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Nigeria Scores High In Human Rights Violation Index

International Observers Note Alarm

 By Ebere Inyama

(Lagos) Nigeria recorded 1,580 human rights violations in March 2024 according to a report by National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

Most of the reported cases of abuse were complaints of torture and extra – judicial killings by security operatives, giving rise to questions about the sincerity of the federal government in its claims that the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was actually disbanded in October, 2020.

US Government expresses concern of Human Rights Violations in Nigeria

Map of Africa showing Nigeria.Courtesy of Ezra Lekwot Vivan, Ali Andesikuteb Yakubu, Okafor Christian, Micheal Kingsley Balasom Climate Change And Its Effect On National Security In Nigeria. Research Gate
Map of Africa showing Nigeria.Courtesy of Ezra Lekwot Vivan, Ali Andesikuteb Yakubu, Okafor Christian, Micheal Kingsley Balasom Climate Change And Its Effect On National Security In Nigeria. Research Gate

In its 2023 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices published on its website on 24TH April, 2024, the US Department of State

highlighted a submission by the director of Avocats Sans Frontières, Angela Uzoma-Iwuchukwu, that her office handled 1,200 cases involving victims of torture. The report also captured several instances of human rights abuses by security operatives in Nigeria.

“The law prohibited the use of torture as a means to extract confessions from suspects, but there were credible reports that government officials employed them.

“Police and other security services had the authority to arrest individuals without a warrant if officials reasonably suspected that a person committed a crime. Security forces sometimes abused this authority.

“The law required subjects be brought before a magistrate within 48 hours and have access to lawyers and family members. In some instances, government and security employees did not adhere to this regulation. Numerous detainees stated police demanded bribes to take them to court hearings or to release them.

 “In their prosecution of corruption cases, law enforcement and intelligence agencies did not always follow due process, arresting suspects without appropriate arrest and search warrants”, the report stated.

Abuja Panel Indicted 72 Police Officers For Human Rights Violations

Earlier in September, 2022, a Presidential Panel which was set up in Abuja to investigate cases of human rights violations in Nigeria indicted 72 police officers for various acts of human rights violations and recommended them for prosecution and different degrees of sanctions. 28 of the police officers were recommended for prosecution, 25 for dismissal, 15 for disciplinary actions and four for a reduction in rank.

According to the secretary to the panel, Hilary Ogbonna, out of the 295 petitions of police brutality cases received by the panel, 64 were cases of extra-judicial killings and seven of enforced disappearance, both of which come down to a total of 77 persons either killed or forever missing.

Most of the police officers indicted by the panel were attached to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), whose operations triggered nation-wide protest tagged #EndSARS in October 2020

Extortion, Torture And Extra – Judicial Killings Trailed SARS Operations Nationwide

The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was formed in 1992 by a Police officer named Simeon Danladi Midenda. He was transferred to Lagos state from Benin City in 1992 and tasked with uniting the three existing anti-robbery squads operating in the former federal capital into one unit in a bid to break the stronghold of armed gangs.

15 policemen were assigned to work with him after he was equipped with arms, ammunition and two operational vehicles.

In the early days of the unit, combat-ready SARS officers operated undercover in plain clothes and plain vehicles without any security or government insignia and did not carry arms in public. Their job was to monitor radio communications and facilitate successful arrests of criminals.

For 10 years, SARS operated only in Lagos, but by 2002, it had spread to all 36 states of the federation as well as the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. It was counted as one of the 14 units under the Nigerian Police Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department. Its mandate included arrest, investigation and prosecution of suspected armed robbers, murderers, kidnappers, hired assassins and other suspected violent criminals.

Emboldened by its new authority, the unit moved on from its main function of carrying out covert operations and began to set up roadblocks and extorting money from citizens. The SARS officers remained in plain clothes but started to carry arms in public. Over time, the unit was indicted for widespread human rights abuses, extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention and extortion.

In 2016, Amnesty International documented its visit to one of the SARS detention centers in Abuja situated in a disused abattoir. There, it found 130 detainees living in overcrowded cells and being regularly subjected to methods of torture including hanging, starvations, beatings, shootings and mock executions.

Peaceful Protests Against SARS Led To Extra-Judicial Killings By The Nigerian Army

On 3 October 2020, a viral video of SARS officers physically assaulting and shooting a young man in Ughelli, Delta State surfaced online. Thereafter, the hashtag #EndSARS began to trend on various social media platforms until the first physical protest on October 8, 2020 in Lagos state. The protest soon spread to other states in Nigeria and continued until October 11, 2020.

The Nigerian government tried to quell the peaceful protest through the use of tear gas and water cannons. Later, the Nigerian soldiers opened fire and killed many of the protesters at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos state, where they had gathered.

A leaked Lagos State memo dated July 19 indicated the state government approved an expenditure of 61.3 million naira ($97,460) for the “mass burial” of 103 victims from the 2020 #EndSARS protests who remained in morgues, which raised questions regarding the extent of the abuses that took place during those protests.

Four years since the EndSARS protests, human-rights abuses by security operatives in Nigeria have continued unabated. With the tragic end of the End SARS protests in 2020, it is doubtful if the residents in Nigeria can embark on such protests in the near future.

Ebere Inyama is an Imo state –based conflict reporter for TruthNigeria

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