On Thursday, April 9, 2020, ten days after Nigeria entered a partial lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, officers of the Nigeria police, army, correctional service and others had extra-judicially killed 13 while enforcing the curfew – the virus had only claimed six lives by then. By May 4, when the government eased the lockdown, about 20 persons had been killed in similar circumstances. For three months, investigative journalist, Kemi Busari, followed the trails of these arbitrary killings which have left many families devastated, with no hope of justice. This is the last part in the series.
When not in school, Usman Abdulkadir, would either go for Arabic lessons, play with other children in his father’s compound or engage in this third activity, one most of his family members are not aware of.
“Usman was only a boy that was industrious,” says his father, Abdulkadir Sulaiman. “I did not know (he engages in this third activity) until after the incident. He was there, only helping people to put animals in the car. You buy a goat, he helps you put it, at least you give him N5. That way, he thought he could do something for himself.”
On April 20, 2020, a time most of Jigawa State was on lockdown, 10-year-old Usman had left home to engage in menial labour at Sankara market located in Ringim Local Government. The market, covering a small expanse, opens every Monday and thrives around the evening. Although there was a lockdown in force, residents of Sankara had trooped out to stock up.
The assault on Sankara market is similar to that which happened in Trikania Kaduna. The police had first approached the traders to tell them to clear off the market but only a few did. On a return, the officers unleashed terror.
Residents say they heard gunshots, then everyone scampered for safety. Some moments later, Usman was found lying unconscious in the market, blood oozing out of his skull. He had been hit.
Kamal Abdulrasaq, an older friend, was the first person to reach Usman.
“I was already running but when I heard gunshots, I came back and saw the boy laid there; I took him up,” Kamal says. ‘’I even thought he was not the one, then I realised it was him, Usman. We took him, ran towards there (pointing in a direction) boarded a bike, and rushed him to the hospital.”
Kamal said he witnessed Usman being ‘hit’ by a tear gas shell fired by the policemen, other residents say it was a bullet.
Usman was quickly taken to the Sankara Primary Health Centre, some 500 metres away. By this time, none of his family members was yet aware of the tragedy. Abdulkadir was taking in the evening breeze when the news filtered in.
“I witnessed the pour (influx) of sympathisers crying that Usman was shot in the market by the police. I quickly rushed out to find where he was, he was at the primary health centre in Sankara here. I went down there, I met another crowd of people. When I entered the hospital, I saw him on their bed screaming in pain. I saw the shot (wound) under his ear.”
Usman was given a first aid treatment at the Sankara Primary Health Centre and thereafter transferred to Ringim General Hospital for further treatment.
Two days later, noticing that his health condition was not improving, medical personnel at Ringim General Hospital advised that he be taken to Rasheed Sekoni Specialist Hospital in Dutse, the state capital.
The family heeded but he was, same day, referred to Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Kano where he was to undergo surgery on his skull.
The family arranged for the transfer with high hopes that Usman would get better care. Barely 24 hours after, on Thursday, April 23, Usman breathed his last.
Who, what killed Usman?
Shortly after Usman was taken to Sankara Primary Health Centre, residents of the community trooped out to protest what they believed was a case of extra-judicial killing of an innocent boy by a police officer. They heard reverberation of gunshots; one of the shots must have hit Usman, they believe. But the police have a contrary narrative.
The then Public Relations Officer (PRO) Jigawa Police Command, Audu Jinjiri, said the police went to the market to enforce a shut-down order imposed on markets in the state but was met by resistance by locals who pelted them with stones.
“The boy was hit by one of the stones peddled (thrown) by the angry locals,” he said, denying that a police officer shot Usman.
Many months after, Usman’s family members and residents are still surprised that the police would not take responsibility for the killing.
The majority of them believed that Usman was hit by a police officer, one they recognise physically and by name.
“The bullet scratched the place (skull) brushed him and went out…I went and confirmed. That was not a stone,” says Abdulkadir.
Abdulkadir added that a stone, as claimed by the police, ‘’would not make a passage through the skull as did the bullet that hit Usman’’.
Seeking some answers, PREMIUM TIMES traced the medical officer who first attended to Usman at the primary health centre. Salisu Musa said he only administered first aid on Usman but couldn’t ascertain if it was or wasn’t a bullet wound.
“I just gave him a first aid treatment and referred him to Ringim General Hospital for further management,” he said. “I don’t know whether it’s a gunshot or stone.”
Since it was only a primary health centre, where such complicated cases rarely surface, the centre lacked facilities for the treatment and kept no such record.
We then made a request, backed by the family, for Usman’s medical record at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital. The hospital was yet to issue the information as of the time of publishing this.
Tear gas shell, bullet or stone? The puzzle of what or who killed Usman still hangs in the balance.
For several months we tried, Abdulkadir turned down this newspaper’s attempt to have him talk about the incident. “I’ve left everything to God,” he would say. He made his reasons known when he finally agreed to an interview.
“I virtually did nothing because I know the kind of society we are living in,” he said adding that the denial by the police is enough pointer to what he would face if he sought justice.
Usman’s sister, Summaya, a 400-level law student of Bayero University Kano, does not entirely believe in the efficacy of the system but still wants justice.
“At that time I tried to take legal actions, to go to court and seek justice. Only one thing is that at that time, there were lockdown and corona(virus) issues so I couldn’t do anything but always I’m thinking of what to do,” she said.
Summaya wants the police to take responsibility, identify the erring officer and charge him to court. Should the police fail, she is open to initiating litigation by herself or collaborate with any concerned party.
Cover-up or pseudo investigation?
Two days after Usman’s death, the police released a statement where it promised an investigation, particularly into the allegation that shots fired by officers killed the 10-year-old.
Mr Jinjiri then said all the officers who participated in the lockdown enforcement at Sankara market ‘’were under investigation’’.
“The command has no intention to cover any of its personnel found violating rules of engagement and the outcome of the investigation would be known publicly soon,” Mr Jinjiri said.
About one year after, however, the police are yet to circulate the outcome of their investigation. The current PRO of Jigawa, Aminudeen Zubair, said he only assumed office in January 2021 and has no details of the incident.
When PREMIUM TIMES reached Mr Jinjiri, he asked that all enquiries be directed to the state command as he no longer has the mandate to speak for the police.
Police denials notwithstanding, the blemish on the officers that stormed Sankara market that day and, at large, the country’s number one security institution will remain until conscious efforts are made to bring closure to the killing.
Abdulkadir says: “It was definite that it was the police but in their usual way, they’ll never accept that they did anything. Coronavirus did not kill as many people as the police did or security operatives did in Nigeria.”
Blood on uniforms
Nigerians continue to air their views on the high-handedness and impunity of the nation’s security forces. This investigation is another pointer to these concerns.
Of the 18 cases tracked, that of Onyedikachi Agbatuwa inclusive although it occurred after the lockdown, none of the victims has gotten justice.
The ‘best records’ were perhaps dismissals of personnel which only happened in Abia and Rivers.
For others, such as the officers who killed five in Kaduna, the warders who opened fire on inmates in Kaduna Correctional Centre, the drunk officer who killed a 22-year-old and inflicted on another life injury in Anambra, justice is yet to be served.
There is also the NSCDC officer who killed a breadwinner, the unknown assailant of a teenager in Ebonyi, the soldier who chased and killed a father of one in Delta and police officer whose actions led to the killing of a 10-year-old brilliant schoolboy. For now, in these cases, it is either denial, zero or slow attempt at justice or a complete cover-up.
Apart from the NSCDC officer who has now been dismissed, all others involved in the cases mentioned above are still in active service feeding off the sweat of Nigerians who pay taxes.
The lethargy of the police cannot be overlooked. In all of the cases, the police promised an investigation. Further, they promised to make the investigation public.
One year down the line, none of such investigations was made public.
These inadequacies by the police snowballed into the famous #EndSARS protest which rocked the country in October 2020.
Addressing protesters, President Muhammadu Buhari assured that the excesses of the police would be checked and that the “fundamental rights of all citizens are (would be) protected.”
But it was only a matter of time after Mr Buhari’s weak assurances, the police has killed again.