By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
Government cannot afford to ignore this dangerous trend by which the lives of innocent citizens are endangered or snuffed out by those whose constitutional duty it is to secure the lives and property of the citizenry.”
Those were the exact words of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke SAN, on a day Nigeria joined the rest of the world to mark the International Human Rights Day.
Like every other democratic nation in the world, Nigeria, on every December 10, undertakes the hollow-ritual of apportioning blames for its rising cases of extra-judicial killings and flagrant violation of rights of citizens by government agencies.
In acknowledgment of this fact, the AGF, while shifting the blame on the Police, decried that the reckless use of arms by security agents in the country had resulted in 7, 198 extrajudicial deaths in four years across the country, adding that “more recently, the chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, opined that this approximated to the summary execution of well over 2, 500 detainees.”
He said: “although these figures have been stoutly disputed by the police, even the most charitable defenders of the force cannot deny that some dishonourable officers indeed have taken the law into their hands in the most barbaric fashion by killing suspects and innocent citizens.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the constitutional derogation to the right to life which sanctions the use of force to curb an escapee is no blank check to carry out extra-judicial killings. The provision can only be invoked where death arises as a result of the use, to such extent and in such circumstances as are permitted by law, of such force as is reasonably necessary in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained.
“Several factors have been advanced to rationalize the rising wave of police brutalityand extrajudicial killings. Such reasons include the conditions of service of the Police, especially the poor salary, living condition in the barracks and low self-esteem. All of these combine, it is often argued, to make the Policeman an angry man with arms thus putting him on edge and frequently on the lookout for illicit and corrupt enrichment.
“Nonetheless, government cannot afford to ignore this dangerous trend by which lives of innocent citizens are endangered or snuffed out by those whose constitutional duty it is to secure the lives and property of the citizenry. Most of these challenges appear to have been significantly tackled by the recommendations of the Presidential Committee on the Re-organization of the Nigeria Police which recently submitted its report.
“It is instructive that among other recommendations, the report highlighted the need to embark on a continuous weeding out of bad and unscrupulous elements who on account of arbitrariness and opaqueness in recruitment exercise had found their way into the force.
“Terrorist attacks such as the October 1, 2010 Independence anniversary bomb explosion by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, where 12 people were reportedly killed and the spate of suicide killings by the Boko Haram group are direct attacks on the core values of democratic governance namely the rule of law, the protection and dignity of human beings; mutual respect between people of different faiths and cultures; and peaceful resolution of conflict.
“However in the fight against terrorism, we cannot compromise on these core values. In other words we should not perpetuate a cycle of violence and brutality in the quest to stamp out the evil of terrorism and extremism.
“As I see it, terrorism is in itself a direct attack on human rights and the rule of law. If we sacrifice them in our response, we are handing a victory to the terrorists. I therefore believe that the following issues are germane to a democratic response to the threat of terrorism namely the protection of individuals and communities; the stabilization of existing conflicts and discontents; the countering of harmful and extremist ideologies; the deployment of adequate response to the economic and social insecurities that contribute to the growth of terrorism.”
Remarkably, since increased agitation over alleged excesses and human rights breaches perpetuated by state organs and officials, the international best practices have leaned more towards the establishment and empowerment of independent and objective monitoring bodies.
Consequently, following Nigeria’s ratification of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture on July 27, 2009, the Government constituted a National Committee on Torture with a mandate to among other things, (i) Receive and Consider communications on torture from individuals, Civil Society organizations, and government institutions.
(ii) Visit all places of detention in Nigeria and promptly and impartially examine any allegation of torture therein. (iii) Ensure that education and information regarding the prohibition against torture are fully included in the training of law enforcement personnel, civil or military, medical personnel, public officials and other persons who may be involved in the custody, interrogation treatment of any individual subjected to any form or arrest, detention or imprisonment.
(iv) Keep under systematic review, interrogation rules, instructions, methods and practices as well as arrangements for the custody and treatment of persons subjected to any form of arrest, detention or imprisonment, with a view to preventing any cases of torture.
(v) Prepare quarterly briefings to the AGF on cases of torture and propose appropriate administrative and judicial intervention. (vi) Propose Anti-Torture Legislation; and (vii) Further develop a National Anti-Torture Policy.
Nevertheless, how much of these mandates that have been actualized is still within the realm of imagination, as cases of Police brutality and extra-legal measures meted against Nigerians everyday remains a reality.
It is equally a reality that over 80 per cent of Nigerians languishing in various prisons across the country today are awaiting trial inmates, despite that section 35(4) and (5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides that any person arrested or detained upon reasonable suspicion of having committed a criminal offence shall be brought before a court of law within a reasonable time, and if he is not tried within a period of (a) Two months from the date of his arrest or detention in the case of a person who is in custody or is not entitled to bail; or
(b) Three months from the date of his arrest or detention in the case of a person who has been released on bail. The Constitution further stipulates that such person shall (without prejudice to any further proceedings brought against him) be released either unconditionally or upon such conditions that are reasonably necessary to ensure that he appears for trial at a later date.
Lamenting the flagrant denial of these rights to Nigerians, the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, through its National President, Chief Okey Wali, SAN, maintained that “no provision of the Law or the Constitution gives the State Security Service or the Military or the Police the right to detain suspects ad infinitum,” stressing that “nothing therefore justifies the detention of insurgents by agencies not empowered to detain them.
According to NBA, “Nothing justifies the refusal of the said agencies to hand over the insurgents to the Nigerian Police Force. And nothing justifies the NPF in joining other security agencies in detaining insurgents without trial. Nothing justifies the holding of persons suspected of having committed a criminal offence without trial.
“After all, section 36 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides that every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty.
“We also want to reiterate that Nigeria has an obligation to investigate allegations of extrajudicial executions by security agencies. There is nothing shameful about acknowledging mistakes and indiscretions and pledging to make amends. Denying cases of extra judicial executions and unlawful detentions in the face of overwhelming evidence can only diminish our prestige and respect in the country of nations.
“There is no doubt that extra-judicial execution by the Nigerian Police amounts to a disregard of the duty to organize the apparatus of the state in such a manner as to guarantee the rights recognized in the African Charter. It is also our view that by carrying out or tolerating actions directed toward effecting extra-legal executions, by not investigating them adequately or diligently, and by not punishing those responsible, the State violates the duty to respect the rights recognized in the African Charter and to ensure their free and full exercise, both by the alleged victim and by his next of kin, and for society as a whole to know what happened.
“We therefore call on the Federal Government to investigate all the allegations of extra judicial executions and torture leveled against the various branches of the security agencies. Impunity will persist so long as cases of this nature are not investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.”
Meantime, as the blame game continues, it is the earnest desire of Nigerians to witness such a time when the protection of their constitutionally guaranteed rights will become top priority in the agenda of those they entrusted with the mantle of governance.