TWENTY-FOUR years into civilian rule, extrajudicial killings are rising and undermining human rights and democracy in Nigeria. Last Thursday, police in the Federal Capital Territory put down a violent protest following a report that agents of the Department of State Services had killed a fashion designer and injured several other persons. Although it later emerged that the victim survived the shooting, it neither doused popular anger nor erased the reality of summary executions by state agents. President Bola Tinubu should instil zero-tolerance for impunity and stamp out the odious trend.
Nigerians are having a raw deal in the hands of state and non-state killers. Incidents of extrajudicial killings occur around the country with depressing frequency, sometimes perpetrated by military personnel, DSS operatives and rogue police officers.
Innocent civilians have similarly been felled by trigger-happy operatives of the Nigeria Customs Service, Nigeria Immigration Service, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, and vigilantes.
The FCT incident typifies the prevailing impunity. Witnesses said that a customer had brought the DSS agents to the dressmaker’s shop for allegedly failing to deliver some clothes on an agreed date. An ensuing hot argument between both sides ended in the DSS agents firing gunshots to disperse the supporters of the fashion designer during which he was hit by a bullet. The DSS later admitted that its personnel came under a “mob attack,” but has not satisfactorily explained their business in a private matter.
Last month in Lagos, unknown soldiers stopped one Lawal, a driver, who was on his way to deliver a car in Abuja and took him to Iyana-Ipaja area where they shot him dead. Also, an aide to a senator, Olamilekan Adeola, was accosted by armed soldiers in Ojodu area, but his corpse was later found dumped near Oshodi.
In March, a DSS agent allegedly killed a man in Ogidi, Idemili North Local Government Area, Anambra State, whose wife had just delivered a baby when security men pursued a suspect into his compound. Another reckless DSS agent in December 2021 identified only as Bamidele, allegedly killed a 21-year-old job seeker, Temitope Johnson, by way of “stray bullet” in Owode Ede, Osun State.
Soldiers reportedly searching for members of the banned Indigenous People of Biafra in Orlu, Imo State, in April 2022 opened fire and killed several innocent persons.
The United Nations identifies extrajudicial killing, or extrajudicial execution, as the deliberate killing of a person without lawful authority arising from a judicial process. Indeed, of all recognised human rights, says the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings, the right to life is the most fundamental. It added, “Without the respect for the right to life, no other human right can be upheld.”
But some Nigerian security agents don’t care. In the 10 years to 2021, revealed the Centre for Democracy and Development, a think tank, security operatives killed 13,241 persons extrajudicially. Amnesty International said 115 persons were summarily executed by police and soldiers March to June 2021 in the South-East. In the year to June 2020, police killed 91 civilians. The UNSR said law enforcement agents killed 261 Nigerians extrajudicially in 2019.
On Christmas Day 2022, a police officer killed Bolanle Raheem, a 41-year-old pregnant lawyer under the Ajah bridge, Lagos, for no discernible cause. Usman Bala, 16, was killed in September 2022 when wild police officers overran a community in Jos North LGA, Plateau State.
Apart from such arbitrary killings over bribe demands and minor disagreements, massacres sometimes occur. Nigerian Army troops killed 347 members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria in December 2015 after an attack on their camp in Zaria, Kaduna State. Civil rights lawyer, Femi Falana, said a total of 492 Shiites were extrajudicially killed by the Army and police between 2014 and 2018.
Nigerian Navy personnel in December 2022 allegedly stabbed Hezekiah Abiona, an ASP, to death after an argument over the sailors’ violation of a traffic regulation.
Since being authorised to carry guns, NIS and NCS personnel have wasted the lives of innocents. In July this year, an Immigration officer identified only as ‘Lamba,’ allegedly shot and killed Jacob Bamgbola, who had mobilised a protest by youths in Idigbo, Yewa, Ogun State, over extortion by NIS officers at the Idi-Iroko border town. That same month in Jibia, Katsina State, Raji Mohammed was also felled by an NIS officer’s bullet for allegedly resisting a N2,000 bribe demand at the Nigeria-Niger Republic border crossing.
Reports have surfaced of Customs agents wasting lives both in border areas and in hinterland markets. This prompted then Katsina Governor, Aminu Masari, to threaten lawsuits against the NCS. In one case in 2022, agents killed 10 persons and wounded 13 others in Jibia, ostensibly in pursuit of smugglers.
The Senate set up an ad hoc committee in 2021 following anguished reports from victims of Customs attacks in border towns in Ogun, Oyo, Katsina and other states. The House of Representatives also initiated a probe into alleged incessant Customs killings of residents in Iseyin, Oyo State.
And last July, the media reported the shooting to death in Umuahia, Abia State, of an apprentice metal scrap dealer, Kelechi Amadi, 25, by NSCDC personnel who had allegedly demanded a N2,000 bribe “for fuel” and who whisked him away only for his corpse to be dumped later in a hospital.
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Nigeria should not continue along this path to ruin. Already ranked the 15th weakest state (out of 177 countries) on the Fragile State Index 2023, extrajudicial killings by agents of the state worsen the situation. Amid widespread insecurity where non-state actors killed 4,545 persons and kidnapped 4,611 others in 2022, according to data collated by the Cable Index, murder by state agents is doubly reprehensible.
Rampant killings and harassment by police personnel provoked the #EndSARS youth protests of 2022 that ended in casualties at the Lekki Tollgate Plaza, Lagos, which details are still disputed, but put at 48 by an official panel, with nine confirmed killed by soldiers and police.
Stopping the carnage and the culture of impunity that drives it requires a strong political will and action by the President and his appointees. The killings, illegal detentions and torture persist because very few of the perpetrators are ever brought to book. This is especially true of the military and paramilitary forces. There has been no accountability for the military reprisal massacres of civilians in Odi, Bayelsa State, 1999; and in Zaki Biam, Benue State, 2001, where 900 persons and 200 persons respectively, died.
Lately, after decades of atrocities, the Nigeria Police has been moving against its lawless officers who kill, maim, extort, and harass innocent Nigerians.
The military, the DSS and others have not followed suit. Their personnel killing extrajudicially and committing other atrocities against civilians often escape prosecution. For example, the operation and killing of 347 Shiites have not been subjected to federal scrutiny; soldiers who killed a police officer in Ojo, Lagos State, have not been identified and prosecuted, and those that slaughtered policemen to rescue a kidnapper, Hamisu Bala, aka ‘Wadume,’ in Taraba State, have walked free, while Bala has since been jailed.
Sweeping reforms must therefore be initiated. The rules of engagement need to be fine-tuned to accord with democratic tenets, the rule of law and utmost respect for human rights. Recommendations made by various reform panels on the police should be implemented. These include a five-year plan in 2000, the Tamuno Report 2002, the Dandami Report 2006, the 125 recommendations of the MD Yusuf Report 2008, and similar reports in 2010 and 2012.
Tinubu should begin the process of transforming the police, the military and other security agencies into people’s organs and wean them off their ingrained hostility towards the civilian populace they are recruited, trained, and paid to protect.
The chiefs of the army, air force and navy must reform the forces. The reflexive denials and shielding of their personnel who kill or rampage outside the barracks should stop. It is abnormal for soldiers in a democracy to be committing atrocities against civilians.
Even in war situations, there are globally accepted rules of engagement. Under the UN Charter and the Hague Regulations to which Nigeria is a signatory, occupying forces are among others, forbidden from reprisal attacks, collective punishment against locals, destruction or seizure of property, and anyone accused of a crime must be accorded fair trial.
An Israeli soldier, Elor Azaria, who shot and killed an armed Palestinian attacker, was prosecuted because the victim was already on the ground. This year, amid its war against violent drug cartels, Mexico is charging some soldiers for the extrajudicial executions of 10 persons. British authorities launched an investigation into the alleged killings of over 80 Afghans 2010-2013 by its elite Special Air Service commandos. Recall that Britain lost a total of 457 servicemen in Afghanistan, over 100 of them in 2009/10 alone, according to the UK House of Commons.
But these crimes thrive here without consequences. Military and the DSS personnel carry on as if they are above the law and ignore court orders. Their impunity reached new heights under the immediate past administration of Muhammadu Buhari.
Tinubu has an urgent responsibility to rein them in. Henceforth, there should be strong and swift consequences for lawless behaviour by state agents.
Extrajudicial killing is murder; no one or agency has the right to take another’s life without the imprimatur of a court judgement, and only after a fair trial and the exercise, or waiving of the right of appeal to the highest court in the land. Soldiers, DSS and other security personnel who kill should be handed over to the police for investigation and trial. Treating such crimes as internal affairs of the agencies to be swept under the carpet is illegal and unacceptable.
Federal and state lawmakers should take active an interest when civilians are killed extrajudicially or harassed by security agents. The National Assembly should review existing laws and legislate stiffer punishments for extrajudicial execution.
Tinubu should run an administration fully compliant with the demands of democracy and ensure that all state agencies accord utmost respect for the rule of law and fundamental human rights.
The most basic of these is the right to life; it must be protected at all costs from being abridged by both state and non-state actors. ,
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