Nigeria: Effective police reform must end legacy of human rights violations

The committee established by Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan to oversee the reorganization of the police force in Nigeria must prioritize ending human rights violations in order to break the cycle of violence that is engulfing the country, Amnesty International said today.

“The government’s initiative to make the police force a more capable and credible organization is very welcome but in order to re-establish public confidence in the force, it is imperative that the reform process tackles impunity and corruption,” said Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty International’s Africa Program director.

Police operations have been characterized by human rights violations. Nigeria’s police have been responsible for large numbers of extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, excessive use of force and cases of torture and other ill-treatment. Investigations into such abuses have rarely been initiated or acted upon and those involved were not brought to justice.

“The committee must establish the facts about violations of human rights by the police; investigate all reports of violations and, if enough admissible evidence is gathered, recommend the suspected perpetrators for prosecution; as well as ensure full and effective reparation to the victims and their families.” “Ending human rights violations by the Nigerian police will require legal reform, plus the commitment and support of government and those within the police force,” said Erwin van der Borght.

Police stations also lack the resources to investigate complex crimes that require specialized skills, and although all police stations are obliged to keep records, many do not adequately document their work. There is no database for fingerprints, no systematic forensic investigation methodology and insufficient budget for investigations.

Policing in Nigeria is dangerous work. Police staff do not have the tools or the training to deal with the high crime rate in the country. Most police stations are badly maintained and poorly equipped. Officers do not have enough basic equipment such as bullet-proof vests or handcuffs.

The Nigerian government has repeatedly stated its willingness to address the problems in the criminal justice system, improve access to justice and reform the police force. However, several recommendations for improvement from various review panels in recent years have not been implemented.

A review of the Police Act (1990) began in 2004 but the draft bill has been pending since October 2006. Laws, regulations and codes of conduct to protect human rights are not enforced.

“The Nigerian police force must introduce a new code of conduct throughout its chain of command – from the very top to the very bottom. If not, the cycle of violence will continue,” said Erwin van der Borght.