DECEMBER 9 2009 12:44h
Police in Nigeria carry out hundreds of extra-judicial killings every year. Only those who can pay bribes are guaranteed safety.
ABUJA, December 9, 2009 (AFP) - Police in Nigeria carry out hundreds of extra-judicial killings every year and only those who can afford to pay bribes can guarantee their safety from execution or torture, Amnesty International said Wednesday.
"The Nigeria Police Force is responsible for hundreds of extrajudicial executions, other unlawful killings and enforced disappearances every year," the London-based rights group said in a damning report.
"The majority of cases go uninvestigated and unpunished," it said.
The national police service rejected the findings.
"It is quite obvious that the mission is to kill the Nigerian police, wipe out our record, and bury our aspirations," said police spokesman Emmanuel Ojukwu.
"Amnesty International has an unholy penchant to denigrate police organisations in most parts of the world.
The report is based on evidence given in interviews with relatives of people who were executed by the police or disappeared in police custody. Amnesty also interviewed lawyers, judges, justice and health officials and local rights organisations during its investigation in 2007 and 2008.
Unlawful killings and enforced disappearances in Nigeria "are not random", it said.
"In a country where bribes guarantee safety, those who cannot afford to pay are at risk of being shot or tortured to death".
Nigeria ranks low on the international corruption perception index and it is notorious for its high crime rate, especially armed robbery.
"The police exploit public anger at the high crime rates in the country to justify their actions...They do not only shoot people, Amnesty International has recorded cases of suspects who were tortured to death while in detention," it said.
Police officials often claim that victims of extrajudicial executions were armed robbers killed in gunbattles with the police or when they attempted to escape custody.
The application of an order that allows a policeman to use lethal force in the face of threat to life has "resulted in numerous unlawful killings and facilitated extrajudicial executions...using it as a justification as well as cover-up," Amnesty said.
"In practice, it lets the police get away with murder," it said.
Amnesty said that disregard for human rights is "prevalent" in the police and enforced disappearances in Nigeria are "rife".
Many of those who go missing have been extrajudicially executed, it said.
"Victims disappear before being brought to court."
"Amnesty International documented 29 cases of victims of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions who had never appeared before a judge," said the report.
Detainees are also often denied their right to see a lawyer while many have to pay for food and medical care to avoid being tortured, it said.
Ojukwu said that police had already begun investigating the allegations in the report.
"Let the public be assured that the Nigerian police force does not consort with murderers in uniform. Any officer found to have violated the rules guiding use of firearms, treatment of persons in custody, torture, bail etc will be appropriately sanctioned in accordance with the law."
To end the killings, Amnesty recommended tighter regulations on firearms use in the police force.
It also suggested training and retraining of officers, better funding and stepped up anti-corruption measures.
According to police figures -- described by Amnesty as "inaccurate and incomplete" -- a total of 3,014 "armed robbers" were killed in Nigeria between 2003 and 2008 while only 574 others were wounded within the same period.