A video footage released by Al-Jazeera TV, showing Nigerian police officers carrying out extra-judicial killings, has led to the arrests of about 17 officers. The detained officers have been taken to Abuja for inquiries.
The Al-Jazeera footage shows police officers ordering a group of young unarmed men to lie face down and then shooting them at close range. The men were allegedly members of the Boko Haram Muslim sect that sought to distort the country’s civil society, democracy and rule of law in 2009.
The footage shows that many of the deaths occurred only after the fighting was over. In the video, a number of unarmed men are seen being made to lie down in the road outside a building before they are shot. As one man is brought out to face death, one of the officers can be heard urging his colleague to “shoot him in the chest not the head – I want his heart.”
A police source has revealed that the arrests were carried out on the orders of the acting President Goodluck Jonathan.
Analysts have commended the acting president for his action on the matter given the fact that the Nigerian police are often accused of extra-judicial killings but deny it and are seldom brought to justice.
The police killings began after Boko Haram attacked a police station in the northern city of Maiduguri, leading to days of clashes and hundreds of deaths – mostly sect members. The leader of the sect, Mohammed Yusuf died in custody after he was handed to the police by the army. Journalists were shown his bullet-ridden body.
As the Al-Jazeera video revealed, while the executions continue another man is told: “Sit properly we want to take your picture.” The shootings continue as a crowd gathers further up the street in front of the police station. Voices can be heard saying: “No mercy, no mercy.”
After the killings, the army officer who appears to have been in charge of the operation is seen to be handing over command to a senior police officer. Both men are clearly identified by the name tags on their chests.
According to analysts, Nigerians see their society as being stalled in violence, and do not trust the court system to punish or reform offenders. In recent decades the Nigerian police have often been hard on extremist groups that threaten civil society and democracy in the country. In 1980 another Islamic sect, led by Marwa Maitasine, was wiped out by the government. Some 1,000 people were killed, including women and children.
Decades of corruption and continued failure to train officers appropriately has led to a situation where extra-judicial killing is an accepted form of dealing with people the police believe to be criminals. Even some public officers sometimes consider this a necessary evil.
When Mr. Yusuf was killed, allegedly by the Nigerian police, the first reaction of Nigerian Information Minister Dora Akunyili to Mr. Yusuf’s death was to say: “What is important is that he has been taken out of the way, to stop him using people to cause mayhem,” BBC reported. However, she went on to reiterate that the Nigerian government does not condone extrajudicial killings.
According to local reports, some Nigerians do not frown upon the police when they carry out such extra-judicial killings against known criminals. Armed robbery suspects are regularly executed before they are charged, and the international rights organization Human Rights Watch says extrajudicial killings are shockingly common in the country.