There have been very few instances where the Bakassi Boys have been prosecuted for human rights abuses. In those cases where legal action against them has been initiated, and where members of the Bakassi Boys have been arrested by the police, interventions by politicians or other influential figures have almost always ensured that the alleged perpetrators were released within a short time. For example, in the case of the two men killed by the Bakassi Boys in the Safari restaurant in Umuahia in July 1999, the police received instructions to release the Bakassi Boys they had arrested.119 In the case of the killing of Chief Okonkwo, the chairman of the Bakassi Boys in Anambra, Gilbert Okoye, was released after three months. Despite evidence of Gilbert Okoye's personal involvement in several other cases of human rights abuse - some of which are documented in this report - he has not been prosecuted for any of them. Furthermore, no action is known to have been taken against those who ordered or endorsed the human rights abuses at a higher level. Senior authorities, such as state governors and the former security adviser to the Anambra governor, Chuma Nzeribe, against whom there have been serious and credible allegations of complicity in abuse, have not had to answer for these allegations before the judicial authorities.
The police have found themselves in a difficult situation in those states where the Bakassi Boys operate. Overall, the relationship between the two has been tense. On a superficial level, the tension can be attributed to rivalry and frustration on the part of the police as the Bakassi Boys rapidly usurped their functions and members of the public became more inclined to seek help from the Bakassi Boys than from the police. The competition between the Bakassi Boys and the police has been the subject of much comment and discussion in Nigeria, as illustrated by a cartoon of two goats locking horns, displayed in the police station in Awka: one goat, representing the Bakassi Boys, says: "I am in control." The other, representing the police, says: "No way, I am in charge."
More seriously, the rise of the Bakassi Boys represents a real threat to law enforcement in the states where they operate, as they systematically ignore and bypass the police, encouraging the population to do likewise. While the police were already suffering from an extremely poor public image, due to widespread corruption and insufficient resources and training, even their theoretical legitimacy has now been undermined by the Bakassi Boys. State governments have done little to restore to the police their proper functions, or even to redress the balance between the vigilante groups and the police. They have also regularly bypassed the police themselves.
The confusion between the roles of the police and the Bakassi Boys, and the way in which the Bakassi Boys have taken over police functions, was summed up succinctly by a representative of the Onitsha traders, who told Human Rights Watch and CLEEN: "There is a police post for the market, but they don't patrol. The AVS presence is enough [...] The police deal with minor crimes. The AVS deal with major crimes only, otherwise they would get distracted."120
Conflicts of interest have already led to violent clashes between the police and the Bakassi Boys. In April 2001, eight Bakassi Boys were arrested for attacking policemen and for unlawful possession of firearms. They were not charged and were released immediately after the governor of Anambra State reportedly intervened and put pressure on the court.121 In Anambra State, the Bakassi Boys have already been deployed in internal political disputes: for example in around May 2001, in the course of a dispute between different factions of the People's Democratic Party (PDP), one faction brought in members of the Bakassi Boys to try to impose their leader on the other faction. The police managed to intervene to prevent any violence.122 Even in less political cases, there have been clashes between the police and the Bakassi Boys. For example in September 2001, in Owerri, there were reports of a clash between the police and the Bakassi Boys after the Bakassi Boys chased someone for a traffic offence.123
When Human Rights Watch and CLEEN met the commissioners of police of Anambra and Abia states in October 2001, they were both critical of the Bakassi Boys and keen to assert the primacy of the police over vigilante groups, stressing that the police have the constitutional duty to enforce the law, and that any other groups performing similar functions should be subordinate to the police. They complained that the Bakassi Boys rarely handed over criminal suspects to the police. The commissioner of police of Anambra State, Daniel Anyogo, who had only been in post in Anambra since November 2000, said he had made efforts to oppose the brutality and illegality of the Bakassi Boys' activities. He claimed that a special force he had set up to monitor and curb excesses was having some success.124 The commissioner of police of Abia State, Ben O. Oghomode, stated that he believed that there could be a role for local vigilante groups, if these acted like neighborhood watch groups to patrol areas for safety, but that any suspected criminals should be handed over to the police and the vigilantes themselves should be subject to police control. He described the Bakassi Boys as an attempt to set up a parallel security outfit to the police. He claimed that in March 2001, the police had raided the Bakassi Boys' base at Aba and released about thirty detainees, and arrested some Bakassi Boys.125 The commissioner of police of Anambra also said that the police had tried to rescue detainees from the Bakassi Boys in Onitsha.
For his part, the Imo State police commissioner, Ahmed Abubakar, in an interview with CLEEN, preferred to skate over the abuses committed by vigilante groups in his state. He justified these groups' existence on the basis of a long tradition of vigilantism in Nigeria and claimed that they assisted the police who may not be familiar with all locations in the state. He stated that the police were cooperating with the Imo State Vigilante Services and that the latter were under his command.126
At the federal level too, police officials have denounced the activities of the Bakassi Boys as illegal; they have reiterated that all criminal suspects should be handed over to the police and have stated publicly that individuals or groups who disregard the rule of law in this respect will be prosecuted. However, despite some strong statements of principle, in practice the police have been almost powerless in curbing the excesses of the Bakassi Boys, even less in re-asserting their authority over them. The small number of arrests of members of the Bakassi Boys by the police appears to have had little impact overall.
It is clear that fundamental reform, training and resourcing of the police are needed to enable them to perform their functions properly and create a situation where groups such as the Bakassi Boys are no longer perceived by the general public and by state authorities as having any useful purpose. In Enugu, for example, an additional contingent of policemen was deployed on the request of the governor in the last quarter of 2000. However, this apparently still failed to reduce the crime rate in a significant way, and armed robbery remained rampant. A human rights activist in Enugu told Human Rights Watch that the problem lay at a much deeper level, that it was not just a question of numbers, but the police were not psychologically prepared to confront armed robbers, and that they were doing "a civil service job"-in contrast with the Bakassi Boys who pride themselves on violent confrontation.127
119 See above, Section IV,2,a. Unusually, in this case the Bakassi Boys were then re-arrested.
120 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview in Onitsha, October 11, 2001.
121 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview, Awka, October 12, 2001.
122 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview with Commissioner of Police Daniel Anyogo, Awka, October 12, 2001.
123 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview, Owerri, October 17, 2001.
124 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview with Commissioner of Police Daniel Anyogo, Awka, October 12, 2001.
125 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview with Commissioner of Police Ben O. Oghomode, Umuahia, October 15, 2001.
126 Interview in Law Enforcement Review, CLEEN's quarterly magazine, September 2001.
127 Human Rights Watch interview, Civil Liberties Organisation, Enugu, October 8, 2001.