The disappearance of six men from police custody in Port Harcourt one year ago must be independently and impartially investigated by the Federal Minister of Justice and their whereabouts revealed to their families, Amnesty International said today.
Chika Ibeku, Gabriel Ejoor Owoicho, Precious Odua, Johnson Nnaemeka and two others disappeared on or around 11 April 2009 from Swift Operation Squad (SOS) detention in Port Harcourt.
“Amnesty International and Nigerian NGOs have repeatedly asked the police authorities to reveal the whereabouts of these men and bring them to court,” said Tawanda Hondora, Deputy Africa Director at Amnesty International. “But one year on, the police have not even informed their relatives about their fate.”
Chief Ibeku, the father of Chika Ibeku, told Amnesty International that he would not stop looking for his son: “I even visited SOS last month,” he said. “The police said they don’t know what I was talking about. They gave no information. I don’t see why they should not bring my son and the others to court. Or they should tell us, the parents, what happened.”
Amnesty International fears that the young men, like many detainees who have disappeared in police custody, were extrajudicially executed. Extrajudicial executions and disappearances from police custody usually remain uninvestigated and the police officers responsible go unpunished.
“A widespread disregard for human rights and due process within the police force has bred a culture of impunity. The police know that they can get away with murder. And they do,” said Tawanda Hondora. “It is time for the Federal Government to step in and put a stop to this brutal abuse of power.”
The Amnesty International report Killing at will: Extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings in Nigeria found that hundreds each year are killed by Nigeria’s police force. In the first days or weeks following arrest, families are usually allowed to visit their relatives in detention. Later on, the police tell them their loved ones have been “transferred to Abuja”- a euphemism for being killed by the police while in custody.
On other occasions the police simply deny any knowledge of their whereabouts. The families of the victims usually get no justice or redress. Most never even find out what happened to their relatives.
Amnesty International urges the Federal Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Mr Mohammed Bello Adoke to set up an independent commission of inquiry into all suspected cases of unlawful killings and enforced disappearances by the Nigeria Police Force in recent years.
On 7 April 2009 the police stopped the car of Chika Ibeku (29), Gabriel Ejoor Owoicho (29), Precious Odua (27) and two others. They were arrested and detained at Omoku Police station, Rivers State. They all informed their families of their arrest. The mother of one of the men told Amnesty International: “He called me on the phone around 7 AM, on 8 April. And he told me he was arrested. The line went off. That was the last thing I heard of him.”
On 8 April, Johnson Nnaemeka (39), the owner of the car, was questioned at Omoku Police Station. He was arrested on 9 April, and his house was searched. That same day, all six men were taken to the Swift Operation Squad (SOS) in Old GRA, Port Harcourt. Police officers at SOS confirmed their detention. Their families were not allowed to see them after their transfer. On 11 April, police officers at SOS claimed the men were transferred to SARS. Officers at SARS denied this.
On 9 April 2009, Amnesty International wrote to the Commander of SOS to ask about their whereabouts, copying the Commissioner of Police of Rivers State. On 17 April 2009, Amnesty International and Nigerian NGOs published a joint statement asking the Nigeria Police Force to reveal their whereabouts. To date, the police have not responded.
On 14 September 2009, Amnesty International wrote again to the Commissioner of Police of Rivers State requesting more information on this case and several other cases of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions. A copy of the letter was sent to the Inspector General of Police. To date, the police have not responded.
Amnesty International also wrote to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, the Minister of Police Affairs, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Chairman of the Police Service Commission.
In May 2009, the Nigeria Bar Association Human Rights Institute, representing Chief Ibeku, filed a case in court asking the Nigeria Police Force to bring Chika Ibeku to court. The next court date is 16 May 2010.
Enforced disappearances are serious violations of human rights and facilitate a range of other violations, including torture and extrajudicial executions. Enforced disappearances are prohibited under the International Convention for the Protections of all persons from enforced disappearance, which has not yet entered into force, but was ratified by Nigeria on 27 July 2009.