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Friday, 11 May, 2001, 15:53 GMT 16:53 UK
Nigeria's trigger happy police
Nigeria's Mobile Police Force are much feared
By Sam Olukoya in Lagos

Posters bearing the inscription "The police is your friend" are displayed on the walls of police stations in Nigeria.

But for many Nigerians, the police are a foe and not a friend.

A lot of these mobile policemen still have the military hangover

Police spokesman
This applies especially to the mobile police, a paramilitary arm of the Nigerian police.

On the streets of major Nigerian cities, mobile policemen cut a larger than life image.

Their trademarks are an automatic rifle, a horse whip, boy's cap or beret, black shirt over khaki trousers and canvas boots.

And unfortunately they have the reputation of being poorly educated, poorly trained and trigger happy.

Kill and go

Nigerians have given them the nickname "kill and go" for their tendency to gun down innocent people and walk away.

Of late, the country has witnessed an increase in the killing and maiming of innocent people by the mobile police.

The police are trying to clean up their act
Recent cases involving the mobile police include the killing of a soccer fan over his T-shirt, the killing of five traders who were robbed and the shooting of a popular local musician after a musical performance over money.

The police have a major public relations problem, and the police authorities have announced measures to try to give the mobile police a human face.


One significant step is an order by the Inspector General of Police, Musiliu Smith, that mobile policemen nationwide be retrained in the use of firearms.

Another step is the introduction of the use of rubber bullets to quell riots.

Police spokesman Haz Iwendi says this is to prevent the frequent loss of lives during riots.

The mobile police who are generally sent out to quell riots do so with live bullets rather than rubber ones.

The weapon in the hands of the mobile policeman may also change.

Police Affairs Minister Stephen Akiga says the police could soon phase out the use of sub-machine guns in an attempt to stop cases of accidental discharge of bullets.

Just how many deaths result from accidental discharge from police guns is unclear, but most deaths caused by police are suspected to be the result of deliberate shootings.

"There are hundreds of tales of killings attributed to the police," says Olusegun Adeniyi, a columnist with This Day newspaper of Lagos.

A Lagos based news magazine says that last year, as many as 387 people were killed by the police in Lagos, Nigeria's commercial capital.

The victims are often branded armed robbers.

Mr Iwendi attributed the spate of police atrocities to long years of military rule feels an end to these atrocities is in sight with Nigeria's return to civil rule.

"A lot of these mobile policemen still have the military hangover and I assure you that the present administration will inculcate the spirit and virtues of democracy in men and officers of the police force," he says.

Nigerians say they are keeping their fingers crossed.

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