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X. Obstacles to Redress

Impunity is one of the biggest single obstacles to the reduction or eradication of torture and other serious abuses by police in Nigeria. The fact that in all but a handful of largely symbolic cases there has been no effort to ensure accountability for violations committed emboldens the perpetrators and has perpetuated the culture of violence in the Nigerian Police Force.

Individual victims, human rights organizations and lawyers who have tried to register complaints of torture or ill-treatment with the police authorities frequently cite police obstruction to thwart investigations or prosecution. This may take a variety of forms, for example, direct harassment and verbal or physical threats in an effort to intimidate witnesses to drop the case, connivance with judicial officers to ensure the case is thrown out of court, or attempts to bribe victims of their families to drop the case. 141 Some local human rights organizations make good efforts to monitor and document police abuses but find they are hampered by lack of capacity and funds. Where they do submit information to the police authorities or the government, it is rare for them to make use of it.

When the brother of a schoolteacher in Katsina State complained to the Divisional Police Officer who committed the torture, “the DPO said he was proud of himself, that he can do whatever he likes, that even if he killed nothing will happen to him.”142

The rape of two teenage girls by police in Enugu in 2004, described on page 47, is an example of the lengths the police are prepared to go to deter victims and witnesses from making complaints of torture. The day after the incident, the girls and their elder sister went to their local police station to report the rape. A female police officer tried to dissuade them from taking the matter further, saying: “That is how they behave, just forget about it.”143 However, the family persisted and lodged a formal complaint. Immediately after doing so, the girls and their families received a number of intimidating calls, including from one of the officers alleged to have committed the rape and the police spokesman for the Enugu State police command.144 According to reliable sources, both tried to persuade the girls to drop the case. In several letters to the Inspector General of Police complaining about this intimidation, the human rights organization working on behalf of the victims, wrote that over ten phone calls were made by the Enugu State police spokesman to the girls and their relatives between September 27 and November 15, 2004. At first the calls attempted to solicit dialogue and settlement but then became more threatening in tone, culminating in calls from the principal accused who reportedly told the girls, “If you don’t drop the case, I will deal with you and show you I am a man.”145

Local women’s organizations who organized a public protest about the rape also faced intimidation from the police. An activist involved in the demonstration told Human Rights Watch that shortly afterwards, she was stopped by the Divisional Police Officer from her local station who questioned her involvement in the demonstration. “He said: ‘Take it easy. What happened, you were amongst the protest? You know this happens all the time. You should take it easy, you should leave it now. You know this is what happens,’” she told Human Rights Watch. 146

Criminal Investigations and Prosecutions

Independent involvement in the investigation of criminal conduct by police officers and oversight of the prosecution of these acts is a key component of democratic policing which appears to be lacking in Nigeria. Where acts of serious misconduct, including human rights abuse, are lodged with the police by an individual, organization or lawyer, the police themselves are charged with conducting an investigation. Where the alleged act of misconduct qualifies as a crime under the criminal code, an Investigating Police Officer (IPO) within the command is assigned to investigate and, where sufficient evidence is found, refer the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions. In practice, however, very few cases of serious misconduct such as torture have ever been fully investigated by the police or referred to the prosecutor’s office for further action. This is due to an apparent lack of political will on the part of the police and, as the only channel for referral to the prosecutor, results in a serious accountability vacuum within the Nigerian Police Force. 

In the rare cases where prosecution of a police officer commences, obstruction and lack of co-operation from the police have usually prevented the fair dispensation of justice. The Lagos State Director of Public Prosecutions told Human Rights Watch she knew of cases in which the accused police officer had gone missing or other police witnesses had refused to come forward to give evidence.147 Similarly the Kano State Minister of Justice told Human Rights Watch researchers it is rare to get co-operation from the police. He said that they may carry out an investigation but refuse to comply with actions necessary to bring about prosecution, for example by withholding case files. 148

When the Katsina schoolteacher, whose case is described on pages 39-40, filed a case against the DPO of Sabon Gari police station and the state commissioner of police at the Katsina High Court, there were several attempts by the state commissioner to persuade the family to drop the case. Human Rights Watch spoke to the teacher and two of his brothers, who told researchers that days after the incident the commissioner requested to see the family, asking them not to take the matter further and promising to transfer the DPO to another station. He even gave the teacher 10,000 naira (approximately  US$ 77) for medical treatment.  He also authorized an internal investigation by the state criminal investigation department, the outcome of which has not been made public.149

According to the lawyer acting on behalf of the schoolteacher, the judge, Justice Adbdullahi Yusuf, was absent from Katsina High Court on numerous occasions during pre-trial hearings. On May 27, 2004 the case was dismissed on technical grounds before it reached trial and therefore no evidence, such as affidavits and medical records, was submitted or witnesses called to testify.150 The DPO has since been transferred to another state.

The Lagos State Ministry of Justice supplied Human Rights Watch with a list of ongoing state prosecutions against police officers. This list included nine cases, one of which was for death in custody, the remaining eight for unlawful killing.151 A similar list was supplied by the Kano State Department for Public Prosecutions. According to this information, six officers were undergoing prosecution for death of suspects in their custody in Kano State. One case was seven years old; another was brought fifteen years ago.152 Human Rights Watch has not been able to verify the current status of the cases mentioned in either list. Human Rights Watch also made repeated requests to the Inspector General of Police and the Force Provost Marshall in Abuja to obtain details of the number of officers nationwide under internal investigation and criminal prosecution for allegations of torture. At the time of writing the organization was still awaiting this information. When asked by Human Rights Watch, no government official or NGO representative could cite a single case of successful prosecution of police officers alleged to have committed torture against suspects in custody. 153

In addition, victims do not receive recompense for the injuries inflicted by state officials. In the rare cases where a court awards compensation, local organizations report that the police refuse to pay the money. In July 2002, an Enugu High Court ruled that a sixteen-year-old school girl who was raped by the police in February 2002, be awarded 300,000 naira (approximately US$ 2,303) in damages. Local NGOs and the lawyer acting on behalf of the victim told Human Rights Watch that, to date, the police have not paid the compensation to the girl or her family.154

For the few individuals prepared to seek redress, the official mechanisms that exist to carry out internal and external oversight functions are limited in number, acutely under-resourced and not well publicized to ordinary Nigerians.

Police Complaints Bureau

In 2003, police authorities announced the opening of the Police Complaints Bureau (PCB), where members of the public can report incidents of misconduct for internal investigation in each state command. They have since been expanded to each police station. In addition, the former Inspector General of Police introduced Human Rights Desks for each state command, charged with dealing with complaints relating specifically to human rights abuses by police. While Human Rights Watch welcomes the initiative in practice, the PCBs and Human Rights Desks, where they exist, are barely functional; they lack staff, training and office equipment. The Kano State commissioner of police told Human Rights Watch that the PCB at the state command does not receive many complaints and has never received a complaint of torture against a police officer.155 

The ‘Orderly Room Trial’

The Nigerian police appear to have relied exclusively on internal ‘peer-view’ to ensure accountability for serious crimes including torture. In theory, once a formal complaint has been lodged by the Police Complaint Bureau, Human Rights Desk, or through a written petition to any level of police authority by an individual or organization, the closest superior officer is assigned to undertake an investigation. Cases of minor misconduct are dealt with immediate disciplinary action. In cases of serious misconduct the superior officer will authorize the peer-review of officers of junior rank.

This process is known as an ‘orderly room trial’ and is an internal police trial, similar to military court martial, where the accused officer is cross-examined by peers. This is separate and parallel to a criminal investigation. For senior officers of Assistant Superintendent of Police rank and above, the Inspector General sets up panel of senior officers to hear the case. In both cases recommendations of disciplinary action such as dismissal, suspension or demotion are made before forwarding to the Police Service Commission for sanction. In reality however, local human rights organizations told Human Rights Watch researchers that few such peer reviews take place and where they do rarely result in disciplinary action or prosecution.156

Unusually, the officers accused of the rape of the Enugu schoolgirls were subject to an internal police investigation and the victims invited to testify at an orderly room trial at the force headquarters in Abuja. Following the investigation, the two junior officers were dismissed from the force and the senior officer suspended. Criminal proceedings also commenced and at the time of writing, all three are in Enugu Prison awaiting trial. A number of factors were responsible for police action on this case, notably the courage and perseverance of the victims and their families who have been determined to take the matter forward and were willing to speak publicly about their ordeal. Secondly, the advocacy strategy employed by the local human rights organization who took up the case has been highly successful. A widespread media campaign has generated much public sympathy and this, combined with continuous petitions to the federal government and police authorities, has kept the profile of the case high. Finally, petitioning other institutions such as the National Human Rights Commission and the Senate Committee on Police Affairs has brought additional pressure to bear on the police authorities, ultimately compelling them to conduct an internal investigation.

Whether the officers are prosecuted for the offence remains to be seen. Past trends across the country provide little reason for optimism. However, the case does show what can be achieved when local family members and human rights organizations take a coordinated and determined approach to seeking justice for torture by police personnel.

The Police Service Commission

The main body involved in the exercise of external oversight of the Nigerian Police Force is the Police Service Commission (PSC), an independent constitutional body established by law in 2001. The PSC is made up of a retired Justice of the Supreme Court or Court of Appeal, a retired Police Office not below the rank of Commissioner, and four members of civil society. Section 6 of the Police Service Commission Act grants the body responsibility for the appointment, promotion, discipline and dismissal of all Nigerian police officers below the rank of Inspector General.157

According to the powers granted in the Act, the Police Service Commission is mandated to conduct investigations into cases of misconduct by the police in order to recommend internal disciplinary action against officers found negligent. Like the ‘orderly room trial’ process, this is separate from and should in principle work parallel to a criminal investigation which can only be undertaken by the police themselves. The PSC has no authority to refer cases to the prosecutor. In reality, the commission lacks the political will to conduct investigations into cases of misconduct. All complaints of police misconduct, including serious human rights abuse, are currently referred to the police for further investigation. In 2004 the Police Service Commission received over fifty complaints of ill-treatment by the police from members of the public or human rights organizations, all of which were forwarded to the Inspector General of Police.158 In addition the PSC can recommend internal disciplinary action once an officer has been charged or convicted of a crime, but has rarely fulfilled this function. Rather the PSC merely ratifies recommendations of disciplinary action which have been made by Assistant Superintendent of Police to Deputy Inspector General. 159 

Many factors inhibit the exercise of the powers of the PSC, including lack of trained staff and equipment, all factors which could be addressed through greater financial support. 160 There should be an appropriately resourced unit within the Police Service Commission to conduct their own independent investigation of crimes by police officers. Crucially this unit must be vested with the power to refer cases for prosecution. This would thus put in check any attempt by the police to derail an investigation of one of their own.

National Human Rights Commission

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is a parastatal body established in 1995 and charged with the promotion and protection of human rights in Nigeria. It is granted powers to monitor and investigate cases of human rights violations, including torture. The commission is fundamentally handicapped in two ways: it is acutely under-resourced, and lacks judicial power to enforce redress and can only make recommendations to the government. It is thus unable to effectively carry out its functions. Despite efforts to publicize its role, the NHRC is still relatively inaccessible to ordinary Nigerians. Many people are not aware of its existence and regional offices are understaffed. This is reflected in the low number of complaints of torture that the commission receives. For example it received just twenty-five cases of torture by law enforcement agents in 2003.161

Once commission investigators have verified the facts of each case, details are sent to the Inspector General of Police via a Police/Human Rights Commission committee. Held at regular intervals, this committee provides a formal channel through which cases of torture and other abuse can be directed to the police authorities for the purpose of recommending internal discipline. Senior commission staff told Human Rights Watch that through their intervention a number of officers have been dismissed or given corporate sanction for perpetrating abuses, including torture, although none have been prosecuted.162 Human Rights Watch welcomes this mechanism to raise cases of abuse directly with the police, but is concerned that the NHRC’s lack of judicial authority reduces the legal avenues available to the public and thus the ability to secure prosecutions of the perpetrators.

Inquests and Autopsies

Coroner laws, which exist in every state in Nigeria, provide a system for investigating and establishing the cause of unnatural, sudden or violent deaths, including deaths in police custody.163 In reality however, coroner laws are not implemented and there are few designated coroners. It is extremely rare for inquests and autopsies to be carried out for detainees who die in police custody. A senior forensic pathologist and head of department at a large Nigerian hospital told Human Rights Watch he had never attended an inquest of a prisoner and that in his view, “the legal investigation of death is non-existent.” 164

A number of factors have contributed to this. Firstly, the police themselves deliberately fail to report deaths in custody as confirmed to Human Rights Watch by lawyers, human rights organizations and hospital staff. An employee of a large Nigerian hospital told researchers:

It is compulsory for the police have to fill in a form when they bring a corpse and the hospital has to arrange a post mortem. This usually only happens when the relatives insist. Mostly the police just say that they happened to die, for example, they found the body on the road or that they died of an illness in custody. They never say it was because of their interrogation. However, the types of injuries I see are not from prolonged illness. I see bruises all over the body and evidence of whipping.165

Secondly, victims’ families lack awareness of their legal right to know the cause of death, or what an inquest or autopsy is, making it easy for the police to evade accountability. Thirdly, harassment or intimidation by the police, coupled with a lack of faith in the criminal justice system, means that only in very few cases do relatives pursue legal redress for the unlawful killing of a family member. Fourthly, the additional time and bureaucracy taken to carry out an autopsy, especially where Muslim rites require burial within twenty-four hours of death, further discourages families.166 Finally, hospitals are faced with a shortage of qualified forensic pathologists to carry out autopsies and an acute lack of specialist equipment, such as refrigeration units to store corpses, in hospital mortuaries.

Societal Attitudes to Torture and Police Abuses

One of the most challenging obstacles to the eradication of torture is the deeply engrained societal attitude to violence and the powers of the police. For many Nigerians, who have experienced years of oppression and brutality by military rulers, the use of violence by the institutions of the state is accepted, even seen as normal. Even where they know the police action was wrong and illegal, they appear to feel powerless to register a complaint or seek redress. This attitude was evident in the course of interviews with victims, who time and time again expressed a resignation to their fate. The majority of people, when asked if they would complain to the police, responded with comments such as: “who am I to complain?,” “I have no power, what would I do there?,” “It has happened, there is nothing I can do, I have left it all to God,” or “I don’t have power so I can’t do anything to challenge the police.”  It was also evident in attitudes within the police force, where the perpetrators themselves see torture as acceptable. The Kano State commissioner of police even told Human Rights Watch that members of the public would recommend a suspect is tortured.167

One human rights activist summarized: “Firstly, the victims themselves hardly complain as people presume it is the normal thing, the normal way of obtaining information. When they come to complain about arrest for example, only when you ask them will they tell you they were tortured. They don’t think it is wrong. Secondly, the police themselves see torture as a normal way of doing their job. Then they deny when you confront them. When they do admit, they say it was necessary to get the confession.”168

[141] Human Rights Watch interviews, with victims, witness, NGOs and lawyers in Enugu, Lagos and Kano, March 2005.

[142] Human Rights Watch interview, Kano, March 13, 2005.

[143] Human Rights Watch interview, Enugu, March 3, 2005.

[144] Human Rights Watch interview, Enugu, March 3, 2005, telephone conversation April 29, 2005 and CVEKT correspondence to Inspector General of Police, “Re: a case of abduction, rape and torture against DSP Utang James, PC Effiong Emmanuel and PC Usip Asuquo all of the Nigeria Police Force, (Police Detective College) Enugu and the panderings of the Engugu PPRO,” Ref: CVEKT/1567/OB/2004, November 15, 2004.

[145] Ibid.

[146] Human Rights Watch interview, Enugu, March 4, 2005.

[147] Human Rights Watch interview with Mrs. Bola Ighile, Director of Public Prosecutions, Lagos State, March 8, 2005.

[148] Human Rights Watch interview with Alhaji Aliyu Umar, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Kano State, March 15, 2005.

[149] Human Rights Watch interview, Kano, March 13, 2005 and telephone conversation May 18, 2005.

[150] Human Rights Watch telephone conversation July 7 and 11, 2005.

[151] List of nine cases of police officers bring prosecuted for extrajudicial execution or torture, provided by Lagos State Ministry of Justice, March 11,2005.

[152] List of six “police officers being prosecuted for death of suspect in their custody,” and eighteen “police officers being prosecuted for accidental discharge,” supplied by Department of Public Prosecutions, Ministry of Justice, Kano, March 22, 2005.

[153] Human Rights Watch interviews Enugu, Lagos, Kano and Abuja, March 2005.

[154] Human Rights Watch interviews Enugu, March 3 and 5, 2005. See also, “How I was Raped by a Policeman,” Tempo Magazine, August 15, 2002, and “Judge Condemns Police Behavior in Rape Case,” Vanguard, July 16, 2002.

[155] Human Rights Watch interview with Ganiyu Dawodu, Kano State Commissioner of Police, Kano, March 14, 2005.

[156] Human Rights Watch interviews Lagos, March 7 and 10, 2005, Kano, March 11, 2005.

[157] Police Service Commission (Establishment) Act, 2001.

[158] Human Rights Watch interview with Police Service Commission, Abuja, March 16, 2005.

[159] Human Rights Watch telephone conversation, July 15, 2005.

[160] Human Rights Watch interview, Abuja, March 16 2005.

[161] Human Rights Watch interview with senior staff in the investigation department of the National Human Rights Commission, Abuja, March 17, 2005. 

[162] Human Rights Watch interview with Tony Ujukwu, Special Assistant to the Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission, Abuja, March 17, 2005.

[163] For further information on the coroner system in Nigeria see, “The Coroner’s Place: using coroners to uncover facts about extra-judicial killings,” by Access to Justice, July 2004. For a detailed analysis of the Lagos State coroners law see, “A memorandum on reform of the Coroners Law of Lagos State”, by Access to Justice, October 2002.

[164] Human Rights Watch interview, March 2005.

[165] Human Rights Watch interview, March 2005.

[166] Although no accurate statistics are available, it is estimated that approximately 50 percent of Nigeria’s population are Muslim.

[167] Human Rights Watch interview with Ganiyu Dawodu, Kano State Commissioner of Police, Kano, March 14, 2005.

[168] Human Rights Watch interview, Enugu, March 5, 2005.

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