In the last five years, Nigeria has witnessed unprecedented levels of killings of innocent citizens by a range of armed non-state actors.
In the years under review, the armed bandits known as boko haram terrorists have killed and maimed over 30,000 innocent Nigerians.
The other most deadly non-state actors that accounts for a higher percentage of killings of Nigerians are the armed Fulani herdsmen. All these killings by non-state actors have happened without any suspected mass murderer being brought to justice.
These killings by these notorious non-state actors have adversely affected the capacity of ordinary Nigerians to pause awhile and take a holistic and an analytic view of the killings of innocent citizens carried out by armed security forces.
But a section of the Nigerian media has consistently reported incidents of unlawful killings of Nigerians by operatives of the armed security forces from the police and the military specifically.
At the last count this second quarter of the year alone has seen over five dozen citizens killed by the armed security forces.
These cases of extralegal executions of Nigerians have reached the international community even as both the amnesty international (AI)and the United Nations have in their kitty several reports on these killings.
Specifically, at the seventy-first session of the general assembly last year, the report presented to the general assembly by the special rapporteur on extralegal executions contains the conspicuous mention of the Nigerian cases.
The amnesty international in its 2016/2017 world human rights report severely indicted the Nigerian security forces for alleged extralegal execution of over 150 unarmed members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
On the part of the United Nations, the Special rapporteur on extralegal executions who recently left office after six years compiled a dossier on how not to use lethal weapons in law enforcement.
Christof Heyns who held the position of the special rapporteur on extralegal executions between August 1st, 2010 to 31st July, 2016 totally condemned the unlawful killings of unarmed demonstrators by operatives of the armed security forces.
He wrote thus: “Against the backdrop of the increasing use of demonstrations as a political tool worldwide over recent years and the loss of life during such events, the Special Rapporteur submitted two reports dealing with the management of demonstrations and the protection of the right to life (A/HRC/17/28 and A/HRC/31/66) to the Council”.
The management of demonstrations according to the specialist must be carried out in a holistic way.
He stated that a whole range of rights applies to demonstrations, including the rights to peaceful assembly, freedom of expression and rights related to bodily security.
“These rights are indivisible and need to be protected as a whole for the right to life to be secured.
Even if violence occurs during demonstrations, and individual participants have lost the protection of the right to peaceful assembly, the other rights still perdure.
There is no such thing as an unprotected assembly”, he affirmed.
The United Nations document sighted by this writer asserted that the reports of the Special Rapporteur have elaborated on some of the precautionary steps necessary for the proper management of demonstrations, which can be one way of reducing the risk of an eventual confrontation.
From the totality of the findings tendered before the UN General Assembly, the inevitable import of the above submission is that the decision by the armed security forces to open fire on an unarmed civilians who assembled in the South East Of Nigeria to agitate for the restoration of self-rule in that part of the Country amounted to unlawful killings. Just today, report reaching me says the Kaduna state police command openned fire with live bullets into a crowd of protesting members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria known as Shiites who were demanding that President Muhammadu Buhari respects the law court verdict and set their detained leader free. Recall that two years ago over 250 members of this group were reportedly killed extralegally by the Army.
Again looking at the different reports in the Nigerian press on the confrontations between the members of the armed security forces and the citizens, one would be disappointed and shocked at the high rates of extralegal executions of Nigerians by a range of armed security forces.
Few days back the media reported the killing of a woman trader in her shop in Mushin Lagos state by the police who were in hot chase of some suspected members of an advanced fees fraud syndicate.
In the different police detention facilities across the country there have been reports of extralegal executions of detainees.
This year alone the police has been mentioned in dozens of cases of torture and alleged killings of citizens.
Last weekend in Arondizuogu, Imo state, the police chased some alleged kidnappers and in the process killed an innocent member of the same family with the alleged ring leader even whilst the sought after suspected is yet to be caught.
Sadly, this case of mistaken identity has already been reported by the police to the effect that an armed kidnapper was shot dead.
These reckless and unprofessional conducts of the armed security forces have led to court awarded fines against the police which cumulatively runs into multimillion Naira.
In Ekiti State, the High Court sitting in Ikere Ekiti, awarded a sum of N20 million damages against the police over illegal detention and brutalisation of a 51-year old woman, Mrs Sola Aregbesola .
The court, in a judgement delivered by Justice Olusegun Ogunyemi , also awarded another N250,000 cost against the police, which covers the expenses spent on medical treatment as a result of the unlawful detention and beating she suffered in the hands of the cops.
In his judgement, Justice Ogunyemi, said: “considering the preponderance of evidence before this court, I declare the actions of the police against the Plaintiff as illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional.
“I therefore found his prayers worthy of being considered and I awarded a N20 million damages together with another N250, 000 covering the litigation expenses against the police”.
The court also told the police to be cautious in dealing with issues that had to do the rights of the citizens, saying “they must exercise restraint in their actions as enforcers of the law.”
Apart from this Judge, some scholars such as Professor Etannibi E.O. Alemika has cautioned the law enforcement agencies against the use of torture. Professor Chidi Odinkalu who was Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission has had encounters with the police high command for exposing the police detention facilities as killing fields. He was arrested for making this statement.
But before returning to the statement on police extrajudicial killings as made by Chidi Odinkalu let us see how Professor Alemika exposed the security forces for using torture against detainees.
Alemika in a recent scholarly paper reminds us that there are several definitions of torture in different international legal instruments.
The United Nations convention against torture (UNCAT) came into force in 1987.
It defines torture as “…… any acts by which severe pain or suffering whether physical or mental, as intentional inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession.”
“Punishing him/her for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him/her or a third person, or for any reasoned based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions. (Art 1 (1)).”
The Rome of statute defines torture as ” intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, upon a person in the custody or under the control of the accused; except that torture shall not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to, lawful sanctions”.
Professor Alemika rightly stated that the practice of torture by security and law enforcement agencies occur at two levels – institutional and individual.
Torture, according to the erudite scholar may be institutionalized as a practice by security agencies in an undemocratic environment.
“For example in a totalitarian system, torture is an institutionalized repression mechanism”.
“Torture may also be institutionalized because the political leaders refused to organize, fund and reform the police as democratic security, intelligence and law enforcement services”.
The aforementioned observation by the University of Jos based Professor of criminology brings us to our call for the creation of an independent body of forensic experts who should always evaluate cases of the deployment and use of lethal weapons by armed security forces such as is obtainable in the Western Societies.
The Police Service Commission as currently constituted lacks the institutional capacities and competences to serve as effective checks and balances against cases of extralegal executions of detainees and other Nigerians by security forces because the Chairman being a retired Police officer is ill equipped to reform the conducts of overzealous security operatives. Torture also must be legislated against and penalties provided against indicted offenders especially within the armed security forces.
I had earlier stated that the police had few months back summoned Chidi Odinkalu, then Chairman of the Governing Board of the NHRC, to appear before their Criminal Investigation Department for questioning.
According to the letter summoning Odinkalu, the police are “investigating [a] complaint of damaging remarks allegedly made by the Chairman… against the Nigeria Police Force.”
Amnesty international had then criticised the police and suggested rightly that: “The police ought to be spending their time and energy investigating allegations of extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances and torture committed by their officers, rather than harassing the National Human Rights Commission,” said Erwin van der Borght, Africa Director at Amnesty International.
“This police intimidation and harassment of the NHRC is deeply disturbing. The Nigeria Police Force must immediately stop undermining the Commission’s ability to carry out its mandate, which is in line with Nigeria’s international human rights obligations and commitments.”
On 5 March 2012, Chidi Odinkalu said that the Nigeria Police Force carries out torture and more than 2,500 extrajudicial executions annually.
This followed a widely reported public address in February 2012, when the Inspector General of Police admitted that the police carry out torture and extrajudicial executions.
The majority of cases of police extrajudicial killings go uninvestigated and unpunished, so says Amnesty International.
“Victims’ families rarely receive justice and are often left with no answers about the fate of their loved ones. Some relatives are threatened if they seek justice.”
“Few of the police officers responsible for the violations are held accountable, and in most cases there is not even an investigation.
Amnesty International is right. Even the recent judgment of the Abuja high court against four police operatives that killed 6 traders from Apo Abuja, the ring leader who is a senior police officer was discharged and acquitted whereas the two junior operatives were sentenced to death. This is a clear injustice.
Human rights activists, doctors and lawyers who work on cases of extrajudicial executions are often subjected to intimidation”, says Amnesty International.
According to one lawyer, “If you are suing the police, you will find yourself in a difficult situation. It is the police that will investigate and give report. They threaten us, they tear our clothes, they have pulled their gun at us but have not killed one of the lawyers yet.”
Anyone who asks for information about suspects is at risk of being beaten, harassed and intimidated by the police.
“Doctors are reluctant to go to the police station because the police detain and label doctors as accomplices and they beat up those who visit police stations to assist suspects,” one doctor told Amnesty International.
The amendments to the enabling Act signed into law on 26 February 2011, gives the National Human Rights Commission the power to investigate human rights violations, visit police stations and places of detention.
The Commission also has the power to decide on complaints of human rights violations, with the force of a High Court decision.
But if the police can intimidate the hierarchy of the National Human Rights Commission in the course of their work it is left for organised civil society organisations and the National Assembly including the media to hold the law enforcement agencies accountable to the laws and the Constitution. Extralegal killings and the use of torture are the Siamese twins that can destroy our much cherished democracy if care isn’t taken.