Extrajudicial Killings in Nigeria, the unending circle

On February 17, 2023, viral social media allegations of extra-judicial killings led to the arrest of three police officers in Anambra state. CSP Patrick Agbazue, SP Nwode Nkeiruka and Inspector Harrison Akama were alleged to have masterminded a kidnapping and organ trafficking syndicate, in direct violation of their duties as security operatives of Zone 13 Command, Ukpo-Dunukofia.

The reports from Anambra are deeply concerning and a tale of one too many. Extra-judicial killings have been a recurring issue in Nigeria. In the past, there have been several reported cases of police brutality, leading to online and in-person protests. The now defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) , a special force in the Nigerian Police, was a known culprit for police brutality and extra-judicial killings which led to the #ENDSARS campaign that received global acclaim. During the #ENDSARS Campaign, Nigerians and the international community were united in demanding that the SARS team be disbanded, as they were alleged to have strayed from their objective of crime prevention to engaging in extortion, brutality and harassment.

A protester during the #EndSARS campaign (image credit: The Guardian)

Nigeria is not bereft of laws that condemn wanton abuse of power by security officials. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), provides for the protection of the fundamental rights of all individuals, including the right to life. Additionally, the Criminal Code and the Penal Code criminalize taking a person’s life without lawful justification. The Police Act and other relevant laws provide guidelines for the conduct of law enforcement agents, including the use of force in the discharge of their duties. The Anti-Torture Act of 2017 prescribes that any police officer or law enforcement officer who subjects a citizen to torture is liable to be tried and if convicted to imprisonment for 25 years. If any person dies as a result of torture, the police officer indicted is liable to be tried for murder.

Nigeria is also a signatory to several international human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which prohibit extrajudicial killing and other forms of human rights violations. Sadly, in spite of our legal structure, not many erring law enforcement officers have been held accountable for their crimes.

A thorough, comprehensive, and transparent probe into the alleged extra-judicial killings in Anambra State must be held for it not to take the scenario of previous cases.

In view of the current investigation by the Inspector-General of Police, we portend that every whistleblower or witness that is interviewed during the course of these investigations should be given access to fair hearing with regards to what they know about the extrajudicial killings.

The investigative panel set up by the Inspector-General of Police should be allowed to hold their sittings in Anambra State, which is in closer proximity to the victims’ families and will give allowance for people with more knowledge on the incidents to testify. Those that are found culpable on this matter must be brought to book, and justice should be served in accordance with the provisions of the law. This will serve as a deterrent to other police officers who have been or are currently planning to engage in extra-judicial killings.

The Federal Government must stay committed to upholding the rule of law and ensuring that law enforcement agents operate within the confines of the law to protect the fundamental rights of all Nigerians.

Temitayo Okereji works as a Program Associate for Hope Behind Bars Africa, a leading Human Rights Organization championing Advocacy for Criminal Justice Reforms.. In the past 5 years we have provided diverse support to over 8000 indigent pre-trial detainees.