Breaking News
Translate

Nigeria’s unlawful killings: A challenge for our justice system

Mr Emeka Umeagbalasi

It is no longer news that Nigeria, a country with an estimated population of 150million people, is one of the world’s leading violators of human rights. If care is not taken, the country will become the “axis of man’s inhumanity to man” on the African continent, and win a “Mo Ibrahim Award” to that effect.

In fact, it has been credibly argued that the state and non-state actors in the context of unlawful homicide in Nigeria, value more the lives of animals more than those of their fellow citizens.

The sanctity of human life and the dignity of human person are the most abused and degraded in the country. May the country never witness in her State-hood, the replica of the Rwandan political crisis of 1994? Otherwise, if about 1million Rwandese could be slaughtered in hundred days (April to July 1994), out of the country’s seven million population, then with the current high ratio of homicidal and genocidal tendencies in Nigeria, one hundred million, out of her 150million population will perish.

The crudest part of the Hobbessian state of nature will be the order of the day, if allowed to happen. Nigerian State, according to the 2009 Report of the US Department of State, on the state of human rights in Nigeria, during the period of 2009, is a horrendous violator of all human rights contained in the encyclopedia of human rights.

The credible report notes as follows: “Nigeria’s Human Rights problems during the year (2009) included the abridgement of citizens’ right to change their government; politically motivated and extra-judicial killings by security forces, including summary executions, vigilante killings, abductions by militant groups, torture, rape, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners, detainees and criminal suspects; hash and life-threatening prison and detention center conditions; arbitrary arrest and prolonged pretrial detention, denial of fair public trial, executive influence on judiciary and judicial corruption; infringement of privacy rights; restrictions on freedom of speech, press, assembly, religion, and movement; official corruption and impunity; domestic violence and discrimination against women; the killing of children suspected of witchcraft; female genital mutilation, child abuse and child sexual exploitation; societal violence; ethnic, regional and religious discrimination, trafficking in persons for the purpose of prostitution and forced labour; discrimination against persons with disabilities; discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; and child labour”.

Strictly and legally speaking, killings sanctioned or carried out by the State-actors in Nigeria are such killings not sanctioned by international humanitarian and international human rights laws as well as by our municipal legislations. Such killings are: State-sponsored political assassinations, death in detention, and death arising from torture; summary executions and other forms of extra-judicial killings. All security agencies empowered by law in Nigeria to bear arms are classified as “State actors”. On the other hand, vigilante and militant groups are non-state actors. This is because there is no law in Nigeria that empowers any vigilante group to bear and use firearms, detain, torture, kill or prosecute any criminal suspects.

The law only permits every Nigeria, including vigilante groups to “arrest and hand over” to the police. Any State law that empowers its vigilante group to bear and use firearms is a nullity because of its inconsistency with the 1999 constitution and the Criminal Code. Vigilantes are supposedly answerable to the Nigeria Police Force. Therefore, any killings carried out by members of vigilante groups, except strictly found to be rested on the premise of “exceptions to homicide”, amount to unlawful homicide or murder.

In the area of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatments or punishments, both State and non-State actors are categorized as the same offenders with the same punishments if convicted. Unfortunately, while the 1999 Constitution outlaws torture, Nigeria’s criminal laws treat same with utter levity, by classifying it as “assault occasioning grievous harm”, which is rooted in the misdemeanor segment of our criminal offences, with a mere three years imprisonment as its maximum punishment on conviction.

Statistics
The number of those killed outside the law in Nigeria since 1999, might have increased to 34,000. They include: over 160 political assassinations; over 10,000 vigilante-related killings in Anambra State (over 5,000 persons; 1999 to 2002), Abia over 5,000; 1998 to date), Imo State (about 1,000; 2001 to 2002) and Lagos State (about 1,500 by the OPC; 2000 to 2002). Over 13,500 unlawful killings have resulted from the ethno-religious and inter-communal violence in Nigeria since 1999. These killings were mostly carried out by the non-State actors.

The mass-murder by the Nigerian security forces particularly, the Army and the Police might have resulted in over 10,000 deaths. The Odi Community in Bayelsa State, Zaki-Biam in Benue State, Gbaramatu in Delta Sate and the Niger Delta Region, are the areas where the Nigerian security forces killed outside the law. Out of over 1000 unlawful deaths recorded during the Boko Haram uprising in 2009, the Nigerian security forces accounted for at least thirty (30%) percent. In the Jos crises of 2008, 2009 and 2010, the security forces were also found wanting.

It is widely believed that the number of people killed unlawfully since 1999 by the Nigeria Police Force might be in the region of 10,000, on average of 1,000 persons per year. These deaths were recorded in the police cells, at the scene of arrest, at police road blocks,  or after successful arrest.

The number of people who died as a result of torture in the hands of the Nigerian security forces is in torrents. Five, out of every five persons arrested by the Nigeria Police Force, on suspicion of commission of criminal offenses are tortured. The degree of torture meted to felony suspects are the same degree meted to simple offence and misdemeanor suspects.

Torture is also common among the non-State actors. Their victims, including those who were kidnapped and freed, had testified being tortured while in their captivity. Over 850 Nigerians and foreigners were kidnapped and tortured between January 2008 and July 2009. Among the militant and vigilante groups, physical torture is the order of the day. Some business executives in Nigeria also maintain secret detention centers, where they torture their employees, who “misbehaved” as well as their debtors. In banking sector in Nigeria, psychological torture rules. Young female bankers are forced into “corporate prostitution or promiscuity” by their male and female bosses so as to “hit the target”.

Further statistics
In the crises that hit Jos between 2001 and 2010, a period of eight years, over 3,000 people died. In September 2001, as many as 1,000 deaths were recorded. In May 2004, over 700 people died as a result of inter-communal clashes that hit Yelwa in the Southern part of Plateau State. In November 2008, at least 700 people were killed in a sectarian violence that hit Jos. During the said violence, a world leading human rights watchdog, the Human Rights Watch of the United States, recorded at least 133 cases of unlawful killings by the Nigerian security forces.

On January 17, 2010, violent clashes erupted again in Kuru Karama, Jos, resulting in the death of over 150 people, and on  March 7, 2010, the villages of Dogo Nahawa, Zot and Rassat in Jos South Local Government Area, were attacked at about 3:00a.m, by hundreds of ethnic blood suckers, resulting in the death of over 400 people, comprising mostly, children, women and the aged (vulnerable population). Elsewhere in the Nigeria’s Southeast State of Ebonyi, over 100 people were killed in May 2008, in a communal clash between Ezza and Ezillo communities in Ishielu Local Government Area of the State. Again, in January/February 2010, the clashes erupted resulting to over 200 deaths.

Why these killings are unabated
The major reasons why these killings have continued unabated are: according to the Human Rights Watch; “profound levels of poverty, the failure to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the violence (unlawful killings), and discriminatory government policies”. Beyond these are the primordial data base and locomotive investigation mechanisms available in the investigation warehouse of the Nigerian security forces, particularly the Nigerian Police Force.

There are motley of investigative and security intelligence agencies in Nigeria; namely: National Intelligence Agency, NIA, State Security Service, SSS, Force Criminal Investigations Department, FCID, and States’ Criminal Investigations Departments or Bureaus, SCIDs or SCIBs, of the Nigeria Police Force, the Directorate of Military Intelligence, DMI, as well as other intelligence units in the Air Force, the Navy, the Custom, the Immigration Services to mention but a few. Yet our borders are ever porous and insecure and fellow Nigerians have continued to live as endangered species in their own country.

The data base and intelligence competence have so much broken down in Nigeria to the extent that the heads of the Nigeria Police Force do not know the exact number of officers and persons presently peopling the Nigeria Police Force. The Nigeria Police website is empty and out of tune with conventional information update. If you wire an email to the Force Headquarters’ official email, hoping to be promptly attended to, you are on your own, unless you alert the officer-in-charge via telephone with a higher denomination airtime card to be recharged in his or her phone, and if you do not have his or her telephone numbers, you are doomed.

In the United Arab Emirates, for instance, once a person suspected of any wrongdoing is arrested and taken to a police station, he or she will be subjected to computer finger-printing and posed for a photograph, before other forms of investigations could follow. Forensic and pathological forms of criminal investigations reign supreme in the said Emirate Kingdom. If a police officer misbehaves, one can easily detect his or her data via police website, but in Nigeria, it is entirely a different ball game.

In fact, the Nigeria Police as well as other security agencies still uses rape and sexual violence; baton, needles, hot iron, ropes, ceiling fans, electric shock, live wire, liquid and powdered tear gas, gun butts, fists, planks, metal objects, strangulation, etc as instruments for extracting confessional statements.

Many of our law-lords (judges) have remained ever acutely conservative and unde-growth by admitting, contrary to the clear provisions of the Nigeria’s Evidence Act of 2004, the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Act/Code as well as the 1999 Constitution, confessional statements emanating from torture. The worst of it all is that our criminal laws have not accepted in their folds, the internet or hi-tech-bound pieces of evidence.

Criminal justice system cannot function effectively without effective and conventional investigation mechanisms. In the words of Mr. Paul Kagame during the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, “the killings stopped not because of changing of heart, but because, there are few people left to be killed”, the unlawful killings in Nigeria have continued not because they are insurmountable, but because of the acute absence of conventional investigation manpower and will-power. It is very unfortunate that the “Nwaiboko-style of criminal investigations”, which was used in Nigerian many former years, is still being replicated in today’s Nigeria’s criminal investigations.

These explain why over 160 highly politically motivated murders are not conclusively and satisfactorily investigated. The monopoly enjoyed by the Nigeria Police Force over criminal investigations is like a similar monopoly being enjoyed by the Power Holding Company of Nigeria over power supply. The two monopolies have pushed Nigeria and Nigerians far backward. The police monopoly should be broken and democratized via amendment of existing legislations pertaining to the subject matter. The Nigeria’s Coroner Laws can also be effectively modified and institutionalized to decolonize the said rabid monopoly.

Commissions of Enquiry also appear to be primordial and ineffective in curbing the incessancy of these killings. Prompt and effective criminal investigations should take precedent over the so-called commissions of enquiry, which are boring, ineffectual, ill-correctional and conveyer of homicidal immunity. Truth and Reconciliation Commissions may be put in place to reconcile the warring communities or differing religious or ethnic affiliations. Those caught in the act must no longer be amnestied. There can be no “exceptions to unlawful homicide” in Nigeria.


Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.