Juliana Francis

Sometimes in September 2021, a battered housewife, Mrs. Fausat, went to the Area M Police Command, located at the Idimu/Isheri area of Lagos State, to seek protection from her abusive husband. But rather than attend to her, the police allegedly demanded N50, 000 before they could attend to her.

Fausat ran to the station to lodge a complaint of battering and attempted murder against her husband but was shocked when the police asked for money before they could attend to her.

The alleged demand for money before arrest or investigation by the police from victims of sexual and gender based violence is one of the reasons victims remain in abusive relationships.

Fausat explained that her husband, a Marine Engineer, beat her to the extent that she lost consciousness. When she came to, she was in a hospital. Fausat said she was sick and tired of the constant beating from her husband, insisting she wanted a divorce.

Fausat, a school teacher said: “My daughter and I went to Area M Police, where I narrated my ordeal to a woman police officer.  She directed me to another woman, who is tall and fair. She took me upstairs and asked me what happened. I narrated my story, and she said she was going to write a petition, and that I should pay N50, 000. I told her I didn’t have such an amount of money and then I called my mom, who then pleaded with the fair woman police to collect N10, 000, but she refused. She later reduced the money to N20, 000 and I had been trying to raise the money, but I couldn’t. I even asked my aunt to help with a loan, but she refused. My aunt said that lodging a complaint at police stations was free.”

Fausat’s predicament is the situation of most Nigerians, who are seeking justice. They have cases, need justice, but typically have no money to pursue such demands for justice.

This is not peculiar to domestic violence cases, but also with cases relating to police brutality and human rights violations.

The Nigerian Criminal Justice System is ringed in such a way that every tottering step towards the footpath to justice is frustrated because victims do not have money to pay for justice. The system now seemingly looks like only the rich can afford justice. This also continues to cause many victims, seeking justice or reparation to go home to leak their wounds in silence, leaving everything to the habitual ‘God will judge,’ mantra. This frustrating inability to get justice by the common masses continues to give rise to escalating cases of impunity and corruption in Nigeria.

A nongovernmental organisation, Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC), has, however, decided to step forward and do something about these injustices.

The Executive Director of RULAAC, Mr. Okechukwu Nwanguma on 14th April, 2022, while unveiling RULAAC’s new office located at Gowon Estate, Egbeda in Lagos State, announced the unveiling of a Community Access to Justice and Criminal Justice Interactive project.’

Nwanguma, explaining the significance of the project, said that RULAAC was implementing the project with support from Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) now OSF Africa. 

He explained: “The general objective of this project is to facilitate the coordination and projection of the voices of communities affected by insecurity and promote their involvement in designing and implementing workable solutions to insecurity in their communities and enhance access to justice to poor and most vulnerable groups who are disproportionately affected by a dysfunctional criminal justice system.”

According to him, the objectives of the project, amongst others, include to build the capacities of citizens to monitor and report incidents and human rights violations, amplify the narratives and voices of communities affected by insecurity to ensure they are involved in identifying and implementing workable solutions to insecurity in their communities and enhance access to justice to the poor and more vulnerable victims of police abuse through increasing the capacity of activists for timely interventions and engagement with relevant police authorities.

He noted that the project was being implemented in four target states namely, Anambra, Lagos, Rivers and Kaduna.

He further said: “But with the current security situation in Kaduna State, we’re likely to review the state as one of our focal states.  Under this project, we’re training selected human rights monitors and engaging the trained monitors to monitor and report incidents of attack in some communities in the target states.  This will entail interviews with community members and other key informants and relevant stakeholders and constructing a narrative capturing the true experience of the community. We will also engage litigation officers to monitor and carry out timely intervention, and accurate reporting of cases of human rights violations. RULAAC, through the monitors, will engage with police authorities in the various states, intervene and resolve cases of daily police abuse especially focusing on the poor and most vulnerable. This will include legal representation for poor and most vulnerable victims. The narratives we often hear are from the governments, terrorists and bandits, rather than from members of the communities. We have assembled a team of lawyers. There’s opportunity for victims of police abuse to report and have free legal service.”

He said that with an already established police accountability platforms in Lagos and Anambra states by RULAAC, the organisation was creating additional stakeholders’ platforms in the other two target states and would be organising periodic meetings. Also under this project, RULAAC would organise a national roundtable in Abuja sometime in May on the criminal justice system, the criminalisation of poverty and challenges of police arrest, detention and extortion over minor offences or civil matters.

“RULAAC has commissioned a research aimed at framing an advocacy document analysing the concept of criminalisation of poverty in law enforcement in Nigeria, identifying the various dimensions, linking this with both the Nigerian criminal justice system and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and illustrating with case law and practice how a dysfunctional criminal justice system disproportionately affects the poor in Nigeria,” Nwanguma said. 

He also revealed that the document emanating from this research was expected to set the stage and tone for the national roundtable in Abuja.

RULAAC, with support from MacArthur Foundation, was also implementing a Police Reform Project involving a consortium comprising RULAAC and others, including CLEEN Foundation, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Network on Police Reforms in Nigeria (NOPRIN), and the Rule of Law Office in the Presidency. 

He explained that the project was primary designed to address the persistent problem of police brutality and human rights violations by the police.

“Globally, police institutions have come under scrutiny and concerns about the delivery of their mandate, especially on the issue of extrajudicial killings and the use of force beyond permissible levels by police officers across the globe. The recent public outcry in the US following the killing of a black African-American – George Floyd sparked a reaction by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in the United States and across the world to restrain the powers of the police. George Floyd’s death followed a pattern of racially motivated police brutality against unarmed black males in the US. In Nigeria, there has been persistent clamour against police brutality by operatives of the Nigerian Police. The despicable activities of the defunct Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) operatives led to the #ENDSARS campaign against police brutality, and a national call to disband the Unit late 2020. These protests were precipitated by years of bottled-up citizens’ anger over police high-handedness, extortion, professional misconduct by operatives of the FSARS Unit and indeed the general police culture of incivility that has characterised the operations and personnel of Nigeria Police Force.”

Barrister Samuel Akpologun, who will lead other lawyers in helping victims to seek redress and get justice under the Community Access to Justice and Criminal Justice Interactive project, said: “There’s impunity and corruption in Nigeria, but the poor bears the worst in impunity. They bear the highhandedness of the police. Access to justice is very expensive and deliberately made so difficult by bottlenecks. The vehicle for helping the poor is deliberately made cumbersome. RULAAC is now making a way for everyone to access justice and it will be the voice for the voiceless. The end result is to curb impunity and corruption. When we begin to hold the abusers accountable, we will witness impact.”

The Executive Director, Women’s Rights and Health Project, Bose Ironsi, stated that she was happy about the Community Access to Justice and Criminal Justice Interactive project, stressing that she has so many cases, which her organisation could not pursue because there was no fund to service lawyers’ fees for victims.

She said: “We have over 20 cases in court, but no money for lawyers to follow through. We need probono lawyers. My dream is that wherever abuse happens, the community will demand for justice.”

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