Why Are Nigerian Policemen Killing Each Other?

  • Lagos police spokesperson says the incidents are isolated and the state command is generally “doing well”.

Hardly has a month passed since November 2019 without a policeman in Nigeria killing his colleague(s) or himself ㅡ or both. 

Experts say the trend may be due to accumulated frustration from the job,  anger or the absence of an alternative way of venting grievances.

In December 2019, John Markus, a police inspector who was working under the Dutse Police Divisional Headquarters, Abuja, fired shots into the air while on duty. 

When he was cautioned by Mathew Akubo, a corporal, Markus shot him in the head, causing his death. 

Abdullahi Ovanu, a superintendent of police, came out of the office to confirm what was going on but he was also shot in the arm. Markus then committed suicide by firing into his mouth.

A similar incident happened in February. 2020. Okon Essien, a police inspector in Lagos, took his own life while in detention at the State Criminal Investigation Department over a murder allegation. 

According to reports, he had shot and killed Hassan Usman, a suspect who had been intercepted. Lagos police spokesperson, Bala Elkana, said Essien committed suicide to “avoid trial”.

On Sunday, March 22, another police inspector in Awka, Anambra State, Kenneth Enamika, committed suicide after killing his ex-girlfriend, Oluchi Aputanze, whom he accused of deceiving him and marrying someone else. 

He also killed the husband, Cajethan Aputanze, and left an AK-47 rifle and suicide note at the murder scene.

In April, Sergeant Bitrus Osaiah shot a policewoman, Lovender Elekwachi, who was attached to Eneka Police Division in Port Harcourt while she was on traffic duty. 

Osaiah was an officer of the Rivers State Task Force on Decongestion. The circumstances that led to the killing are still not clear.

The following month, a Nigerian Security and CivilDefence officer, identified as Femi, killed a policeman, Edward Mgbekem, with whom he was on night duty at the Obalende-Falomo axis of Lagos after a quarrel broke out between them. Mgbekem was a father of three who had served in the Nigeria Police Force for 18 years.

Again in May, a policeman from Abuja who was on special duty in Lagos, Monday Gabriel, reportedly “went berserk and opened fire on his colleagues” after a disagreement, releasing over 30 bullets. One sergeant, Felix Okago, lost his life as a result of gunshot injuries he received.

Realising what he had done, Gabriel took a patrol vehicle and drove towards Third Mainland Bridge, shooting as he approached it but was disarmed and arrested along Akoka.

“The corpse of the deceased sergeant is deposited in the mortuary for autopsy while the inspector is taken to Police Hospital for medical examination as he presented signs of mental depression,” Elkana had said.

In June, there were at least two reports of policemen turning on their colleagues. First, an unidentified police officer said to have been drunk hacked his colleague, Francis Adekunle, to death with a cutlass in Lagos. The deceased had intervened after the officer picked a quarrel with his neighbour. 

Second, unidentified operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in Delta State were reported to have killed seven police officers in Ughelli “over alleged involvement in armed robbery operations in the area”.

About the last incident, the Civil Liberties Organisation, a human rights advocacy group, remarked that it was suspicious that no casualties were recorded on the side of the SARS operatives.

“We are suspicious of the whole incident. It is also difficult to accept that they were killed and their rifles still left with them. We really doubt the circumstances surrounding the killing of these seven policemen,” the non-governmental organisation said last week.

These tragic events are taking place against the backdrop of extrajudicial killings where civilians are often at the receiving end of police violence.

A recent study by TheCable showed that at least 92 unarmed Nigerians were killed by policemen between March, 2019 and February, 2020.

The Nigeria Police Force Public Relations Office, DCP Frank Mba, did not respond to enquiries from HumAngle on what the force is doing about the developments or to prevent the recurrence of police-on-police crime.

Officers more prone to mental health problems

A 2015 study published by the Spanish Journal of Psychology states that because of how demanding the job of a police officer is, they are more vulnerable to developing mental health problems, and is especially the case in Nigeria.

“This is because their duties involve frequent exposure to stressors, critical incidents, traumatic events, and threatening situations on and off-duty,” it explained.

The study further suggested that poor mental health could lead to negative outcomes, including reduced job satisfaction, absenteeism, increased drug abuse and antisocial work behaviour.

Another study released in the same year by the African Research Review said police officers in Nigeria often did not seek professional help to cope with stress and advised that medical centres in police stations and barracks be strengthened to reverse the trend.

“The increasing reports of police harassments of members of the public, numerous cases of extrajudicial killings, extortions and other vices from police officers may be consequences of poor judgment occasioned by the use of alcohol and other addictive behaviours of the police officers,” the publication added.

Seun Oladeinde, a private psychologist, agrees that policing comes with a lot of frustration and also mentioned drug abuse as a possible cause of violent behaviour.


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