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Impunity in Nigeria 2010 and 2011: A sad commentary

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11. June


About a week ago, I received a report from the Legal Defence and Assistance Project, an organisation committed to monitoring and documenting unlawful killings in Nigeria. The centre also monitors the disposition of relevant authorities saddled with administration of justice in Nigeria. LEDAP may not be your idea of a huge civil society group but heroism exists there. In one bold report, it documents extrajudicial executions and summary killings in Nigeria. Nothing could have been more patriotic and I noted as much in a letter to the organisation.

LEDAP did not exactly say anything new in its report but it brought our gory current reality to a touching distance. For instance, the report says that between 2010 and 2011, six people were unlawfully killed every day and most of them were under 35 years of age. This is horrifying!

In 2010 alone, a total of 371 incidents resulting in 1,536 deaths were recorded with a breakdown of 379 extrajudicial executions and 1,157 summary killings.  The report says that 106 cases were investigated and that only four prosecuted to conclusion, a situation that shows an impunity level of 96 per cent. 2011 is even worse but let us leave it for another day.

 As a people, I think we should be seriously worried about this damning verdict from LEDAP’s investigation. Nobody would have thought that life was this cheap in Nigeria but LEDAP’s enquiry is drawing attention to our attitude as a country towards the sanctity of human life.  Above all, it is an important document because it spares no details:  scenes, victims, perpetrators and circumstances are well documented. Extrajudicial executions and summary killings of this scale therefore should trouble us because it says a lot about us and the value we place on life.

The truth is that impunity in Nigeria 2010 and 2011 is a depressing chapter in the life of our nation. It reminds me of a pictorial cover story of one of Nigeria’s leading magazines many years ago entitled: “The Way We Are, Uncensored”. The story captured the oddities and absurdities that characterised the year 2000 and I still remember how a woman who was accused of witchcraft was stripped and tied to a stake in that edition. Last year, four undergraduate students of the University of Port Harcourt were murdered under circumstances that smack of first grade impunity.

What is happening today with human rights issues in Nigeria is therefore terrifying and condemnable. No nation can afford to watch while her people are decimated in such a large number and I think there is need for a collective action.

Regrettably, these extrajudicial executions and summary killings are resonating outside our shores and the signs are disturbing. This is what the 2012 Annual State of the World Human Rights Report of Amnesty International says about our country: “Police operations (in Nigeria) remained characterised by human rights violations. Hundreds of people were unlawfully killed, often before or during arrests on the street. Others were tortured to death in police detention……Many people disappeared from police custody. Few police officers were held accountable, leaving relatives of those killed or disappeared without justice. Police increasingly wore plain clothes or uniforms without identification, making it much harder for people to complain about individual officers”.

One other disturbing part of LEDAP’s report is the link of impunity to a failing government system because of the absence of well-organised instrument for punishing offenders or providing redress for victims. In the report’s view, the Nigeria government has failed woefully since 1999 in its promises towards improving and protecting lives of its citizens despite the huge human and financial resources committed to maintaining law and order.

This failure is widely believed to be predicated on poor security intelligence, pitiable policing practices and absence of effective criminal justice administration in Nigeria. Something therefore needs to be urgently done.

For too long, the debate on the value of the life of an average Nigerian has raged without any definitive verdict. Often, we return to this long issue anytime there is a global event that draws our attention to how citizens of other countries are treated by their law enforcement agencies. It is appalling at this age and time that our nation still records avoidable and needless deaths. But the truth is that many of our countrymen and women are unaware of this monumental impunity which is an ill-wind. Worse still, the LEDAP report says that there has been a considerable increase in the number of Nigerians who die through extrajudicial executions and summary killings.

I recently stumbled on a document by Integrated Regional Information Networks where the government of Nepal was accused of failing to investigate and prosecute extrajudicial killings during Nepal’s civil war between 1999 and 2006. Like Nigeria, the inability of the Nepalese government to prosecute offenders is ruining lives, crushing hopes and shattering victims’ families, at the same time creating a culture of impunity. This contrasts sharply with Burundi, a tiny East African country where extrajudicial killings are on the decrease since 2011.

On 16 May, 2013, the Federal Government started the “Stop Impunity Nigeria Campaign”, but many people are of the opinion that government is the biggest threat to the war against impunity.  For instance, there are all kinds of abuses evident around government circles and its agencies, the most recent being the abuse of constitutional role by the police as exemplified by developments in Rivers State. This is a pointer to the long walk ahead of us. A section of the judiciary, by its actions, is also believed to be fuelling impunity, coupled with corruption which acts like a manure in the rising cases of violent crimes and impunity. There is even the perceived weakness of government to enforce laws, thus forcing people to resort to self-help like the case of the Uniport 4.

As a people, we can save our country from this drift and reverse this ugly trend. LEDAP’s report has already set the agenda. And it has also tasked the Federal Government, police authorities, the National Assembly, state governments, the National Human Rights Commission, the National Committee Against Torture, civil society organisations and the international community on what needs to be done. This is our chance and I think it is proper to take it.

Article Credit: Punch Newspaper

Updated 6 Years ago

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