Nigeria: Police and vigilante killings out of control

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Nigerian hospital is reportedly planning a mass burial as its facilities are overstuffed with corpses being brought to them by the Nigerian police. The Nigeria’s police forces have faced strong disapproval from human rights groups for carrying out extrajudicial and random killings. Records have shown that 75 corpses were delivered to the mortuary by police between June and 26 November this year.

The Chief Medical Director at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital in Enugul, Dr Anthony Mbah, says his staff was forced to carry out a mass burial of between 70 and 80 bodies some weeks ago. He added that another mass burial is planned to take place soon.

Responding to media allegations of summary executions by the police, Enugu State Police Commissioner Mohamed Zarewa told reporters that his officers are often forced to take on armed robbers in gunfights and that many police officers are also killed. He insisted that his police force operates within the law.

But reports have claimed that about seven men arrested early September, charged with kidnapping, and paraded alive in front of the media, had their names recorded on the mortuary’s register between the 15 and 16 of September. According to the BBC, the mortuary images from eastern Nigeria are distressing; as piles of young men, lying on top of one another and strewn about on tables and floors, cover charnel house.

Human Rights

Meanwhile, human rights group, Amnesty international is to present the results of a three-year investigation of the Nigerian police today, Dec. 9. According to Mrs. Kemi Okenyodo, of police reform group the Cleen Foundation, the Nigerian police need more than just expensive gadgets to improve their ability to work effectively: “The police capacity to investigate crime is next to zero. Officers are not trained in policing techniques – if they do have qualifications, they are often irrelevant to police work.”

Mrs. Okenyodo added that the Cleen Foundation has pictures and witness statements that accuse Sars police, a special crime unit in the Nigerian police force, of torture and killing of suspects. However Mr. Zarewa insists that his men do not beat confessions out of people – the deaths are likely to be as a result of fire-fights with armed criminals, he says.


On the other hand of the law enforcement in Nigeria is the vigilante neighborhood watch who take to the streets with guns or machetes to possibly mob armed robbers. Reports say this informal policing happens in cities across Nigeria. And locals admit that the vigilantes are often times the only ones that stand between robbers and residents.

Armed robbers who are caught can expect to be killed before the police authorities arrive. Nevertheless, the Nigerian police say the presence of vigilante groups is welcome. Police spokesman, Emmanuel Ojukwu was quoted as saying: “They pre-date the police, and they complement our efforts. The police can’t get into every nook and cranny. The police try to send officers out on patrol with as many vigilante groups as possible, but with one policeman for every 400 Nigerians this is difficult. But any vigilantes who kill suspects would face the law.”

The British government’s Department for International Development (DfID) is working with vigilante squads in Nigeria, trying to educate them about the law and human rights to prevent them from executing suspects.

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