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Extra-judicial killings on the rise

Cases of extrajudicial killings are on the rise because police and military operatives have not been effectively tried and punished for committing them. This is…

Cases of extrajudicial killings are on the rise because police and military operatives have not been effectively tried and punished for committing them. This is the view of lawyers and human rights activists who estimate that in any given year thousands are killed by extrajudicial means by security personnel, the culprits being mostly the police. “I believe that thousands of suspects are wasted by police and military operatives annually through illegal means,” says Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, Executive Director, Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).

Facing severe criticism from vigorous advocacy campaigns against extra-judicial killings, the police hierarchy in 2005 set up a human rights desk to be supervised by a Deputy Inspector General of Police to address all allegations of police extra-judicial killings of suspects under their lawful custody. But right now, says Onwubiko “The police human rights desk is not functional and not funded and this has led to astronomic increase in cases of police extra-judicial killings of suspects in their custody.”

Human rights activists say police operatives basically are substantially bereft of the modern skills and forensic tools to conduct evidence-based crime investigation so they rely on torture to extract confessional statements from detainees and some tortured suspects die in the process. Activists also say suspects are gunned down by police operatives to decongest the moribund police cells that keep receiving hapless suspects some of whom are unaware of their inherent fundamental human rights and are too financially weak to hire legal representatives.

“The slow trial process in the local courts discourage some relatives of victims from pursuing the cases to the Supreme Court if need be,” says Onwubiko. Human rights organizations record that at least two persons lose their lives daily without due process of the law. And while extrajudicial killings have continued to be on the rise in the country, the bulk of the complaints have remained unresolved.

The National Human Rights Commission speaking on the issue through its Director, Public Affairs and Communication, Muhammed Nasir Ladan says the Commission is concerned about the growing trend of extra-judicial killings. “Extra-judicial killings are some of the human rights issues we receive in the Commission,” he says. “We receive complaints from victims and we also monitor the media to know of what extra-judicial killings have taken place in other parts of the country. We also encounter many of such complains during our monitoring of prisons and detention centres around the country.”

Worried by the growing impunity, Ladan says the Human Rights Commission had to conduct public hearings and set up tribunals on extra-judicial killings and torture in five states in the country. “We engaged victims of torture and families of victims of extra-judicial killings in a discussion over how to advance the issues,” he says.

Yet despite these, the cases still keep rising. Human rights organizations are now working to criminalize torture through legislative means and have been trying to get the National Assembly to pass the anti-torture bill sitting before it. Ladan says, “The statistics we have here are about complains we receive and what we monitor in the media and it will not be a reflection of the overall situation in the country because so many will happen and they are not reported to us.”

Police and military impunity has worsened in recent times with increased security concerns over the activities of criminals and militia groups like the Boko Haram. States like Borno, Adamawa and Kano where the police and military have been deployed to the streets to quell insurgencies have witnessed renewed cases of extra-judicial killings by security personnel as the security crisis in the states continue to escalate. The extra-judicial killings by the security is matched by an equal campaign of jungle justice meted out by Boko Haram insurgents who also carry out regular killings of members of the sect who were found to have shown tendencies of defecting or sect members and the public who provide information to security personnel on their activities. Maiduguri has become a death zone of sorts where impunity from security and sect members have seen bodies piling up while the crisis shows little sign of abatement.

So serious is the suspicion against security personnel that in Mubi, Adamawa State where six bodies of community members were found in a car riddled with bullets residents put the blame on soldiers. The Army denied the allegation: “We will never kill people just like that and dump their corpses on the street, it doesn’t make sense. We are here to protect innocent citizens, so it is very unfair for anyone to think we would just start killing these same people we are protecting.”

And in Kano, since Boko Haram members began their attack last January, extra-judicial killings by security operatives have now become a source of concern to people of the state. Residents of the state have continued to express their bitterness over the excesses of security operatives deployed to Kano streets to maintain law and order.

Emir of Kano Alhaji Ado Bayero, for instance, had to appeal to Kano’s new Army Brigade Commander when he called on him in his palace recently that he should call his men to order as their disposition to residents will alienate them from them. Only three days after the emir’s appeal, one Mustapha Sheriff of Adakawa Quarters in Kano metropolis was shot dead by a soldier at Silver Jubilee Roundabout when he accompanied a friend to the office of the Kano State Transport Company to take delivery of some goods.

Sheriff’s uncle, Shariff Mamuda Ali, described the situation as devastating, saying that this was not the first tragedy to be witnessed in the area. He says there is need for authorities in Kano to wade into the matter to find a solution to it.

Before Sheriff’s killing, there was the killing of one Uzairu Abba Abdullahi of Hotoro Quarters, along with his wife by members of the Joint Task Force early last month in his house in a gun battle. Although Abdullahi was accused of being a Boko Haram member, his family denied the allegation. And not long after that a police corporal killed a student of Sa’adatu Rimi College of Education at a checkpoint on Zaria Road. The Kano police command later announced the arrest of the police personnel who killed the student for prosecution.

The son of a retired soldier, Inusa Shuaibu, was also killed by soldiers at a Rijiyar Zaki filling station on Friday last week after some gunmen attacked a police station in the area. He was killed while selling fuel at the station. The petrol attendant’s father, Inusa Shuaibu, said his son was innocently killed while performing his duty as a salesman at the filling station. “Before his death, he was our breadwinner,” Shuaibu said, adding: “My son was not a Boko Haram member as he was well-known at the filling station and had carried out his duty without any problem.”

In protest at the slow pace of response by the authorities concerning his son’s killing Shuaibu had threatened to hang himself if nothing was done to bring the perpetrators to book. “I am calling on the Army commandant, the Inspector General of Police and the Emir of Kano to ensure justice is done to my son and all others that were unjustly killed during the shooting spree by the soldiers at the Rijiyar Zaki area,” he says. He said if nothing was done to ensure justice he was going to hang himself because his only son and supporter has been killed.

Two other persons were also killed at Rijiyar Zaki filling station that very day when some people went there to seek refuge shortly after the attack on the police station in the area. Ali Muhammad Sadiq, a graduate of accountancy, was also among the those that were killed. He was shot dead by soldiers just a week after his wedding. Sadiq was said to have hidden inside a service pit while trying to escape the soldiers’ brutality. An eye witness that craved anonymity said about seven of them, including himself had taken shelter inside the service pit but were pursued and shot by the police. He said though he was shot in the leg, Sadiq was shot both in the leg, head and stomach. Another person was also shot dead by the soldiers and their corpses were taken to Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital.

Apart from killings of innocent persons by either the police or soldiers, Kano residents also complain of other excesses by security operatives at various checkpoints in the metropolis. Frog-jumps, whippings and unnecessary interrogation are said to be some of the instruments used by security operatives manning checkpoints to terrorize passersby.

When contacted, Kano army public relations officer, Lt. Iweha Ikedichi, neither confirmed the killing nor denied it, saying soldiers are only being sent on patrol to ensure security all over the state and not asked to kill. Kano police command could not also say something, saying the police are working in tandem with other security forces as a task force to ensure security of lives and properties in the state.

Residents in states affected say the security transfer their frustrations over their inability to stop Boko Haram on them, blaming them for not providing enough information that would lead to the apprehension of the sect members. But meanwhile, sect members seem to have informants who tip them also about those who gave information about them and are merciless in dealing with such breaches. In the end, residents are just left between the devil and the deep blue sea.