THE two damning reports which emanated recently from Amnesty International (AI) concerning human rights abuses in Nigeria have without doubt been disconcerting. The fact that any liberal democracy is not enforcing basic human rights should ordinarily worry even the vilest of sceptics because such routine human rights abuses are only known as the forte of fascist, totalitarian regimes and probably a few theocracies. The reports alleged that critics and journalists were being unduly harassed and jailed and that the police Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) routinely murdered suspects while still in detention during investigations. For many Nigerians familiar with this narrative, the AI has merely stated the obvious even if such reports hugely detract from the country’s global image and reputation.
As expected, the Inspector General of the Police (IGP), Mr Ibrahim Idris, has issued a release denying the AI reports although, in the same breath, he also summoned the SARS operatives to Abuja, possibly for some questioning. The truth however is daily reflected on the crime pages of the country’s dailies which consistently publish news of human rights abuses, frequently with pictures. The AI, citing the conflict between the country’s armed forces and terrorists and the consequent internally displaced persons (IDPs) as well as the deaths of thousands of victims may have scored the country low on human rights abuses, but the case was also worsened by the widespread torture and other maltreatments by the police and other security agencies whose disregard for human rights can only be described as legendary.
Indeed, this week, a non-governmental organisation based in France, Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF), identified the Anambra and Enugu state commands of the Nigerian Police Force as possessing the highest records of human rights abuses in Nigeria. According to the body, out of 50 cases of torture and various human rights abuses in the Enugu Command of the force,
40 had to do with gunshot wounds. It said such cases were perpetrated by officers and men of the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS), with Anambra State having the worst record.
The AI also did not overlook the demolition of informal settlements and the forced eviction of several thousands of people and it recorded the failure of the administration to investigate and sanction the retired service chiefs for their potential responsibility for war crimes under international law as a minus for it. The treatment meted out to the arrowhead of the Independent Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), Mr Nnamdi Kanu, who has been kept indefinitely in detention for an offense that could have been tried in court and dispensed with, was also registered against this administration as a human rights abuse. In any case, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court, on Tuesday, ordered the immediate release of the immediate past National Security Adviser (NSA), Colonel Sambo Dasuki, who has been kept in detention by the Federal Government since December 2015, without trial. The court also slammed a N15 million fine on the government. It noted: “The re-arrest and detention of the applicant after he had been granted bail by three courts since December last year makes a mockery of the rule of law.”
For many reasons ranging from attitude to infrastructure, it may take a while for Nigeria to impress the AI given the international standards. But it should be possible for the country to improve in terms of attitude, especially of the personnel of the security agencies. The IGP’s denial of the AI’s report appears to be a poor face saving ploy despite the huge evidence in favour of the AI’s observations. It is even not necessary to deny the AI’s reports, as the Federal Government can easily regard the reports as a wake up call to improve on its standards in subsequent ratings. It is not as if the AI will sanction the country beyond the poor, plummeting reputation which the country has acquired over the years, and which the denial cannot suddenly improve.
While the IGP’s response was ordinarily a commendable gesture showing concern for the AI’s ratings, his denial before investigating the veracity of the allegations in the reports put a question mark on his supervisory competence. The country may not be able to control the activities of dissidents and insurgents, but it can respond in ways sanctioned positively by international standards. The abuses should not be aggravated by the cruel zealotry of the security agencies.
We expect that the government will be provoked by the AI’s damning reports to do the needful in improving the country’s human rights records by investigating and reflecting on its activities in order to check its modus operandi.