Since October 5, young Nigerians have been on the streets protesting against police brutality. The #EndSARS protests, which started when a video was shared on Twitter showing men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) driving off in the vehicle of a young man that was allegedly killed by them, have been happening throughout the country. SARS, a police unit formed to fight violent crimes, has been accused of terrorizing young people who are seemingly well-off and tech-savvy.
Protesters called for an end to SARS and although the president agreed to their demand, even going as far as promising an extensive reform of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), protests have continued. This won’t be the first time such a promise has been made as recorded in 2017, in 2018 and in 2019. Protesters have asked the government to show actions if they are serious about implementing police reforms.
Amnesty International describes police brutality as human rights violations by police, including unlawful use of force, torture, beatings and extrajudicial executions. The NGO has previously accused Nigeria’s police of extrajudicial killings. There is a lack of data on police shootings in Nigeria as the NPF does not collect data about their officers’ operations.
To understand the concept of police brutality and the manner in which it is experienced in Nigeria, I compiled the first dataset of verifiable cases of police brutality in the country from the period of 2002 to 2020. I then analyzed the data to obtain insights, which I discussed. From my findings, I provided recommendations on the areas that the government should focus on in order to achieve a successful restructuring of the NPF.
Cases of Police Brutality in Nigeria: Findings
- Mean age of victims that encounter police brutality is 28 years for male and 25 years for female
When you consider that nearly half of Nigeria’s population is below 30 years of age, then you begin to understand how bad this statistics is. Students, technicians, graduates, young professionals and creatives fall under this age bracket and are the usual targets of police brutality in the country.
- Shooting was recorded as the highest form (69 per cent) in which police brutality was carried out by operatives of the NPF, followed by the disappearance of suspects in their custody (16 per cent) and torture (7 per cent)
Other forms include mutilation (3 per cent) and rape (2 per cent). From the analysis, both male and female victims died mostly through shooting. Nigeria’s Constitution and Police Force Order 237 permits police officers to shoot a fleeing suspect “provided the offence is such that the accused may be punished with death or imprisonment for 7 years or more.” However, rogue police officers have been known to exploit this law to kill at will.
Also, the Nigerian police has a documentation problem with no central database to track arrested suspects. Hence, suspects in their custody are often victims of enforced disappearance. During an investigation, torture is used by the police to extract a confession from frightened suspects which have resulted in their death in many cases.
- For 29 per cent of the cases, it wasn’t clear why the victims were picked up, in 16 per cent of the cases the victims were suspected armed robbers, 12 per cent of the victims were unfortunately caught by a stray bullet and 10 per cent of the victims died after having a confrontation with a police officer
- The most common reason for the arrest and killing of suspects by the Nigerian police was unknown. Young Nigerians were simply picked up by police officers, taken to an unknown police station and pronounced dead when enquiries were made by their relatives, usually informally.
Nigerian police officers have a reputation for labeling suspects as armed robbers, internet fraudsters (“yahoo boys”) and kidnappers without evidence. Failure to pay a bribe could easily get you killed by the police as observed in the analysis (7 per cent) and the usual targets are public transport providers. Suspects are commonly denied treatment by the police after being shot or tortured, which in many cases result in their death as seen in 7 per cent of the cases.
Nigeria’s police officers are among the lowest paid in the world with an entry level salary of $1,700 per year and there is no compensation for families of slain officers on official duty. The poor remuneration they receive makes the officers result to soliciting bribes and extorting civilians to carry out their basic operations like investigating crime.
- 98 per cent of the victims that were killed did not have a weapon on them
Although in many cases the police was quick to claim that a suspect that was killed was armed, it often contradicted eye witness accounts.
- Rivers state led with number of deaths to police brutality (29 per cent), followed by Lagos (17 per cent) and FCT and Enugu (both 10 per cent)
Two of Nigeria’s richest states Rivers and Lagos States are among places where people were most likely to be stopped by the Nigerian police according to a 2006 survey. These encounters with the police usually leave the suspects dead, as in the case of 7 per cent of the victims from the analysis that were picked up during a random police raid. The reason why police brutality is high in these states could be as a result of the high concentration of wealthy people resident in them.
- Males are more likely to be shot, mutilated, tortured and beaten by the police while females are more likely to be sexually molested
90 per cent of victims from the reviewed cases were males and 10 per cent of victims were females. Young Nigerian males are the usual targets of police brutality for suspected crimes such as cultism, internet fraud and kidnapping. From the analysis, the highest number of death by female victims was as a result of being hit by a stray bullet (9 per cent) and being raped (2 per cent).
- July recorded the highest number of killings (16 per cent)
Too many extrajudicial killings by Nigeria’s police officers happen in July. The Cable’s report of extrajudicial killings in Nigeria also revealed this. It is unclear why this is the case.
- The year 2019 recorded the highest number of killings (29 per cent) of unarmed civilians by the police
Reasons for these killings resulted from the police’s involvement in civil matters such as arguments, traffic controls and protests.
- 57 per cent of the cases were not officially investigated by the police in the first place while 17 per cent of the cases did not produce any information about the outcome of an investigation that was conducted. Convictions were rare (2 per cent) with the dismissal of an offending officer (5 per cent) from the police force as the most common form of punishment
Investigations were rarely conducted to determine the circumstances surrounding the death of a suspect, particularly when they were accused of being armed robbers, kidnappers or cultists. In many cases after an officer of the police force wrongfully killed a suspect, they were arrested and sometimes charged to court, but no information was provided about if they were convicted.
The Force Order 237 Rules for Guidance on the use of firearms states that “if the police officer is charged with an offence arising out of his use of firearms; it is for the court to decide whether, in circumstances, his action was justified.” However, in many cases as in the review, rarely are the offending officers charged to court, particularly in cases where the victims die from being hit by a stray bullet. It is very common for the police to fire a “warning shot” to inform a crowd of people of their presence and this sometimes leaves innocent bystanders injured or dead.
Based on the findings, here are suggested areas of reforms that the Nigerian government and the police should focus on.
- Enforce revised Force Order 237
In 2019, Nigeria’s Inspector General of Police Adamu Mohammed launched a review of Force Order 237, which defines police rules of engagement. In the reviewed document, the police would replace the use of live bullets in favor of stun guns for low-risk operations. However, in 2020 the police still use live bullets to disperse a crowd of protesters, as witnessed during the #EndSARS protest, which has so far resulted in the death of 10 protesters including Isiaka Jimoh. If the police is serious about implementing reforms this time, then they should enforce the revised Force Oder 237 to ensure that unavoidable deaths are prevented.
- Ensure police practice proper reporting
Nigeria’s police should implement measures to monitor the use of firearms and ammunition by their officers to reduce the high rate of extrajudicial executions in the police force, in accordance with international standards. Furthermore, a proper reporting system that records information of persons arrested should be adopted across all police stations to enable easy tracking of suspects in police custody.
- Increase police remunerations
The Nigerian police force is underfunded. It would be almost impossible for the officers to carry out their obligations effectively without a review of their remunerations. The Federal Government should introduce schemes that would cater to the needs of police offers during their service and in the event of their death while in active duty.
- Rid the force of ‘bad eggs’. Prosecute them
The NPF should not shield any police officer that is suspected of extrajudicial executions. Such an officer should be punished, not by merely being transferred or dismissed, but by being made to face the full weight of the law if found guilty, and this information should be made public. This would send a strong message to every officer that any acts of misconduct on active duty would not be tolerated in the NPF.
- Train police officers on how to detect crime and respect human rights
Police officers should be trained on how to detect crime with modern tools and equipment, which are more reliable than using interrogation techniques. Police officers should also be trained on how to use firearms responsibly in line with international standards. Community policing initiatives that would build trust between the police and the people they are meant to protect should be introduced.