The recent report by Amnesty International that exposes inhumane behaviour and gross human rights abuses by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), an elite unit of the Nigerian Police Force set up to combat the country’s alarming crime rate is only the latest by the international human rights watchdog to report on abuses in the country’s security establishment.
Amnesty International has also uncovered similar abuse in the Nigerian military.
After speaking with and interviewing lawyers, human rights defenders journalists and victims, Amnesty International collected testimonies pointing to stealing and extorting by some police officers attached to SARS. Suspects are arrested and tortured till they either make a confession or are able to bribe their way out.
The Inspector General of Police Ibrahim Kpotun Idris in a knee jerk response described the report as untrue and accused Amnesty International of bias, arguing that the police Force was not afforded the opportunity to respond to the allegations before the report was made public.
But in a follow up meeting with SARS operatives and their state commanders on Thursday, IGP Idris cautioned operatives against torture and extra-judicial killings, he also announced some minor reforms, hinting that the squad would undergo retraining and restructuring, and civil society organisations would be involved in the revamping process to contribute to the training programme. According to him henceforth, SARS activities would be intelligence driven going forwards.
The IGP may refuse to admit publicly but like many other failing Nigerian institutions, there is something fundamentally wrong with a system that allows police officers to play God so carelessly with the lives of citizens. One needs only to venture into the streets to uncover more horror stories meted out on citizens by officers of Nigeria’s security apparatus.
The first step in solving a problem is usually to admit its existence and while it is sad that it should take an international entity to legitimise the travails of Nigerian citizens, the IGP needs to accept the threat within. Independent fact finding units can be set up within the Police Force, including members from civil society to confirm the extent of these human rights abuses and propose ways of halting future occurrences.
Police officers need to be retrained and re-orientated with a huge emphasis placed on human rights and its abuses as in many of the cases, the officers are usually as ignorant as the citizenry on matters of the constitution. Finally, officers who have been investigated and found guilty of misconduct detailed in the report should be punished to serve as a deterrent to others that bad behaviour will not be tolerated in the Force. More than ever the IGP needs to demonstrate real leadership and total commitment to see this through.
Enough with the denials.