It's time for Nigeria to police its police

One day in May last year, a man called Goodluck had gone to bathe at a communal well at Abonnema Wharf in Port Harcourt. According to witnesses, while he was there armed police entered the Wharf, police went to the well and shot him dead without warning. When Goodluck didn’t return home later that day, his wife, Dinah went to the police station. That visit proved fruitless.  Then someone from her community suggested she go to Braithwaite Memorial Specialist hospital.  

When Dinah couldn't find her husband at the hospital, she was advised to check the mortuary. Eventually Dinah went to the mortuary and as the staff opened the mortuary she saw her husband's shot-at body lying on the floor, tagged as 'unknown'.  

The police version of events leading up to Goodluck’s death is somewhat different.  They describe how officers were chasing armed robbers who had shot at them and they had returned fire.  That might have been surprising news to Dinah but it isn’t a surprising account for Amnesty to hear.

 In 2009 Amnesty published a comprehensive report highlighting that police frequently made “highly implausible claims” that the victims of police shootings were all armed robbers killed in shoot-outs with the police or while trying to escape custody.  Three years on, it looks as though little has changed.
 
The police account – if true – may explain why officers chose to use live ammunition.  But it certainly doesn't explain the grossly inhumane treatment towards Goodluck once he had been killed. Nor does it account for the fact that no official report was written surrounding the death of Goodluck neither were his immediate family informed of his death.  Instead his wife was put through the harrowing ordeal of having to hunt for her husband

A new report published by Amnesty International today has found that hundreds of fatal police shootings are not being investigated effectively because of a series of failures in the Nigerian justice system.  

Through their investigation,  Amnesty researchers found an extremely overcrowded mortuary in Rivers State had bodies dumped in piles on the veranda or on benches. It also highlighted the practice by doctors to sign death investigation reports without examining the body properly, and the general lack of investigation into police killings across the country.  The report also highlights how in many cases the identiy of the deceased is not known to the police, and bodies , like Goodluck, are registered as “unknown” and little effort is made by police to identify them. Relatives are often left with no answers about the fate of their family members.  

The situation across the Rivers State is a dismal one.  Amnesty’s convinced that this woeful report from Rivers State is emblematic of the country as a whole.

If supposed defenders of the law are allowed to kill with impunity and fabricate stories about the circumstances – what hope is there for justice?  It’s time for Nigeria to police its police. Read more on Amnesty's report here.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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