By Kingsley Nwezeh
Amnesty International (AI) yesterday accused Nigerian Police of conducting 82 extra-judicial killings in three years and failure to prosecute members of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) over its involvement in torture of crime suspects.
The group said that the SARS had continued to use torture and other forms of ill-treatment to execute, punish, and extract information from suspects.
The international human rights group said it conducted investigations and documented 82 cases of ill-treatment, torture and extra-judicial executions by SARS.
The investigation spanned January 2017 and May 2020.
In its latest report entitled ‘Time to end Impunity’ Amnesty International said the victims were predominantly males between 18 and 35 years from low-income background.
A statement issued by the Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, said “the complete failure of Nigerian authorities to bring an end to the gross human rights violations perpetrated by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad or to bring any SARS officer to justice is shocking and unacceptable.”
She said “Nigerians are outraged by the systemic human rights violations perpetrated by the SARS with impunity. “The systemic use of torture and other ill-treatment by SARS officers for police investigations and the continued existence of torture chambers within the Nigerian Police Force points to an absolute disregard for international human rights laws and standards.”
Amnesty International’s investigation reveals a disturbing pattern of abuse of detainees in SARS custody despite the 2017 Anti-Torture Act.
In many cases, AI bore witness to the scars, bruises, and dried blood on victims’ bodies. Many of them were subjected to beatings with sticks and machetes and denied medical care.
The findings of the report also showed that these horrific violations were carried out under the supervision of high-ranking police officers.
It said the torture and ill treatment remained routine practice during SARS’ daily operations and at its detention centres.
It stated that in March 2017, 23-year-old Miracle was arrested and detained by SARS officers in Neni, Anambra State, South-east Nigeria, accused of the theft of a laptop. He was tortured and given hardly any food during the 40 days he was in detention before he was charged and brought before a court.
“Their leader directed them to go and hang me. They took me to the back of the hall and tied me with ropes. Then they started using all manner of items to beat me, including machetes, sticks, inflicting me with all kinds of injuries.
“One of the officers used an exhaust pipe to hit me on my teeth, breaking my teeth. I was left on that hanger for more than three hours”, he said.
In October 2018, 24-year-old Sunday Bang, an amateur boxer was arrested in his home in Abuja, by SARS officers and accused of robbery. He was held in detention for five weeks without access to family, lawyers or medical care – and was not charged in court. While in SARS detention, he suffered bone fractures and other injuries due to torture and other ill treatment.
“No circumstances whatsoever may be invoked as a justification of torture. In many cases the victims are the poor and vulnerable, easy targets for law enforcement officers whose responsibility it is to protect them,” said Osai Ojigho.
AI further accused SARS of extorting and stealing money and property from Nigerians.
“Across Nigeria, SARS officers have turned their duty to protect Nigerians into an opportunity for extortion and stealing money, property and other valuables belonging to suspects and their families.
“Since 2016, Amnesty International has documented 15 cases where SARS officers arbitrarily confiscated suspects’ property”, it said.
The international human rights group noted that “young people between the ages of 17 and 30 are most at risk of arrest, torture or extortion by SARS. They are often accused of being internet fraudsters and/or armed robbers. Young men with dreadlocks, ripped jeans, tattoos, flashy cars or expensive gadgets are frequently targeted by SARS”.
Ojigho said Nigerian authorities must go beyond lip service and ensure there is real reform.
“Often these young men are unlawfully arrested in raids on television viewing centres, bars and recreational centres. They are held in detention and forced to pay huge bribes to secure their release. Those unable to pay are subjected to torture or other ill-treatment”, she said.
Force Public Relations Officer and Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), Frank Mba, was not available comments.