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V. Deaths in Police Custody

During the course of this research Human Rights Watch gathered information on the death of at least twenty-three men in police custody. Twelve of these cases are from Kano and took place between November 2003 and early 2005. Three took place in Lagos in February 2005 and eight in Enugu between March 2002 and May 2005. In addition, reports from local human rights organizations and the press indicate there are scores of others cases, suggesting a widespread pattern of deaths in custody across the country.

At the Kano State police headquarters alone, four men held at the criminal investigation department, known as “State CID,” for periods of up to twenty-three months told Human Rights Watch they had saw or heard of the death of between twenty and forty people during their detention. Those who died from their injuries or were summarily executed included the following eleven men whose names and approximate ages they gave as follows: Awolo, twenty-nine-years-old, Idris, thirty-seven years, Charles, forty years, Obita, thirty-one years, Yusuf, twenty-two years, Arangama, thirty years, Yakubu, thirty years, Ibrahim, twenty-seven years, Augustine, Julius, and Emeka. 45

The following account of torture and death in custody of two detainees at the Kano State police command was given to Human Rights Watch by a thirty-six-year-old trader. He was arrested along with twenty-one-year-old Ahmadu, thirty-year-old Ishaq and twenty-seven-year-old Abubakar46 in November 2003 at a police checkpoint in Kano: 

At State CID they didn’t take our names but took us immediately to one dark room, about ten-by-ten-meters in size. There were about seven policemen. [Sergeant A], [Sergeant B] and [Corporal C] 47 were carrying sticks. Four others were sitting down. Our arms were tied with handcuffs. One at a time we were hung by a chain from the ceiling fan hook. I was the first. They started beating me with a yam pounder,48 saying I should confess for the robbery. I didn’t know what they were talking about. I was beaten, beaten, beaten. They beat my knees, the soles of my feet, my back and my joints. This went on for twenty-five minutes. I was beaten too much. I shit and piss while I was hanging. Then I became unconscious. They brought me down and poured water over my head. I woke up and saw Ishaq hanging. He was shouting. They beat him the same as me, so that he shit and he piss. They beat him so he accepted what he didn’t do. He accepted he was a robber. Then they did the same to Abubakar. They beat him more than Ishaq - for over thirty-five minutes. The whole place was scattered with blood. He was shouting, shouting. He also shit and piss himself. He wouldn’t agree to the robbery.

Next they started taking statements. All seven policemen were present. [Sergeant A] took my statement. I told them I robbed, even though I did not. [Sergeant A] pointed a gun and forced me to sign the statement. [Sergeant B] took a statement from Ishaq and [Corporal C] from Abubakar.

Then we were taken to the cell. We were thirty-six people in a very small cell. It was so congested. We were packed like sardines. There was no ventilation, no window and just a tiny toilet. We had to eat and piss in that room. I had wounds on my back and my face. My body was seriously paining me. I couldn’t stand and had to crawl to go to the toilet. My left knee and foot had swollen, my arms were swollen. I didn’t get any medicine. When I complained about my injuries they said let me die.

After three days they took us to the same room and beat us again. They told us we went to rob one Alhaji. We said no, we did not. They were annoyed that we said no. [Sergeant A] was carrying a big iron bar and he started beating me with it. I accepted I had robbed. Ishaq said he would not accept, so they beat him until he was unconscious. He did the same with Abubakar. [Sergeant A] beat him in the stomach and broke his right arm and his left leg. [Sergeant A’s] nickname is Angel.

He told me to drag Abubakar back to the cell. He was bleeding from his nose and mouth, his whole face was swollen. With the help of the chairman [head of the prisoners], I dragged Abubakar back to the cell.

Ishaq died after two months. Abubakar died after three or four months in custody. He died from the beating. They broke his kidney. He got no medical attention, not even panadol. He couldn’t sleep or eat.

The police took the corpse to the general hospital. Ishaq’s wife came twice to look for him. I wanted to tell her what had happened. [Sergeant A] said if I tell her he will kill me. They told his wife he had been transferred to Abuja. At first, when our families came to look for us, they drove them all away. It was not possible to see visitors. Abubakar’s family are in Lagos. In February 2004, his senior brother came to look for him. He gave the police 10,000 naira [approximately US$ 77] to see his brother. When he saw what state he was in he started crying. He couldn’t come back again. 49

A police officer, who used to work at the police headquarters in Kano until 2003, told Human Rights Watch he had seen suspects being shot in the leg or beaten with wooden sticks and metal rods. He told researchers: “There are many cases at State Criminal Investigation Department (CID) [at the police headquarters in Kano] where the police intentionally shoot people. They are shooting roughly one person per week.”50

Another man, held at Kano State police headquarters between February and March 2005, witnessed the death of a co-detainee. He told Human Rights Watch: “One person was taken from the cell. His name was Nairu Gewa.” When he returned to the cell the man saw Nairu Gewa had been shot in both legs, “He was shot in both legs. I personally treated his wounds, but he was urinating blood and later died in the cell.”51

Several other people who had been detained at the Kano State police command described to Human Rights Watch how they or co-detainees were beaten by two sergeants, one corporal and other policemen attached to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), all of whom were identified to Human Rights Watch researchers by name.  To Human Rights Watch’s knowledge, these officers are still working at the Kano State police command.

When Human Rights Watch raised the issue of deaths in custody with the Kano State police command, the police spokesperson said:  “We would not allow a suspect to die in custody. We are cautious and careful with our job. It is very difficult to die in police custody. If they are sick they are taken to hospital. Brutality is no longer used as a method of interrogation. It is no longer relevant.” 52

In Lagos, Human Rights Watch spoke to a man who had knowledge of at least three summary executions which took place at Area G Command in the Ogba area of the city in February 2005. He gave the following detailed account of one of these incidents and explained why he believed summary execution of detainees was a regular occurrence:

At Area G Command in Ogba they regularly kill suspects. I have seen it from a friend’s office which overlooks the police yard. It is usually between 10:00am -12:00p.m., during the rush hour. On three different occasions I saw people being shot.

It was this year [2005], between January 7 and 12, at 10:00 or 11:00 a.m. I was standing at the top of the building and I could see a MOPOL policeman interrogating a detainee. The detainee looked disheveled, with a ripped shirt and torn trousers. He looked very feeble, like he had lost all his strength. From where I was, I would say he was between thirty-four and forty-years-old, dark in complexion and about 5 ½ feet tall. He was handcuffed and had manacles on his legs.

He was taken to the back of the yard. I couldn’t hear the exact exchange of words, but I could see from the policeman’s gesticulation that he was interrogating the man. The detainee was pleading.  The next thing the policeman picked up a rifle and aimed it at him. He was still talking and threatening the man. After between five and seven minutes he aimed the gun again and shot him three times at close range, about four or five meters away. He first aimed at his chest and then the last bullet hit him in the stomach. The police officer just left him and walked out. It was as if someone had killed a lizard. I also walked away, as I couldn’t watch any more.

The second occasion was the second Thursday in February, between 12:00 and 12.30p.m. I was walking from a meeting. I didn’t see but heard three gunshots just as I was walking past the police station. Three policemen who were outside shouted: “rest in pieces,” and “muscle up” – a euphemism for “he is dead and gone”.

[…]Also, one time last year my cousin […] was taken to FESTAC police station. He called me to come and bail him. […] As we went to leave an officer said “gentlemen stop, wait” and we were locked inside the station. We didn’t know why. After five minutes we heard seven gunshots coming from the back of the yard. The police staff at the counter all echoed “rest in pieces, rest in pieces,” one for each gunshot. This is where I first heard the phrase and why I knew what it meant when I heard it at Ogba. After a couple of minutes they opened the gates. 53

The man was adamant that from the office building he could clearly see what was taking place in the police yard.  He also told Human Rights Watch that after “rest in pieces,” the police officers shouted: “Oh, they are gone,” “they have bid us goodbye,” and “they have gone on errand.” He explained that the use of these terms is openly acknowledged by police officers in Nigeria. During discussions with police personnel on a separate occasion, he was explicitly told these phrases are used to signify a suspect has been shot in police custody.54 In addition to the incidents described above, the man’s friend reported a third case of summary execution and told him such incidents occur up to three times a week.55

One of the most notorious cases to reach public attention in recent years was the killing of two school boys in Nsukka, Enugu State.  On March 10, 2002, sixteen-year-old Nnaemeka Ugwuoke and seventeen-year-old Izuchukwu Ayogu were running an errand in their home town of Nsukka. They were stopped by three men who attempted to force them into a car. When they tried to run away they were chased, beaten, and arrested by the officers before being handed over to the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) for Nsukka, a police superintendent, who drove them to the police station.56 When their parents went to the police station they were told there was no offense recorded against the boys, but they were refused bail on the explicit instruction of the DPO. On their return the following day they found their sons no longer there. All the policemen, including the DPO, denied having ever seen them. Several days later, the mutilated bodies of Nnaemeka and Izuchukwu were found dumped at a construction site in Nkpologwu, a nearby town. 57

Following protests from the Nsukka community, the Enugu State police command opened an inquiry into the death of Nnaemeka and Izuchukwu. The findings which were released in April 2002 indicted the DPO for their murder. The report revealed how, when junior officers disobeyed the DPO’s orders to shoot the boys, he took the gun and shot them himself. The report states: “That there is a strong evidence to believe that the boys were actually arrested by the DPO, put in the boot [trunk] of his car and brought to the station for detention. That there was no entry of crime committed by the two boys in the station’s crime diary. That the entry of their detention in prisoner’s property lock-up register kept at the counter was tampered with […]. That the two boys were actually shot at Isi-Uja by Mr. Gambo Sarki through the gun he collected from Insp. John Ugwuof Anti-Crime Patrol team (pick-up van).” 58  It recommended that the DPO and several other officers face prosecution, concluding: “After exhaustive discreet investigation, it becomes clear that it is a premeditated action on the part of the officer, Gambo Sarki (SP), therefore it is obvious that a clear case of murder of Nnaemeka Ugwuoke and Izuchukwu Ayogu was firmly established against Supol. Gambo Sarki (SP). It is therefore recommended that he be charged to court as such, while the indicted policemen should face severe disciplinary action.”59

On receiving the report the then Inspector General of Police ordered the case file and the DPO to be transferred to Abuja. Over three years later, the case has still not been brought to trial and no one prosecuted for the murder. Indeed, there are conflicting reports about the whereabouts of the DPO. The parents and local human rights organizations said the police have given conflicting information, first claiming the DPO had escaped from detention and then claiming he remained in custody and that they were still conducting an investigation. At the time of writing the DPO’s whereabouts remain unknown. 60

The May 2005 death in custody of six young men, also in Enugu, appears to be yet another example of extrajudicial killing and total disregard for fundamental principles of due process in the name of an anti-crime strategy. According to information from local human rights organizations and reports in the media, Murphy Opara, Emeka Madubosa, Uchenna Asogwa, Ikechukwu Asogwa, Chimezie Ugwu and Kelechi Chukwu were arrested from various locations in Port Harcourt, Nsukka, and Lagos between March and April 2005 in connection with a bank robbery that took place in Enugu. The six friends were transferred to the Ogui Area Command in Enugu. Although they had not been convicted of the robbery, on April 27, 2005, they were paraded before journalists at the State CID in Enugu, as a public display of the anti-crime measures being employed by the police.61 Article 45(1) of the U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners provides: “When the prisoners are being removed to or from an institution, they shall be exposed to public view as little as possible, and proper safeguards shall be adopted to protect them from insult, curiosity and publicity in any form.”

Despite repeated efforts, the families were not permitted access to their children who were, according to a local NGO, denied legal representation. On May 9, 2005 family members brought food for the young men, but were told they had been transferred to the state police headquarters in Enugu earlier that day. When they made inquiries at the police headquarters officers denied the suspects had been brought there. Days later their dead bodies were found at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital mortuary in Enugu. According to local human rights organizations the police have offered no official response to the families. 62

A member of staff from a large Nigerian hospital told Human Rights Watch: “In the course of one week the police come frequently to deliver bodies, say four or five times. We get four or five bodies from them per week.”63 He said the explanations of death offered by the police when they bring corpses to the mortuary are not consistent with the types of injuries he observed. This led him to conclude that the majority of the corpses brought to the hospital are of those who had been killed in custody. The source described how the police claim the person died of an illness or that the body was found on the road. However, according to the source, the same corpses were observed by him to have signs of extensive bruising and evidence of whipping. 64

[45] Human Rights Watch interview, Kano, March 12, 2005. 

[46] The names have been changed to protect the identity of the victims and witnesses.

[47] The names of the police officers have been withheld for the security of the witness.

[48] Large wooden pestle used to pound yam and other foodstuffs. They vary in size but can be up to one meter long and over one kilo in weight.

[49] Human Rights Watch interview, Kano, March 2005.

[50] Human Rights Watch interview, Kano, March 2005.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Human Rights Watch interview with Baba Mohammed, Police Public Relations Officer, Kano state police, March 14, 2005.

[53] Human Rights Watch interview, Lagos, March 8, 2005.

[54] Human Rights Watch telephone interview, June 27, 2005.

[55] Human Rights Watch interview, Lagos, March 8, 2005.

[56] Enugu State police command report entitled, “Detailed Police Investigation Report re. case of suspected murder. Complaints: 1. Chief Nicholas Ugwoke 2. Chief Reuben Ayogu. Suspects: 1. Mr. Gambo Sarki (SP) and others. Deceased: 1. Nnaemeka Ugwoke (m) 2. Izuchukwu Ayogu (m).”

[57] Civil Liberties Organization, “Human Rights Call - The Nsukka Killings: Time for Justice,” September 1, 2003 and Human Rights Watch email correspondence with Nigerian NGO representatives June, 24 2003 and February 24, 2004.

[58] Enugu State police command report entitled, “Detailed Police Investigation Report re. case of suspected murder. Complaints: 1. Chief Nicholas Ugwoke 2. Chief Reuben Ayogu. Suspects: 1. Mr. Gambo Sarki (SP) and others. Deceased: 1. Nnaemeka Ugwoke (m) 2. Izuchukwu Ayogu (m).”

[59] Ibid.

[60] See also, “Nsukka Killings - Recurring Cry for Justice,” Vanguard, August 6, 2003 and “Justice Delayed”, The News, March 22, 2004.

[61] “Millionaire Robbers: Police Smash gang which stole N28m from bank,” The Sun, May 12, 2005.

[62] Human Rights Watch email correspondence, May 6, 2005 and telephone conversation May 13, 2005.

[63] Human Rights Watch interview, March 2005.

[64] Ibid.

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