A lesson for trigger-happy policemen

Gunmen-kill-five-policemenTHE 10-year imprisonment handed Segun Fabunmi, a former Divisional Police Officer (DPO), will not bring back to life Citizen Ademola Daramola whom he shot dead, but it carries strong lessons. Fabunmi’s conviction and sentencing serves to underline that every man will take responsibility for his act of commission or omission; and that transparent justice is the minimum tolerable factor in any civilised society.

Fabunmi was sentenced to 10 years in prison for manslaughter, thus marking a positive step towards curbing the excesses of overzealous police officers, who engage in acts that result in the premature death of harmless citizens at the slightest provocation. The real lesson is that the police should seriously embrace the training and culture of civility when dealing with citizens; a culture and training on crowd management, which could have served as caution for the excesses they display. And policemen should strive always, irrespective of circumstances, to accord full respect to the sanctity of human life.

Daramola, it would be recalled, was shot and killed by DPO Fabunmi, on January 9, 2012, during a nation-wide protest against government’s removal of fuel subsidy. A fashion designer, Daramola was shot, when Fabunmi led a patrol team comprising five officers to Yaya-Abatan and Abeokuta streets in the Ogba area of Ikeja, Lagos.

Following the ugly incident, Fabunmi was arrested and subsequently arraigned on May 5, 2013, by the Lagos State government on a seven-count charge of murder, attempted murder and causing grievous bodily harm. At the time of the incident, Fabunmi was in charge of Pen Cinema Police Station, Agege in the suburb of Lagos.

Incidents of police brutality, and the so-called accidental discharge, are rampant in the country. What is less visible are efforts aimed at bringing the culprits to book; a situation that encourages greater lawlessness on the part of overzealous policemen.

The judgment against Fabunmi, therefore, is a strong warning to the police and indeed, all law enforcement officers, to exercise restraint in dealing with members of the public.

The Lagos High Court, presided over by Justice Olabisi Akinlade, in convicting Fabunmi of manslaughter, held that the evidence provided by the defence team, availed the convict of the defence of provocation, resulting in the lesser charge of manslaughter, and not murder.

Justice Akinlade also found Fabunmi guilty of shooting three other persons, Alimi Abubakar, Egbujor Samuel and Chizoba Odoh, during the protest, thereby causing them grievous bodily harm. She sentenced Fabunmi to five years on this count. Both sentences are to run concurrently.

While the court concurred with Fabunmi that there was, indeed, a mob at the scene of the incident, Justice Akinlade held that Fabunmi gave conflicting testimonies on whether, or how, an attempt was made to snatch his AK47 rifle and who fired the weapon.
The learned judge rejected the defence’s argument that the shooting was the result of an accident when Fabunmi struggled with the mob to retain possession of his rifle.

The court’s analysis of the crime scene is an essential admonition to all gun-wielding policemen: Based on the witnesses’ testimonies and all the evidence tendered, the judge observed that Fabunmi recklessly shot his rifle and in the process the bullet hit the deceased. The judge noted that the convict knew that shooting an AK47 can cause grievous bodily harm to anyone that the bullet hits. “The fact that he was on a lawful duty did not mean that he should have shot his gun,” the judge said. This is the key lesson for all policemen on duty, as a little more care from them can save lives.

Moreover, public protest is an essential ingredient of democracy, of which the police should learn to handle with caution.

Given the frequency of the ugly incidents involving the police and members of the public, the onus is on the police authorities to reorient their personnel, especially, on the modalities of handling protests. The prevalent malfeasance in government is a ready ground for protest. The police should learn the civilized way of dealing with members of the public without necessarily killing them. This is the norm in other climes, where the police employ tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets as conventional weapons of crowd control. The Nigeria police should learn from such societies to prevent unnecessary fatalities.

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