In spite of the characteristic denial by the Nigeria Police authorities, the latest report by an international human rights group, Amnesty International, entitled, Nigeria: You have signed your death warrant, was damning. While the report may seem a revelation, its content is by no means new as it is only a documentation of the reality Nigerians, especially the victims of torture, are painfully aware of. No doubt, despite the tantrums thrown at the rights group, human rights violations among Nigeria’s security forces- especially the police are an established fact.
Nonetheless, the report reveals chilling details of the nefarious and deadly Special Anti-Robbery Squad, infamously known as SARS. The report notes that SARS, a Nigeria Police unit set up to combat violent crime, has instead been “systematically torturing detainees in its custody as a means of extracting confessions and lucrative bribes.” The police may be living in denial, they may have denied an open truth that is out there, but Nigerians who have been victims of SARS’ serial human rights violations and a police force notoriously known for extrajudicial killings and other degrading acts against Nigerians especially the poor and the vulnerable know better.
As noted earlier, the police may deny the Amnesty report but the victims know the truth. Nigerians know that a police checkpoint encounter can turn bloody when drunken policemen with guns go on a shooting rampage. That many Nigerians have died due to accidental or wilful discharge of firearms by renegade officers is a known fact. Even as I write this piece, a Nigerian would have fallen to the bullet of a drunken policeman or an out-of-control police officer.
The police may be in denial of the report but Nigerians know how many of our compatriots have died in police custody either due to torture or when they are taken out to be shot as escapee armed robbers. What is there to deny when the police shoot unarmed protesters or when they detain suspects unlawfully and extract confessions through extrajudicial means?
Those who have visited police stations across the country know that a majority of our policemen are extortionists who deny victims bail for not being able to come up with money even when bail is supposed to be free. This allows them to keep alleged suspects for as long as they can and dispose them of when they have extorted money or traded them off for the real armed robbers. Many Nigerians also know that the police are an agent of the establishment of repression.
They serve only the rich and their cronies while they are the sworn enemies of poor Nigerians who they are sworn on oath to protect. The police establishment is a slave to the greed and manipulation of the elite while its members unleash their frustrations on hapless citizens. That is why a police officer could shine the shoe of a politician, carry handbag for his wife while he sees nothing wrong in harassing his poor neighbour. The police force is an agent of the repressive Nigerian state. That is the reason why reports such as the one issued by Amnesty International and other human rights group will continue to indict it as well as other security agencies. It is the poor and vulnerable Nigerians who are at the receiving end of police brutalities and mindless shootings.
Last week, I wrote about the human rights violations of the Lagos State Environmental and Special Task Force Unit that had gone on illegal raids in the Lagos metropolis. The illegal arrest and detention of residents were carried out on the night of Friday, August 26.
The arrests were said to have been ordered by senior officers in the unit contrary to their rules of engagement. That night, several Lagos residents were taken to the Kirikiri prisons and made to pay various sums to be set free. They were charged for various frivolous offences. This is the violation groups like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the National Human Rights Commission. That is the reason I was surprised when the police authorities denied the report and called it as exaggerated and a figment of Amnesty’s imagination.
If that were the case, could the police deny that the raid did not happen in Lagos? Rather than resort to name-calling and propaganda against the group, the police should have provided evidence that the group had a hidden agenda as it alleged. But the group said it interviewed eyewitnesses, spoke to victims and their families, and visited police establishments across the country. So, what is the police defence other than denying a fact that is in the public domain?
The report titled detailed torture and other ill-treatment in SARS’ detention centres across the country. Reading through the verifiable report reveals a depressing tale of human rights violations by police officers who have the mandate to protect Nigerians. Extrajudicial killing without suspects having the opportunity to fair trial is the worst affront on the rule of law in any country. The Nigeria Police is guilty of this and many more repressive tactics against Nigerians.
In many occasions, the police parade innocent citizens and pass them off as the real suspects especially when they are under pressure to deliver the real suspects. Amnesty International’s researchers were granted access to SARS’ detention centres in Enugu, Abuja and Anambra in June 2016 to investigate the detention conditions as well as available safeguards against torture and other ill-treatments.
In the report, former detainees told the group they had been subjected to horrific torture methods, including hanging, starvation, beatings, shootings and mock executions, at the hands of corrupt officers from SARS. “Our research has uncovered a pattern of ruthless human rights violations where victims are arrested and tortured until they either make a ‘confession’ or pay officers a bribe to be released.” Amnesty reported that it had received reports from lawyers, human rights defenders and journalists and collected testimonies stating that some police officers in SARS regularly demanded bribes, stole and extorted money from criminal suspects and their families. The report further said that SARS officers were getting rich through their brutality observing that “in Nigeria, it seems that torture is a lucrative business.”
In one case in Onitsha, Anambra State, the group narrated the case of a 25-year-old fuel attendant who was arrested by SARS after his employer had accused him of being responsible for a burglary on their business premises. He told Amnesty International: “The policemen asked me to sign a plain sheet. When I signed it, they told me I have signed my death warrant. They left me hanging on a suspended iron rod. My body ceased to function. I lost consciousness. When I was about to die, they took me down and poured water on me to revive me.”
Like many people detained by SARS, the detainee was not allowed access to a lawyer, a doctor or his family during his two-week detention. Yet, in various cases where victims of police torture or other ill-treatment attempted to seek justice, the authorities took no action. The police authorities cannot just wave off the damning revelations in the report. The allegations must be investigated and police officers who violated the rights of Nigerians brought to book.