating for state police as solution to the problem of the police force. These ones are convinced that once the current police structure is decentralized, insecurity and all forms of police brutality will be a thing of the past. But whether a decentralized police force will put paid to police high-handedness is a topic for another day.

I have taken my time to read all the angry reactions following the death of Bolanle on social media. The cry for justice is loud. But what I have come to know about Nigerians is that we don’t know what we want. Ask me why? The last time a Nigeria Police Officer was dismissed over a misconduct, the action of the police authority did not go well with some Nigerians. And I began to wonder if the Nigeria Police Force is an extension of the Correctional Service. Probably, they were afraid that these rogue elements in the force are being sent back to the society that moulded them into the monsters that they are today. But what they don’t know is that every rogue police officer dismissed from the police force is one extra-judicial killing avoided.

We have often times attributed the problem of the police to the recruitment process. Yes, I agree it is part of it. But where would the country have recruited her police from? Dubai? Whether we like it or not, the police are the product of the society. The complete change we seek will come, but it’s a gradual process. It starts from us. I don’t know how many countries in the world where her police stand on highways in the name of stop and search. They work mainly with CCTV cameras and other sophisticated gadgets. The CCTV cameras that were mounted somewhere in Abuja developed wings and flew to only God knows where. Even the ones that couldn’t fly have been rendered incapacitated.

Omobolanle Raheem’s death is one too many. As a law graduate aspiring to be called to the largest bar in Africa, I know what it takes to study law and to be a successful lawyer. It takes years of consistent hard work and determination. Bolanle was determined to reach the peak of her career. She was getting there slowly and steadily, until the unthinkable happened.

The police authority’s swift response to the case is a testament to the fact that there is no more hiding place for murderers masquerading as law enforcement agents in the force. And it is our hope that justice should not only be done, but be seen to be done.

Isah writes from Abuja via isahzayd@gmail.com

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