LAGOS, Nigeria — Nigeria’s federal police force kills with impunity, extorts those it’s charged to protect and rapes arrested prostitutes as a “fringe benefit” of the job, a report by a civil liberties group alleges.
The Open Society Justice Initiative’s report released Monday is the latest stain on Nigeria’s corrupt and maligned police force, which at its mildest merely demands bribes from motorists at roadblocks. At its worst, the report alleges the police rub chemical mace and hot chili pepper into the genitals of those it arrests, drawing out dubious confessions officers use as an excuse to summarily execute those they describe as “armed robbers.”
“The average police officer on the streets of Nigeria is armed with horse whip and many of them show considerable enthusiasm in using it on innocent passers-by without provocation,” the report from the Abuja, Nigeria-based organization reads. “Those who get away with merely being horsewhipped are considered lucky. Many others fare much worse.”
Police spokesman Emmanuel Ojukwu declined to immediately comment on the report Monday, saying he had not yet read it. However, he told The Associated Press in December that “extrajudicial killing is not approved in Nigeria” and that officers suspected of such killings are brought to justice.
The report draws a different conclusion. The group, supported by liberal financier George Soros’ foundation, said it based its findings on field monitoring and investigations at more than 400 police stations and posts visited from February 2007 to January 2009.
The group found police openly paraded alleged armed robbery suspects before local journalists before later executing them. The police used euphemisms for the slayings, saying the suspects would be “escorted,” sent out on an “errand” or “transferred to” Nigeria’s capital Abuja, the report claims.
The report alleges officers called the soon-to-be dead suspects “rams” or “bush meat.” The police investigations typically employed torture to draw out confessions. The officers drove nails into suspects’ hands or heads, shoved pins into the genitals or hung suspects upside down in a method referred to as “suicide,” the report claims.
Asked about suspects’ rights, the report says one officer in Adamawa State said: “We have seen pastors, imams, and highly placed and respected citizens who are pure criminals, pure criminals! And you people say they are innocent?”
Officers also used nightly prostitute roundups as a means to barter sex from those who couldn’t pay as little as $6 for their release, the report claims. The report describes officers even raping women who came to report crimes at police stations.
“This is one of the fringe benefits attached to night patrol,” the report quotes one officer assigned to a police station in a Lagos neighborhood as saying.
The report also claims officers, both male and female, sodomized women with bottles and metal pipes.
Allegations of brutality are nothing new for Nigeria’s police force, which is controlled from the federal level. In December, an Amnesty International report alleged that police kill hundreds of people in so-called extrajudicial slayings each year with few consequences. A video broadcast in February by international news channel Al-Jazeera apparently showed police officers executing unarmed prisoners in the wake of clashes last year with Muslim militants in northern Nigeria.
Nigeria’s new president, Goodluck Jonathan, has pledged to increase security for the West African nation’s 150 million residents. To do that, he must first address a police force that hires the unqualified and untrained to become officers, said Chidi Odinkalu, the director of the Open Society Justice Initiative’s Africa program.
Jonathan also must reform the agency before the coming 2011 presidential election, Odinkalu said, as the nation’s wealthy political elite hire more than a fourth of its officers as private security guards. Those elites often use the officers as enforcers to stuff ballot boxes and intimidate voters, he said.
“If he doesn’t do it, every other person in the political system will look to appropriate the police for his benefit,” Odinkalu said. “They need the police to rig elections.”