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Policemen accused of assaulting a civilian have been given an interesting punishment – redeployment

A group of officers who detained and tortured Lagos state resident Tunde Abass have been left off the hook by the Nigeria Police Force. 

The officers involved have rather been redeployed to another station, the Force said in a statement.

Abass was arrested and tortured in a police cell on Saturday, March 20, 2021, for filming policemen while they assaulted a couple at the Onipanu area of Lagos state.

“They were very angry,” Abass recalls. “The DPO accused me of being one of the people that burnt their station during the #EndSARS protest last October. He said he was going to use me as an example. They beat me and tortured me. Then they tried to pressure me to write a statement, but I told them I wouldn’t do so until I saw my lawyer or my relatives.”

After several failed attempts to get Abass tried before a court and remanded in custody, Abbas was eventually released on Tuesday, March 23rd, 2021. 

His story, which has since been widely circulated in the media, reached the Police headquarters. The State PPRO, Muyiwa Adejobi, personally came to take him away from police custody to his office in Ikeja, where he was pacified and released.

“He (PPRO Adejobi) told me that there are always good and bad cops, and that the Police were sorry for what had happened,” Abass says.

In a controversial response, the Lagos State Command announced the redeployment of the DPO at Onipanu station, identified as Festus Ani, as well as all other officials involved in the assault. 

Barrister Adeshina Ogunlana, the lead counsel for Abass, says this is a mere cover up.

“Somebody has abused the rights of a citizen for that long – he has detained him, tortured him, threatened to kill him, allowed suspected criminals in the cells to beat him up and you are now saying you are redeploying him?” Ogunlana questions. “You won’t demote or dismiss him? Not even an orderly room trial? You are redeploying him so he can exact that same bestial and unprofessional behaviour to others?”

Ogunlana says his client will go to court to seek compensation from the police. 

 “You are talking of a DPO; that is the head of police in that division. And that means if he is that bad, the officers under him would be worse in their treatment of Nigerian people.”

Meanwhile, human rights lawyer Inibehe Effiong has accused the Commissioner of Police in Lagos state of being more reactionary than proactive.

“The CP is always reactionary in his approach,” Effiong says. “More often than not, he only reacts to complaints that have received publicity. When the image of the command has been publicly excoriated, that is when he will then try to engage in some form of appeasement, which is mostly not sufficient.”

Effiong continues: “If the CP has come to a decision that what was done to Abass was wrong, the officers involved should face an orderly room trial. Anything short of that is just playing to the gallery.”

Another lawyer, Ade Ademiluyi, says the case of Tunde Abass is an indication that police brutality is still very much prevalent despite the disbandment of SARS after the #EndSARS protest in October 2020.

“[The redeployment] is not commensurate to the demand of justice at all,” Ademiluyi says. “In every way, what the Lagos State Police Command is trying to show is that men and officers of the Command who brutalise people can go scot free. But they can’t go scot free because the court of law is still there for Mr Tunde Abass.”

“First of all,” Ademiluyi continues, “the officers ought to go through an orderly room trial within the Nigerian Police Force’s disciplinary system and then get up to the level of dismissal. This would then serve as a deterrence to others who want to tow that line.”

Barrister Ogunlana insists his client, Tunde Abass, wants more than just redeployment, as acts like the one meted out to him means #EndSARS has not yet had the desired impact of change.

“Have the police department written a public letter of apology? [And if so] have they advertised it in the newspapers? Have they approached Abass with tangible compensation for the brutalisation of his person? Nothing like that,” Ogunlana states.

“That redeployment is just a government cover up and we are not satisfied with that.”