The Nigerian authorities have failed to prosecute a single officer from the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in three years despite cases of rights violations reportedly perpetrated by the police unit, Amnesty International said in a report.
In 2017, the country outlawed, with stiff penalties, the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
But the rights group said despite this, torture and ill-treatment remain routine practice used by SARS operations to execute, punish and extract information from suspects, under the supervision of senior police officers.
In its report, Time to End Impunity, the group documented at least 82 cases of torture, ill-treatment and extra-judicial execution by SARS between January 2017 and May 2020.
It said a bulk of the victims it documented are males between the ages of 18 and 35, from low-income backgrounds and vulnerable groups.
The group said it bore witness to the scars, bruises, and dried blood on victims’ bodies, mostly due to beatings with sticks and machetes, and being denied medical care.
Efforts to reach police spokesperson, Frank Mba, for a reaction, were unsuccessful. Calls to his known line were not responded to and a message sent was not replied even though it read delivered.
The report cited an example of Miracle, 23, who in March 2017 was arrested and detained by SARS officers in Anambra State for 40 days, over an alleged theft of a laptop. He was tortured and hardly fed before he was charged before a court, the report said.
“Their leader directed them to go and hang me. They took me to the back of the hall and tied me with ropes. Then they started using all manner of items to beat me, including machetes, sticks, inflicting me with all kinds of injuries,” Mr Miracle was quoted as saying in the report.
“One of the officers used an exhaust pipe to hit me on my teeth, breaking my teeth. I was left on that hanger for more than three hours,” he added.
The report also told the story of an amateur boxer, Sunday Bang, 24, who was in October 2018 arrested in Abuja by SARS officers for alleged robbery.
“He was held in detention for 5 weeks without access to family, lawyers or medical care – and was not charged in court. While in SARS detention, he suffered bone fractures and other injuries due to torture and other ill treatment,” Amnesty said.
“No circumstances whatsoever may be invoked as a justification of torture. In many cases, the victims are the poor and vulnerable, easy targets for law enforcement officers whose responsibility it is to protect them,” the head of the group in Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, said in a statement.
“The systemic use of torture and other ill treatment by SARS officers for police investigations and the continued existence of torture chambers within the Nigerian Police Force points to an absolute disregard for international human rights laws and standards.”
The group said it wrote, on three occasions, the Inspector-General of Police asking for steps the police may have taken in investigating the cases outlined in the report, but there was no response.
The report also said some of the challenges faced by victims of SARS violations include concerted opposition from the police authorities while seeking justice, including threats to their lives.
“Impunity sends the message to torturers that they will get away with it. Impunity denies victims and their relatives the right to have the truth established, the right to see justice served and the right to reparations,” Mr Ojigho noted.
“The Nigerian authorities must go beyond lip service to ensure there is real reform within the Nigeria Police Force with an emphasis on SARS.
“These reforms must translate into holding police officers suspected of torture to account, ending torture, unlawful detention, extortion, extrajudicial execution and other human rights violations that SARS officers have been known for across Nigeria,” Mr Ojigho added.