Nearly three years after Ibrahim Oladeni died as an officer of Nigeria’s Special Constabulary Police, his widow, Omolade, and his child are neglected and suffering.
After graduating from the Osun State College of Education in Ila-Orangun, South West Nigeria, in 2017, Ibrahim, who was in his early 20s at the time, was faced with the challenge of securing a good-paying teaching job. As life after graduation became overwhelming for the young man, he settled for a job that did not align with what he studied in school.
“He took a job as a storekeeper at one of the factories in Osun, which was what he was doing until we got married in 2021,” Omolade recalled.
Months before the wedding, Ibrahim joined Nigeria’s Special Constabulary Police following the recruitment of volunteers across all parts of the country in 2020. The exercise was to implement community policing policy and complement the police force.
After three weeks at the police training school in Ibadan, Ibrahim and others were deployed to different police stations in their local government. Though the special constables are not armed, they confront armed thieves and perform other risky functions as they dress in police uniforms. On June 2, 2021, armed robbers operating at a commercial bank in Ikire also attacked the Ikire Divisional Police headquarters where Ibrahim worked. They shot and killed him alongside two other officers.
It was only three months after his wedding.
“It was the saddest day of my life because we just had a baby,” Omolade said. “We only saw some of his friends. The leadership of the police force did not commiserate with us, let alone make arrangements for a befitting burial for my husband despite dying on duty. Unfortunately, myself and the child have been exposed to harsh conditions since then; we now stay with my late husband’s parents.”
‘A case too many’
Like Ibrahim, many other special constables have been murdered while defending their country. Wahab Adigun* was attacked in front of his house in Osun while performing ablution for his morning prayer on Jan. 2, 2023. According to the deceased’s widow, who preferred not to be named for security reasons, her husband was investigating the incessant robbery incidents in their community at the time he was attacked by unknown individuals.
“The night before he died, he arrived home late, around 10:30 p.m., and he chose to sleep in the sitting room. By 4:00 a.m., when he stepped out to perform ablution, I heard him screaming. Before I got out with other neighbours to rescue him, we met him on the floor, and there was blood at the back of his head.”
Adigun died before he could be taken to the hospital.
“We informed his division, but no one was present to sympathise with us. It was more like he died in vain because he left nothing behind for me and his two children. One was two years old, and the other was just four months old. So, they did not have the opportunity to recognise their father when he died,” the widow said.
Editi George, who was appointed by his colleagues as the Commandant-General of the Special Constabulary Police, said no fewer than 200 constables have died on duty across Nigeria. By his own account, the community police are treated no better than slaves.
“We were trained at the police camps in all states of the country, and we were made to understand that our job is as important as the job of the regular police officers. By the time we got to our respective stations, we were given assignments and made to carry out the arrest of hardened criminals even though we were not allowed to use arms. Many of our men were murdered in the process, and all their families got was punishment for the loss of their loved ones.”
The special constabulary scheme is a creation of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) Act of 2020, with the aim to address the country’s rising security challenges. According to the law, those recruited are considered part of the Nigeria Police Force, and recruitment shall be for persons between the ages of 21 and 50. Aside from being of good character and physically fit, they must have signified willingness to serve as special constables.
The law states that the Inspector General of Police (IGP) may provide special constables with batons, clothing, and any other equipment they think of as necessary.
When some of the special constables protested in Osun over non-payment of their allowances in September 2022, Yemisi Opalola, police spokesperson in the state, said the protest was baseless, arguing that the constabulary scheme is a voluntary service.
However, Section 112 of the NPF Act says that a person’s service as a special constable shall render them eligible for a stipend as may be determined by the IGP and approved by the Police Council. It also mentions that reimbursement would be made to special constables in respect of expenses incurred by them in connection with their attendance at periods of instruction and as compensation for loss of (other) earnings during periods of full-time duty.
The law is not exact on how much this stipend should be and is also silent on the agency responsible for its payment, a development that has pushed thousands of persons working as special constabularies to survive on bribes and extortion.
Meanwhile, the same law specifically stipulates that the constables shall not benefit from the Police Reward Fund, be entitled to living accommodation at the government’s expense, and not be entitled to pension. In addition to this, some of the stipends the law provides for may be withdrawn by a senior police officer if, in their opinion, they have a good reason for doing so.
“We have been used for more than three years now without getting anything. It was never stated that we were employed to do voluntary work. We got uniforms, were deployed to various commands to work with the conventional police, and have contributed a lot to the eradication of security challenges in our various communities. Hunger can cause a lot of things in the life of anyone, and our men are facing a lot of hardship,” George lamented.
Abdul Mahmud, a lawyer and human rights advocate, told HumAngle that the Act which created the constabulary force deemed it a part of the NPF and the IGP needs to exercise his powers to improve their welfare.
“The Police hierarchy can pass regulations (approved by the Police Council) for determining the issues of discipline, allowances and pensions of special constables whose tenures of service are expected to last for a year, subject to further renewal of service,” he argued.
“Flowing from my arguments above and pursuant to Sections 106 – 118 of the Act, I think the responsibility lies with the police, and all the police hierarchy needs to do is to seek legal guidance from the Chief Law Officer of the Federation on the limits of powers of the IGP under the Police Act in order to seek funds for the payments of stipends of special constables.”
‘I joined to correct ills’
Before joining the special constabulary in 2022, Funsho Ademola* worked as a driver in one of the commercial banks in Lagos. But when one of the generators in the office was stolen, he was arrested alongside three security guards. Though the arrested guards confessed that they committed the crime and exonerated Ademola, he was not released by police.
“May we not be unfortunate,” he said as he began to narrate his ordeal. “I joined the special constabulary police because of my life experience. Many times, they (police) know the truth but choose to punish innocent people. The guys arrested with me said I wasn’t part of them, yet I was not released. I spent 36 days in detention before we were arraigned and remanded in Ikoyi prison for 11 more days.”
He described the period as the saddest in his life. He even contemplated committing suicide.
“In fact, I could not stand properly after I was released because we were 47 sleeping in a cell. I was punished for the offence I never committed.”
When he was discharged, he decided to join the police as a special constable so he could support community investigations and ensure that innocent people did not end up like him. But the journey has been full of hardship.
“I have not received anything from the police since then,” Ademola explained. “I go to work without being paid. Even the little I get from the streets is not enough to feed me, let alone my family. But thank God for my wife, who has been paying the children’s school fees and feeding us.”
Musiliudeen Alayande* has not only faced difficulties in paying his four children’s school fees, but his wife no longer respects him, he says, because she has become the breadwinner. He has repeatedly borrowed money from his friends and relatives to the extent that they no longer answer his calls. According to him, joining the special constabulary police in 2020 was the greatest regret of his life.
Prior to his deployment, he worked as a farmer in the Modakeke area of Osun. Then, all he prayed for was to remain healthy to see his children complete their university education. He, however, took the decision to join the force after repeated reports of criminal herders tormenting farmers on their farms.
“We were told that we would gather information from our communities to assist regular police officers, but when we got to different stations that we were deployed to, the narrative changed. We were told to be coming every day due to a lack of personnel. After months of waiting endlessly, I decided to skip duties sometimes and visit my farm so I could keep up with my responsibilities as a father and husband at home.”
Alayande says he has been locked up repeatedly by his Divisional Police Officer (DPO) for skipping work. One time, it was after a suspect escaped from the station. But, “how can one suffer without allowances?” he asked. “Some of us have lost our marriage because we are seen as being irresponsible at home.”
Surviving on bribes
As non-payment of allowances persists, the special constables who spoke to us said they have resorted to collecting money from civilians to work on complaints lodged at the police stations. The bribe is known as “mobilisation fee”. While they are aware that the practice is illegal, they say it’s their only means of survival. Many times, the “mobilisation fee” demanded by police discourages poor Nigerians from pursuing justice.
“How would you ask me to arrest thieves without paying my allowances for three years or more?” asked Alayande.
“Seeing my colleagues’ widows and children suffer after their death is not a good way to encourage us. We were mobilised for the last elections, but nothing was given. The government isn’t fair, and security may get worse if this continues.”
Corroborating this, Lawyer Abdul Mahmud told HumAngle that beyond the fact that lack of financial support doesn’t incentivise performance, it serves as a blight on whatever steps are taken at the local community levels to address insecurity.
On Dec. 21, 2023, the NPF dismissed two special constables caught in a viral video demanding money from a foreign tourist along the Iseyin-Oyo road. The officers, Kareem Fatai and Jimoh Lukman had flagged down the biker to ask where she was headed. They then asked her to give them money or anything in her possession.
Speaking of his experience, one of the dismissed officers, Lukman, said he abandoned his job as a mechanic to join the force. After this decision, he lost all his customers and started working at Ojongbodu Police Station in Oyo West.
“Since I joined the force, I have ruined my wife’s petty business. I have six children who depend on me and I work as a commercial motorcyclist sometimes to put food on the table for my family. When they arrested us, they handcuffed us, locked us in the cell for a few days and drove us to Abuja at midnight. Till now, I cry whenever I remember that I was embarrassed on national television.”
When his children saw the viral video, they became ashamed and refused to attend their respective schools the following day due to mockery. His colleague, Fatai, told HumAngle he has refused to leave his house since the dismissal, as people in his community now jokingly refer to him as “give me money”.
He worked as a truck driver before joining the special constabulary force three years ago, so the police assigned him to drive a van in his station. On several occasions, he embarked on trips that almost cost him his life.
“I was basically doing morning and night with the patrol van. We were on patrol when we were captured on video. Despite all our sacrifices, we were embarrassed and made to spend 15 days at Eleyele Police Station before our dismissal was announced. I have now become a liability to my wife and work as a labourer on farms, helping people cut bushes. I left the farm over 25 years ago, but I have to return,” he said in between tears.
HumAngle understands that conventional police officers often use special constables to extort Nigerians, giving them an opportunity to deny the crime if the constabularies are caught.
“After all, the two special constables were not the only ones on the patrol team. Did the leader of the team get punished? No. It is pure injustice, and this is not the first time we are experiencing this. When a team of police officers on patrol are caught committing a crime, they ensure that constabularies get punished instead. They use us to commit all forms of crime and then pretend as if they don’t know us when we are in trouble. It tells you the high level of discrimination and harassment discouraging our men,” said George, Commandant-General of the Special Constabulary Police.
HumAngle contacted police spokesperson Muyiwa Adejobi for comments on the concerns raised by the special constables, but he has yet to respond as of when this report was filed.
Meanwhile, the dismissal of Fatai and Lukman has led to calls for an overhaul of the special constabulary scheme. The Police Service Commission (PSC), which oversees the NPF, said there’s a need for an entirely different set of uniforms for officers of the special constabulary to differentiate them from regular police officers. It also called for the disbandment of constabularies in states where its officers are unpaid.
“We were employed because they said we understand the community better. I have been using their (police) uniform to work as a personal driver for a VIP in Lagos. He pays me well because we don’t get disturbed at any security roadblocks anytime we travel to the South East,” a constable who pleaded anonymity told HumAngle.
For Abdul Mahmud, the long-term solution is for the National Assembly to subject the Police Act to further amendment in order to give clarity to the framework of the special constabulary force.
*Names asterisked in the report were changed to protect the identities of officers who pleaded anonymity.
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