Amnesty International, on Wednesday, released a damning report which accuses the Nigeria Police Force of varying human right abuses and corrupt practices in a bid to subvert the justice process.
Damian Ugwu, Amnesty International’s Nigeria researcher, noted that the report exposes “the callous workings of a police squad operating outside of the law and inflicting daily brutality on Nigerians who are often legally powerless to defend themselves against criminal accusations, let alone from the torture meted out by SARS.”
According to the report, the Police subject detainees and suspects to horrific human rights abuse such as inhumane torture, extracting confessions under duress, starvation, hanging, beatings, shootings and mock executions, especially through the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the police force.
Amnesty International stated that it received reports from lawyers, journalists and human rights defenders while also engaging detainees on the treatment meted out to them in the hands of police officers. It said that the police has become a beehive of corruption where officers in SARS demand bribes, steal and extort money from, suspects, detainees and their families.
Ugwu said, “A police unit created to protect the people has instead become a danger to society, torturing its victims with complete impunity while fomenting a toxic climate of fear and corruption. SARS officers are getting rich through their brutality. In Nigeria, it seems that torture is a lucrative business.”
The Amnesty International report accused SARS of holding detainees in uninhabitable locations, including a grim detention centre in Abuja where the organization found 130 detainees living in overcrowded cells.
Amnesty International also accused the Police of running an irresponsibly unaccountable system where officers easily get away with acts of impunity. It stated that when asked for the reason no police officer has faced the wrath of the law with regards to torture, the police could do no better than deny that no torture ever took place. While a senior officer confided in Amnesty that officers found to have tortured or ill-treated detainees were simply transferred to other stations in April 2016.
According to Ugwu, “this lack of accountability breeds and perpetuates impunity, creating an environment where SARS officers believe they have carte blanche to carry out acts of torture. This is hardly surprising when many of these officers have bribed their way to SARS in the first place. The police chiefs in charge are themselves entwined in the corruption.”
It added that the police officers in SARS go beyond the powers allocated to them by investigating civil cases and even take their extra-judicial actions and violation of human rights as far as torturing detainees involved in contractual, business and other non-criminal disputes.
The poverty level of many suspects and detainees in SARS custody, according to the report, makes them prone to more torture since they can not bribe their way out or hire a legal representative. This is different from the reports of many others who accused SARS officers of stealing their cars or emptying their bank accounts.
Ugwu stated that despite assurances from successive police chiefs that SARS will be reformed and reorganized, the force still remains its repulsive self. He called on government to “ensure that officers responsible for such human rights violations are finally held accountable.”
He added that there is need “for robust legislation that ensures all acts of torture are offences under Nigeria’s criminal law. All victims have a right to reparations, and steps must be taken to ensure that nobody profits from abusing detainees.”
However in a response, the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, dismissed the questions raised in the Amnesty International report. He accused the International agency of bias and not allowing the security agency to respond to the allegations in the report before making it public.