Nigerian police neglect widows of cops slain by Boko Haram - study

The Nigerian Police Force is not only failing to pay all the financial  benefits owed to the families of their officers killed in action against Boko Haram militants, but in some cases sexual favours and kickbacks have been demanded of the widows in return for the dues they did receive, according to new research in the northern city of Kano’s police command.

The study, by the Kano-based Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD), sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation, presents the results of interviews with nine widows of policemen who had been based in Bompai and Hotoro barracks. It found six had been paid funeral allowances and their husbands’ pensions, one had received just the pension, and two of the nine had been granted neither funeral allowance or pension payment. None of the widows had received their husband’s gratuity – a potentially sizeable lump sum depending on his years of service.

“The Nigerian Police Force doesn’t care about their own, they don’t care about the welfare of their men that have put their lives on the line so others can live,” study author, Fatima Ibrahim, told IRIN. “The men have no incentive to fight this insurgency because they know if they are killed, then their families are in trouble.” 

Corruption

The research, which took place between April and July 2014, also revealed that before any of the pension entitlements were awarded, the officer responsible for issuing the payments asked each widow for a bribe of between US$90 and US$190. “Those who could not afford such [an] amount, were asked to meet the officer-in-charge of issuing the cheques at a hotel”, the study noted, where he demanded sex. The officer has since been dismissed. 

Although the women are entitled to stay in police accommodation until their full benefits are paid, those in Bompai barracks complained the police authorities were “harassing them” to leave. At Hotoro the widows were under the protection of the second-in-command, but both groups spoke of feeling like outcasts – shunned by other wives, and ignored even by the friends of their late husbands, who feared they would be asked for financial support.

“All the wives responded that life has not been easy … since their husbands died, leaving them with the burden of taking care of the children alone,” and were plagued by unsympathetic in-laws, the study said. The inspector general of police had made one donation of food items, but although some of the women had asked to be employed as cleaners, nothing more was forthcoming from the police command.

Doing the best we can?

The new police commissioner for Kano, Ibrahim Idris, told IRIN that some delay in paying benefits was inevitable. “Funeral allowances are paid immediately, but there are legal considerations for the other claims. For example, when it comes to pensions and gratuities, we have to be very meticulous and verify the next of kin.” 

He insisted that, according to police regulations, widows are fully entitled to remain in the barracks and cannot be forced to leave until all their benefits are settled. And, in the case of officers missing in action, their immediate family continues to receive salary payments for 12 months until they are confirmed dead. 

“We are doing the best we can within the context of our policies and laws,” said Idris, who until his deployment to Kano last month, had headed the para-military Police Mobile Force (PMF). He rated morale as “average” and said the police command was aware of the problem among officers battling Boko Haram in the northeast. He gave an example of how he and the inspector general had made an official $10,000 Christmas donation to the next-of-kin of the 35 officers killed in an attack on a PMF training school in Gwoza, in August last year.

Human Rights Watch researcher Mausi Segun believes there are “patterns of neglect” within all of Nigeria’s security services “where lives are expendable”. She said there was anecdotal evidence that some of the families of soldiers killed in the six-year conflict in the northeast have also been “totally ignored”. She added: “It borders on wickedness.”

Ibrahim’s study on police widows will feature in a soon-to-be released CITAD book, Insurgency and Human Rights in Northern Nigeria.

oa/am