A total of 71,040 detainees died extra-judicially in Police custody, in the 16-year period of 2004 – 2020, according to the International Society for Civil Liberties & Rule of Law (Intersociety), one of the country’s leading human rights groups. This underscores the basis for the EndSARS protest, weaved around concerns about increasing brutality, harassment, torture
A total of 71,040 detainees died extra-judicially in Police custody, in the 16-year period of 2004 – 2020, according to the International Society for Civil Liberties & Rule of Law (Intersociety), one of the country’s leading human rights groups.
This underscores the basis for the EndSARS protest, weaved around concerns about increasing brutality, harassment, torture and extra-judicial killings by the Police. Although it was directed against the special unit, Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), other Police units were equally culpable in what had become a perennial repression of the citizenry, particularly the youth.
This is also coming against the backdrop of claims by Amnesty International, the global rights group, that 12 peaceful protesters demanding for an end to Police brutality, were killed at the Lekki tollgate, Lagos by armed military men. President Muhammadu Buhari revealed that at least 69 persons including 51 civilians, 11 policemen and 7 soldiers lost their lives in the 12 day protests, led by youths across the country.
Intersociety which made the claim in a statement issued on Tuesday, October 27, 2020, in Onitsha, Eastern Nigeria, says, “This further translates to 370 persons monthly and 4,440 yearly, or 370 custodial deaths monthly multiply by one year-equals to 4,440, multiply by 16 years-equals to 71,040 custodial deaths.”
“In other words, Nigeria as a whole is most likely to have lost since 2004 a total of 71,040 unprocessed citizens to Police extrajudicial killings mainly perpetrated by its SARS,” Intersociety said in the statement signed by its principal officers: Mr Emeka Umeagbalasi, Ms Amaka Onuoha, Ms Chinwe Umeche, Mr Obianuju Igboeli, Mr Ndidiamaka Bernard and Mr Sam Kamanyaoku.
It noted that, “the NPF particularly its SARS has also earned notoriety in permanently disappearing hundreds, if not thousands of Nigerians every year. In other words, citizens arrested outside the law and taken into secret custodies are killed without the knowledge of their families and outside the confines of official records.”
The group alleged that “gross human rights abuses and extra-judicial deaths are common in the 7,300 to 7,500 Police formations in Nigeria including 17 Zonal Command Headquarters and 37 State/FCT Command Headquarters.”
It added: “Even though Police SARS dominates the custodial torture and extrajudicial killing chart of the NPF, the following units or departments of the Force are also culpable: anti-fraud, special anti-robbery squad-State-SARS and F/SARS (“disbanded”), anti cult unit, general investigation, special fraud unit, Interpol liaison, homicide, cybercrime, anti-human trafficking, force intelligence department or FCIB/SCIB, special branch (criminal and special investigation bureau), department of criminal investigations or FCID/SCID and its annexes in Kaduna, Lagos, Enugu and Gombe; counter terrorism, anti kidnapping squad, and border and marine sectional formations.”
“Opening fire on peaceful protesters is a blatant violation of people’s rights to life, dignity, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Soldiers clearly had one intention – to kill without consequences,” said Osai Ojigho, country director of Amnesty International Nigeria.
Amnesty said it has received reports that shortly before the shootings, CCTV security cameras at the Lekki toll gates, where protesters had been camped for about two weeks, were removed by government officials and electricity was cut to prevent evidence emerging of the violence.
Some of those killed and injured at the toll plaza and in Alausa, another Lagos neighborhood, were taken away by the military, Amnesty alleged in the report.
“These shootings clearly amount to extrajudicial executions. There must be an immediate investigation and suspected perpetrators must be held accountable through fair trials,” said Ojigho.
According to a 2006 survey on policing by the CLEEN Foundation, an organisation which work on the security forces, more than one third of respondents were stopped by the Police in the previous 12 months. Half of them bribed the Police in order to “get out of the problem”.
People in Abia, Bayelsa, Ekiti, Imo, Jigawa, Lagos, Nasarawa, Ogun, Oyo and Rivers States were most likely to be stopped by the Police. Three out of four respondents assumed they had to pay a bribe in order for the Police to help them. Three out of 10 respondents do not consider the Police to be helpful.
Respondents were particularly unhappy about Police services in Ekiti (73 per cent), Bayelsa (almost 70 per cent), Rivers (63 per cent), Oyo (46 per cent), Edo (43 per cent), Lagos (42 per cent), and Abia (40 per cent). In these states, many respondents thought that the Police were not controlling crime. On a national level, more than half of the respondents thought the NPF were doing a good job in crime control.
The 2008 Presidential Committee noted that the NPF treat the numbers of “armed robbers” killed and injured by the Police as indicators of success. “Instead of using statistics to measure their performance, they now resort to parading suspects in handcuffs and others killed by them extra-judicially, as ‘armed robbers’, to impress the general public that they are working, when, at that stage the innocence of the suspects should be presumed and their human rights protected by the Police.”
On 4 September 2007, the then Inspector-General of Police, Mr Mike Mbama Okiro, congratulated the NPF for the “determination, zeal and ferocity with which we have been prosecuting our anti-robbery operations within our country and beyond.”
According to an Amnesty International December 2009 Index, between June and August 2007, 785 “armed robbers” were killed. The circumstances of these deaths remain unclear as no independent and impartial investigations were conducted into the exact circumstances of their deaths.
Some Police officers regard the killings of “armed robbers” in detention to be acceptable practice. Amnesty International interviewed a Police officer who suggested that by carrying arms, people put themselves at risk of being killed. Some police officers take justice into their own hands by killing “guilty” suspects. One lawyer told Amnesty International about a Police officer in charge of the station where one of his clients had died: “The police officer said to me ‘I can swear that I have never killed any innocent man.”
The Police often claim that suspects were shot while trying to escape custody. Such claims are often highly implausible as it is unlikely that suspects indeed attempted to escape. Either way, such claims are irrelevant: the lethal use of force to prevent escape is prohibited under international standards unless there is an imminent threat to life.
Mr Muhammad Yusuf, the leader of the Boko Haram Islamic group, was arrested on 30 July 2009 in Maiduguri, Borno State. He was filmed and interviewed while in custody. Later that day, the Police announced that he had been killed while attempting to escape. On 13 August 2009, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Michael Kaase Aondoakaa, stated that Muhammad Yusuf had been “killed in Police custody”. He also said that the Nigerian government “condemns in its entirely, the unfortunate circumstances that led to the death of Mohammed Yusuf in Police custody.”
A committee was established to investigate the incident but nothing significant came out of that. Mr Ken Niweigha was arrested on 26 May 2009. He was brought to the State Criminal Investigation Department (State CID) in Yenagoa, and paraded in front of the media. According to the Police, Mr Niweigha had agreed to show them his hideout and then tried to escape and was killed.
Amnesty International’s research shows that it is unlikely Niweigha was taken out of State CID detention. It is believed he died at the State CID. Eyewitnesses say that he was shot in the leg and in the ribs, and beaten in the neck area. His body was taken to the Federal Medical Centre in Yenagoa and was buried in an undisclosed location by the authorities. The day after his arrest, the Police reportedly returned to his house and burned his documents and his laptop.
David Idoko, Stanley Okghara (not their real names) and three other men were arrested in April 2005 for suspected armed robbery. They were detained in Ogui Police Station and State CID in Enugu State. The five men were paraded in front of the media on 27 April 2005. At the end of June 2005, the Police announced that the men tried to escape Police custody after being allowed to go to the toilet at the same time – an extremely unlikely scenario. They were shot and killed.
According to information received by Amnesty International, they died of gunshots to the head and the chest. The men had been in custody for almost two months. They were not brought before a judge, and their families were not informed of their detention or their deaths. Amnesty International also claimed that no investigation was carried out.