Amnesty International (AI) has accused Nigerian authorities of failing to prosecute a single officer from the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
It said this was despite anti-torture legislation passed in 2017 and evidence that its members continue to use torture and other ill-treatment to execute, punish and extract information from suspects.
In a new report released on Friday titled “Time to End Impunity”, AI revealed that it documented 82 cases of torture, ill-treatment and extra-judicial execution by SARS between January 2017 and May 2020.
It noted that victims of the police unit, set up to fight violent crimes, are predominantly male between the ages of 18 and 35, from low-income backgrounds and vulnerable groups.
Osai Ojigho, AI Director in Nigeria, said the government’s inability to bring an end to the gross human rights violations perpetrated by SARS “is shocking and unacceptable.
”Nigerians are outraged by the systemic human rights violations perpetrated by the SARS with impunity”.
The official noted that the “systemic use of torture and other ill-treatment by SARS officers for police investigations and the continued existence of torture chambers within the Nigerian Police Force points to an absolute disregard for international human rights laws and standards.”
AI said in many cases, victims bore witness to the scars, bruises, and dried blood on victims’ bodies and that many of them were subjected to beatings with sticks and machetes and denied medical care.
The body said in March 2017, 23-year-old Miracle was arrested and detained by SARS officers in Neni, Anambra State, accused of the theft of a laptop.
He was tortured and hardly given any food during the 40 days he was in detention before he was arraigned in court.
Miracle told AI: “Their leader directed them to hang me. They took me to the back of the hall, tied me with ropes, using all manner of items to beat me, including machetes, sticks, inflicting me with all kinds of injuries. One of the officers used an exhaust pipe to hit me on my teeth, breaking my teeth. I was left on that hanger for more than three hours.”
AI included in the report that in October 2018, 24-year-old Sunday Bang, an amateur boxer was arrested in his home in Abuja, by SARS officers and accused of robbery.
He was held in detention for 5 weeks without access to family, lawyers or medical care – and was not charged to court.
“While in SARS detention, he suffered bone fractures and other injuries due to torture and other ill-treatment. No circumstances whatsoever may be invoked as a justification of torture. In many cases the victims are the poor and vulnerable, easy targets for law enforcement officers whose responsibility it is to protect them,” said Osai Ojigho.
AI decried that young people between the ages of 17 and 30 are most at risk of arrest, torture, or extortion by SARS and are often accused of being internet fraudsters and/or armed robbers for having/wearing dreadlocks, ripped jeans, tattoos, flashy cars or expensive gadgets.
The rights organization condemned how young men are unlawfully arrested in raids on television viewing centres, bars, recreational centres, held in detention and forced to pay huge bribes to secure their release.
AI lamented that to date, not one officer has been held accountable for human rights violations despite three separate letters to the office of the Inspector General of Police.
Osai Ojigho advised the Nigerian government to go beyond lip service to ensure there is real reform within the Nigeria Police Force with an emphasis on SARS.
“These reforms must translate into holding police officers suspected of torture to account, ending torture, unlawful detention, extortion, extrajudicial execution and other human rights violations that SARS officers have been known for”, the official added.