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Africa

Nigeria: Torture and murder ... and that's just police!

media Nigerian police patrol as people attend prayers marking the muslim festival … Reuters/A Sotunde

The police in Nigeria are notorious for brutality, including the use of torture to extract confessions. The video sharing website, YouTube, is littered with footage of Nigerian police beating suspects.

Aster van Kregton, a Nigeria Researcher with Amnesty International and co-author of the report by Amnesty International, Killing at Will, accuses the Nigerian Police of “exploiting public anger at the high crime rates in the country to justify their actions”.

It is widely believed that the founder of Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf, was shot in police custody after being tortured. Since Yusuf’s death the group has become more radical.

Radio reports will be broadcast on RFI from 28 November to 2 December and will appear on the website in the International report slot.

So what is being done to combat police brutality in Nigeria?

Remi Atunwa, is an associate of Lawyers Without Borders. She coordinates a network of eight lawyers in four states who are bringing prosecutions against police officers found to have used torture.

"The Nigerian constitution clearly states that the rights of citizens should not be infringed by the authorities," she says. "So we go into prisons and police cells and speak to people who claim to have been tortured. Then we take their cases to the High Court.”

The project is funded by the European Union, but is set to end in 2012. Atunwa doubts the network will be able to continue their work without funding.

“It’s regretful because we have really sent a strong message to police men in Lagos, Plateau, Kano and Kaduna states that there are consequences for using torture.”

Zubairu Muhammad is a defence lawyer in the northern Nigerian city of Kano and part of the network. He started his career as a state prosecutor, until one day he had enough of prosecuting people he knew were innocent victims of torture.

"You find that the victims that are taken to the prisons or the courts are not necessarily the offenders, but had signed confessions under torture,” he remembers.

Dossier: Sharia wars - Boko Haram v the military in northern Nigeria

According to Muhammad, the police in Nigeria are “under intense pressure from the government and the public to deliver. This means they sometimes resort to using crude tactics to get results.”

Over 80 per cent of Nigerians live on less than two dollars a day. The country is awash with small arms.

President Goodluck Jonathan appealed to G8 leaders last year in Toronto to curb the influx of small arms into Africa. Armed robbery is commonplace. Police Order 237 allows officers to shoot suspects attempting to escape. Amnesty International accuses the Nigerian police of using the order “get away with murder”.

So far, Remi Atunwa and her team have brought 14 prosecutions against police officers. Some have been stripped of their positions, and others have been fined.

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