MINDLESS POLICE KILLINGS IN AJEGUNLE: Enough is Enough!
MINDLESS POLICE KILLINGS IN AJEGUNLE: Enough is Enough!
By Aderemi Ismail
For over 20 years the residents of Ajegunle, one of the most densely populated poorest communities of Lagos State, have been subjected to searing police terror. But this came to head with the killings of Charles Okorafor on April 1, 2010 and, later, of Tunde Olotu, who had joined the 3 April march to protest the gruesome murder of Charles.
Charles was beaten to death after he refused to pay a bribe when police raided a viewing centre showing the Benfica vs Liverpool UEFA soccer match in Ajegunle.
Enraged by this unbridled barbarism of the police, a mass meeting was held in the community on 2 April which was addressed by Dagga Tolar, Lagos State Secretary of LASCO and member of DSM National Executive Council (NEC). There was resolution to stage a peaceful protest march the following day to demand justice over the killing and an end to police brutality and extortions in the community. As agreed, 3 April saw hundreds of youths and socialist activists in the community stage a peaceful procession around the community and to the Police Station, with placards, leaflets and a position paper containing a list of demands to be submitted to the police authorities and the Chairman of the Local Government.
The protesters had expected the police authorities to openly apologise for this dastardly act and give assurances that the killer police officers would be brought to justice and that 1 April’s gory incident would not be repeated. But on arriving at the Police Station, they met about a hundred of armed policemen and armoured personnel carriers, led by the police chief of Ajegunle and its environs, ACP Kenneth Ebirimson, who ordered his men to shoot at the protesters for failing to heed his order to disperse. In the process, some youths, including Tunde Olotu, were shot dead while others including Godwin Sunday and Kadiri Aderibigbe sustained serious bullet wounds.
Not done with their brutal response to a peaceful action, the police authorities shamelessly labelled protesters as “hoodlums”, and indiscriminately arrested and detained youths in the community after the April 3 protest. This clampdown led to the arrest of Dagga Tolar, who led the protest, Akpos Okoro, community activist and Aderemi Ismail, community activist and a member of DSM on April 7 around 1 pm at the Ajeromi Local Government Secretariat. The activists had gone to the secretariat on the invitation of the local government chairman, Kamal Bayewu, to a meeting meant ostensibly to deliberate on resolution to the crisis in the community.
Besides leading the protest, Dagga Tolar had on April 5, along Biodun Aremu, the Joint National Secretary of LASCO, addressed a massively attended and widely reported press conference organized by LASCO Lagos State Chapter to denounce the mindless killings and demand, among other issues, justice for the victims and an end to police brutality in Ajegunle and other communities.
However, the Police were forced to release the activists the same day by 10pm as a result of pressure by trade union and other activists locally and internationally, organizations and individuals in LASCO, members of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) and DSM. Also commendable was the effort of the members of Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), an international socialist organization to which DSM is affiliated, who intervened through phone calls and e-mails to the police authorities and Nigerian embassies.
Meanwhile, a major fall-out of this movement against police brutality in Ajegunle is a threat to Dagga Tolar’s life by some police officers particularly the Area Commander of Apapa Police Command, Kenneth Ebirimson (ACP).
As expected, a number of police officers in Ajegunle are not happy with Dagga for his roles in protest that has practically decimated their daily goldmine of illegal raiding for the sole purpose of extortion of hapless and poor residents. For instance, some policemen at the Ajeromi Police Station where he and other activists had been first taken to after the April 5 arrest, openly expressed their displeasure at him and further insinuated that they would deal with him accordingly.
The activists were subsequently transferred to Area B Police Command at Apapa and brought before the Area Commander, Kenneth Ebirimson, who brazenly boasted in a fit of fury that, if he had seen Dagga during their manhunt of activists after the protest on that Saturday, he would have shot him dead personally.
It will be recalled that one of the demands of LASCO after the April 3 protest is the removal and prosecution of Ebirimson for ordering police to shoot at protesters. Dagga Tolar has already sent an open petition to the Commissioner of Police, Lagos State Command on the threat.
Gladly, this community action against police brutality has achieved some results. The Lagos police authorities, who initially lied that Charles had died of natural causes, have now admitted that he was killed by police. They also claimed to have arrested and detained two officers, attached to the Ajeromi Police Station, in connection to the killing. Besides, the notorious police station has had a new DPO while some of the police officers have been redeployed. However, it is not yet hurrah; the police have not admitted responsibility for the killing of Tunde Olotu and inflicting bullet wounds on Godwin Sunday, Kadiri Aderibigbe and others let alone pay adequate compensation for victims and their families. Even, in the case of Charles, apart from a visit by the police nothing has been done to compensate the family.
Therefore, the community groups and activists who have been leading this campaign must not rest on their oars. Rather, we should continue to demand justice and adequate compensation for the families of all the victims. We should remain steadfast on our demand for an independent probe panel made up of representatives of trade unions, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), NGOs, and community organizations in Ajegunle to unravel the circumstances that led to the death of Charles Okoro, Tunde Olotu and others and injury sustained by Godwin Sunday, Kadiri Aderibigbe and others.
However, LASCO should take over the campaigns against all forms of extortions and police brutality in Ajegunle and other communities across the country where such indiscriminate raids, extortion of money, and false imprisonment of poor working class elements persist on a daily basis.
The police in Ajegunle are notorious for raiding junctions, streets, compounds, shops, businesses and markets for the indiscriminate arrest and illegal detention of youths in order to forcefully extort money from them. At least 500 youths are arrested daily and detained across the five police stations in the community. Any of the captives whose parents or friends are able to pay some outrageous amount of money, in most cases as high as N5,000, are released, while those that cannot bail themselves out usually find their way to prison on false criminal charges.
Over the years, the residents of the community have petitioned the police authorities in the community and at Lagos State command for an immediate end to illegal police raids and extortions several times, to no avail. DSM members have been through platform of Ajeromi People’s Movement (APM), campaigning against police brutality (See Socialist Democracy – paper August/September 2005 edition). While calling on the police to stop this senseless brutality, as an immediate measure needed to checkmate and forestall this kind of barbarism, the DSM advocates the formation of democratically run community defence committees, composed of trade union elements, socialists, community activists and youth activists.
We have also demanded better pay and improved working conditions for rank and file policemen and women. We call for rank and file policemen and women to unionise, so as to have a platform upon which to channel their grievances and struggle for better pay and living conditions, instead of the their current practice of feeding off the already oppressed working class people in society.
However, beyond Ajegunle, police brutality and corruption is a national plague. The brazen extortion by the police, and also army, at arbitrary check points is a daily fact of life throughout the country. Extra judicial killings are commonplace among the police across the country. The Amnesty International report in 2009 on extra-judicial killings in Nigeria, entitled “kill at will”, is scary and aptly describes the barbaric culture of Nigeria’s police. The report, which covers three years (2007 – 2009), says “the Police don’t only kill people by shooting them; they also torture them to death, often when they are in detention … some die because they fail to pay police officers a bribe â€¦ others disappear in custody.” The report added that a majority of the cases of extra-judicial killings go un-investigated and police officers responsible go unpunished.