When Police Extra-judicial Killings Pose Threat To Rebranding

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The Nigerian Police tend not to bring suspects of crimes before a judge within the constitutional 24 or 48 hours, but detain them for longer periods of time in police custody. The worst aspect of the matter is that conditions in Police cells are worse than those in the prisons.
The police is your friend,” is a common aphorism amongst men of the Nigeria Police Force but unfortunately this is not totally true considering the antecedents of policemen.
Unlawful arrests of innocent citizens are carried out and the police continue to execute suspects extra-judicially and torture is widespread in police custody.
Detention in police lockups is intended to be for a short time, at about 24 hours before one is charged to court.
Constitutionally, it is only the courts that have the final say as to whether a person is to be remanded in prison or finally executed depending on the magnitude of offence committed.
The Nigerian police tend not to bring suspects of crimes before a judge within the constitutional 24 or 48 hours, but detain them for longer periods of time in police custody. The worst aspect of the matter is that conditions in Police cells are worse than those in the prisons.
A victim whose case is still being heard in the courts and preferring anonymity told The Tide on Sunday, “I was supposed to stay here three days, but I was held up to four months. I was not given access to talk to my lawyer. There was a lot of intimidation.”
He further asserted, “the state CID (Criminal Investigation Department) wanted to kill me, they beat me, they killed people beside me and shot some. So, I confessed.”
It is no longer strange that the Nigerian Police execute detainees. Moreover, the police execute people for refusal to pay bribes or during road checks, saying they are criminal suspects. One of such took place in Port Harcourt in March this year along Ada-George Road, when a bus driver who refused to give, ‘egunje’ to the policemen on the road was shot dead.
The report which was published by the Punch Newspapers has it that trouble broke out when the unsuspecting bus driver failed to give the illegal N50 road check fees. The policeman was said to have been incensed by the effrontery and shot him point blank.
Other cases include the shooting during arrest of suspected armed robbers. On September 4, 2007, the former Inspector-general of Police, Sir Mike Okiro made public in his address, “100 Days of Pragmatic Policing in Nigeria,” that between June and August 2007 some 785 suspected armed robbers were killed in shoot-outs with police.
The Networks on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN) observed that, “whatever the explanation, extra-judicial executions appear to have become an acceptable tool of policing”.
The non-governmental organisation argued that it was hard to quantify the number of people killed by the police as “the police do not keep adequate records of encounter and other killings committed by its personnel or that figures of police killings are deliberately manipulated to produce, artificial low statistics.
In the same vein, another non-governmental organisation, LEAP has documented cases of extra-judicial executions and impunity for several years. Its 2004 report showed an impunity rate of 100 percent: none of the almost 350 reported incidents in 2004, which resulted in almost 3,000 deaths, was investigated.
In 2005, former President Olusegun Obasanjo acknowledged that the extra-judicial execution and killings of suspects and innocent citizens by the police was widespread. In October, newspapers reported that the Commissioner of Police in the Federal capital Territory ordered his policemen to shoot at sight suspected robbers caught in the act.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions, in a report following his visit to Nigeria in 2005, also documented the practice of extra-judicial executions.
Part of the report reads thus, “There is no reason to doubt that the 2,402 armed robbers killed since 2000 were in reality all armed robbers, much less that they were all killed in shot-outs. Armed robbery as such should be removed as a capital offence,” adding, “despite the fact that the scourge of armed robbery plagues much of Nigeria, the label of ‘armed robber is very often used to justify the jailing and or extra-judicial execution of innocent individuals.”
In March 2008, the Special Rapporteur observed that despite the alarm they raised earlier, nothing has changed, “unfortunately, it seems like business as usual with the Nigerian Police,” he said, “continuing to get away with murder and patterns of human rights violation that I witnessed in 2005 have continued today.”
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has also frowned at the situation. In its report, titled, “State of Human rights in Nigeria 2005 – 2006 observed, “prolonged years of military rule in Nigeria entrenched a culture of disregard for human life, particularly on the part of security and law enforcement agencies. This attitude has largely remained unchanged, seven years after the advent of democracy. Cases of extra-judicial, summary and arbitrary executions have been persistently recorded across the country.”
The same view was shared by the NHRC zonal coordinator in Rivers State, Barrister Emily Herbert in an exclusive chat with the Sunday Tide. She disclosed that the commission had received several petitions from members of the public over missing relatives in police custody.
Barrister Herbert while frowning at the untoward attitude of the Police to suspects disclosed that reports of sudden disappearances of people in police detention underscore the fact that the police is condoning such inhuman activity by its men.
Because of the various petitions received so far, she stated that the commission had been compelled to write to the police authorities in Rivers State to address the matter.
Said Herbert, “the State Commissioner of Police has promised to treat about two of such cases in the room trial and those policemen involved would be stripped off their uniforms.”
Aside extra-judicial killings, the NHRC zonal co-ordinator also pointed the issue of the inability of some companies to conduct Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) before carrying out operations in their host communities.
She pointed out that such attitude was capable of breeding hostilities and violence in such communities stressing that EIA is the right of the people.
Over the years, Amnesty International has documented many cases of human rights violations by the security forces in Nigeria. The military are frequently involved in extra-judicial executions and other human rights – violations, particularly in the Niger Delta.
The use of excessive force by the military when dealing with clashes is a frequent occurrence, often resulting in the death of bystanders, for example in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, in August 2007; Odioma, Bayelsa State in February 2005; at the Ugborodo community members demonstration at the Escravos oil terminal, Delta State, in February 2005; Zaki Biam in Benue, in 2001 and Odi in Bayelsa, in 1999.
In all of these cases, no action was known to have been taken to bring the suspected perpetrators of these human rights violations to justice.
Similarly on the morning of August 17, 2009, the Joint Taskforce in Sama, Asari-Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State, executed an unarmed man and dumped his body into the river.
Rattled by this development, the core militant group in the Niger Delta, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) warned that extra-judicial killings in the region could end the ceasefire it declared recently.
Spokesman of the group, Jomo Gbomo in an online statement disclosed that the youths of the area angered by JTF action moblised and carried out a reprisal attack on the army unit responsible for the extra-judicial killing and killed a solider and made away with his rifle. He noted that, “such irresponsible actions by the military even when it is targeted at civilians is not acceptable and can jeopardise the current ceasefire if repeated.”
Worried over the spate of extra-judicial killings, the National Assembly in 2005 started debating a bill for Act to establish the ‘Police Complaints Bureau with powers to investigate, inquire, recommend and prosecute cases of extra-judicial killings, human rights abuses, unlawful extortion by the police.
This bill was withdrawn by the end of 2005. In 2008, a bill with the same name was introduced.
Government has at various times blamed the situation on the security challenges in the country. For example, in September 2007, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ojo Maduekwe wrote to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture that, “while Government does not intend to justify torture and ill-treatment under any circumstances, it is hoped that the international community understands the enormous challenges faced by law-enforcement agencies in a developing nation as our own like .
He continued, “…the lack of an effective complaints mechanism, the unsatisfactory state of detention facilities; the under-resourced and over-stretched criminal justice system; Sharia Law and Corporal punishment.”
In a meeting with Amnesty International in July 2007, senior police officials at the federal headquarters of the Nigeria Police Force confirmed that they had received reports of torture and that they were addressing these “unconventional,” ways of interviewing.
In practice, any actions taken by the Nigeria Police Force had failed to end the use of torture in the interrogation of suspects.
But as the NHRC highlighted in its report on the state of human rights, accused the Nigerian Army, Nigeria Police and other law enforcement agencies of coming act of torture with impunity. Unfortunately, confessions extracted by torture are used as evidence in court contrary to international standards.
Nevertheless, because of the bad image this has given to the country and the police, Chairman of the Police Service Commission, Chief Pius Osayande last week issued a strong warning to policemen.
Chief Osayande who gave the warning at Owerri said the commission would sanction any Divisional Police Officer who engages in extra-judicial killings. He urged them to desist or face expulsion from service.
The Bini Chief who was a former Deputy Inspector-General of Police stated that the commission was poised to transform the police by ensuring that all unlawful acts and corruption are curbed.
To achieve this, he revealed that the agency needs about N340 billion to upgrade the police and raise the welfare of policemen in the country.