By Ooko Victor
The subject of extra-judicial killings in Kenya is not bound to go away anytime soon. Indeed, a video clip circulating in social media, as well as mainstream media, reignited the debate on this highly emotive issue for which public opinion is divided right through the middle. In the video that can be viewed here, a plainclothes policeman shoots and kills an unarmed suspect in police custody, on the full glare of the public along a busy street.
Whereas everyone is entitled to their own opinion, public opinion is not always right. And if right is determined by established laws and procedures, the absoluteness of public opinion becomes a folly. Article 238 of the Kenyan constitution promulgated in 2010 states that we must pursue national security within the confines of the rule of law, human rights and professionalism, all key aspects disregarded by the police officers on the ground that fateful day. Further, article 244 of the same constitution which establishes the National Police Service gives all servicemen guiding principles to ensure professionalism and not roadside justice crafted out of emotions.
Aside from the constitution, let us look at the meaning of the word police and the Concise Oxford Dictionary (Tenth Edition) defines police as a civil force responsible for the prevention and detection of crime and maintenance of public order. This is obviously another great departure from the tit-for-tat notion of justice expended on First Street, in Eastleigh, Nairobi on 1st of April. Even where the suspects have been linked to a spate of robberies, legal procedures already exist for discharging justice upon their capture. None of these include roadside killings.
Interviewed shortly after the gory images began circulating on social media, police spokesman Charles Owino responded, “In case it is true, that what we have seen on social media actually happened, then it would be very unfortunate. We are going to have a probe on these allegations that have come out.” This is a clear indication that the police officers were working in contravention to their legal mandate and as such should be investigated and held accountable for utter disregard for constitutional limitations provided for them upon arresting a suspect.
The statistics on extrajudicial killings are even more damning. Amnesty International ranks Kenya top in Africa in cases of police shootings and killings of civilians. In fact, by October 2016, 122 out of 177cases of extra-judicial killings in Africa were from Kenya. A comprehensive discussion on the same can also be found on a previous article I did, The Human Statistic: The Sad Reality of Extra-Judicial Killings in Kenya
Extra-judicial killings is a shortcut notion of justice. It is unjust in itself and incapable of providing justice in its true definition. Where suspects alleged to be part of a gang are arrested, are they not more valuable to the police in dismantling the gang when dead. I must admit I understand the frustrations by the section of the public who have been accosted and robbed of valuables or even lost their loved ones in the hands of gang members. Unfortunately, using that excuse to support the miscarriage of justice can have the effect of a double edged sword. Police officers are civil servants entrusted with a firearm to maintain law and order. Law comes before order, jungle justice is not in accordance with the law. And whereas they may get it right 40% of the time, in the remaining 60%, we may just be supporting coverups and killing of innocent civilians.
Elija Mbugua Njoroge, now deceased, a young man from Mathare, is just one among the innocent victims of police killings. The video courtesy of Nation Tv Kenya can be seen here further raising doubts on extra-judicial killings as subjective and an avenue to senseless killing of youth from poor backgrounds in suspicion of engaging in crime, without subjecting them to the due process enshrined in the constitution.
In saying that however, it is also important that we establish structures to minimize the push factors that continue to thrust most youth into petty crimes and in some cases, gang violence. Social media images of the 2 youth killed in Eastleigh shows them proudly glorifying their ‘gangster’ life and even displaying their loot. These, in my opinion, are the doings of juvenile minds hardly in touch with reality and the possible repercussions of their actions. They, like many others, deserved the opportunity of rehabilitation provided for by the justice system.
The doctrine of innocent until proven guilty should stand for all. The hardcore robbers along our streets, if caught unarmed or having surrendered, as well as the high and mighty accused of economic crimes. If that is not the case, then we should legalize a firing squad for suspects of Goldenberg as well as other scandals in the government ranks.
The writer is a Research Consultant for Savic Consultants in Nairobi.