Canada is refusing to let Olushola Wazzi Popoola, a former Nigerian policeman who was a member of the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), into its territory after concluding that he aided and abetted police brutality and crimes against humanity back in Nigeria.
Popoola left Nigeria for the United States in 2016, before subsequently going to Canada where he attempted to claim refugee status. He was found to be inadmissible to Canada because there were “reasonable grounds to believe that he engaged in crimes against humanity while serving as a police officer in Nigeria”. However, he sought judicial review of his determination of inadmissibility by the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.
Popoola lost out after the Federal Court decided he “made a knowing and significant contribution to the crimes committed by the Nigerian Police Force”.
Explaining it’s decision to dismiss Popoola’s application, the court said: “
“Mr. Popoola is a citizen of Nigeria and a former member of the Nigerian Police Force. He was found to be inadmissible to Canada because there are reasonable grounds to believe that he engaged in crimes against humanity while serving as a police officer in Nigeria. He now seeks judicial review of his determination of inadmissibility. I am dismissing his application, because the decision-maker reasonably assessed the relevant factors for deciding whether Mr. Popoola made a knowing and significant contribution to the crimes committed by the Nigerian Police Force.
“Mr. Popoola completed his training and became a member of the Nigerian Police Force in 2002. From 2002 to 2005, he was a member of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad [SARS] in Abuja. He was then transferred to the anti-robbery unit (not to be confused with the SARS) in Lagos until 2009. From 2009 to 2011, he returned to the SARS, this time in Lagos.
“In 2011, following the death of his father, Mr. Popoola resigned from the Nigeria Police Force. According to his testimony, however, the Force never formally accepted his resignation and he had to continue reporting to work. From 2011, he was affected to Iju as an ordinary police officer. He was promoted to the rank of Sergeant in 2015 and he left the Force the same year.
“In 2016, he left Nigeria for the United States. He then came to Canada, where he claimed refugee status. His claim was suspended while his case was referred to the Immigration Division [ID] of the Immigration and Refugee Board for a determination of his inadmissibility.
“On October 15, 2019, the ID found Mr. Popoola inadmissible pursuant to section 35(1)(a) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, SC 2001, c 27 [the Act]. The ID reviewed the documentary evidence and found that the Nigerian Police Force, and the SARS in particular, have committed crimes against humanity from 2002 to 2015. This is because mistreatment and torture of police detainees is endemic in Nigeria, for a number of reasons including corruption and impunity. Extrajudicial killings are frequent. The SARS, in particular, is singled out in the documentary evidence as one of the most brutal units of the Force.
“The main part of the ID’s decision is devoted to the issue of whether Mr. Popoola made a knowing and significant contribution to the SARS’s criminal activity. A finding that Mr. Popoola engaged in crimes against humanity does not require proof that he personally tortured detainees — which he denies. Rather, his contribution to the organization’s crimes must be assessed according to the test laid out by the Supreme Court of Canada in Ezokola v Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2013 SCC 40,  2 SCR 678 [Ezokola]. In this regard, the ID considered that Mr. Popoola voluntarily joined the Nigerian Police Force; that he spent five years with the SARS, a unit known for being especially brutal; that he admitted knowing about the prevalence of torture and mistreatment of detainees in the organization, although he tried to minimize its scope in his testimony; and that he resigned for personal reasons, not because he learned of human rights abuses.”
The ID concluded that since Popoola reasonably knew that when he was a member of the SARS, the suspects he handed over to the criminal investigation department would be subject to human rights violations, this was a significant contribution to the criminal purpose of the organization since he had the knowledge of what could befall the individual subject to investigation.
Popoola defended himself before the ID, saying his resignation from the Nigeria Police was rejected. He emphasized on his low rank in the Nigeria Police, and stated that “his five years with the SARS is a relatively short time”. He also added that “his contribution to the organization’s crimes was not significant”.
However, the court dismissed Popoola’s application for judicial review, saying: “The style of cause is amended to substitute the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness as the respondent.
“The application for judicial review is dismissed. No question is certified.”
The Nigerian Police Force has been under criticism from human rights organisations for extrajudicial killing and criminal activities. A December 2009 report by Amnesty International titled Killing at Will: Extrajudicial Executions and Other Unlawful Killings by the Police in Nigeria is quoted as saying “unnecessary and unlawful use of firearms by the NPF is not a question of a few isolated cases, but of a widespread phenomenon”.
The recent #EndSARS protests which took place in Nigeria and several places around the world, including Canada, further put the country’s police under international lens. The protests which eventually were quelled by soldiers who opened fire at protesters ended in a massacre at the Lekki Toll Gate.
The case of Popoola stands in contrast to the various state judicial panels across the country. The panels have been fraught with the absence of errant policemen who either can’t be found or simply refuse to attend the judicial panels.
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