Amnesty International, an international movement against injustice has released a detailed report of the violations committed by the Special AntiRobbery Squad (SARS), a unit of the Nigerian police tasked with fighting violent crimes such as robbery and kidnapping.
The non-governmental organization in its report documented widespread human rights violations including extrajudicial executions, torture, and other ill-treatment, rape and extortion by officers of the SARS.
The report comes after Nigerians in their hundreds marched across major cities in 2018, calling on the government to disband SARS, as well as to prosecute SARS officers who have perpetrated human rights violations.
The organization through videos and photos on social media and others shared by Nigerians recorded horrendous stories of SARS officers abusing their victims.
The report, it said, is based on five field research missions carried out by its researchers in Rivers, Anambra, Enugu, Imo and Lagos States, as well as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), between January 2017 and February 2019, and interviews carried out before and after the missions.
In it, researchers from the organization interviewed a total of 82 people, including victims, journalists, human rights defenders, witnesses of abuses, relatives of victims and lawyers.
“Most of the interviews were done in person, but some were conducted by telephone. Some names of victims and witnesses whose testimonies are included in this report have been withheld or changed, in order to protect their identities”, the organization said.
“This report documents cases of extortion, torture and ill-treatment by SARS between January 2017 and May 2020. It reveals a pattern of abuse of power by SARS officers and the consistent failure by the Nigerian authorities to bring perpetrators to justice. It highlights the deficiencies in Nigerian police accountability that contribute to, and exacerbate these violations.
“Amnesty international documented 82 cases between January 2017 and May 2020. Detainees in SARS custody have been subjected to a variety of methods of torture including hanging, mock execution, beating, punching and kicking, burning with cigarettes, waterboarding, near-asphyxiation with plastic bags, forcing detainees to assume stressful bodily positions and sexual violence”.
“Findings from our research indicate that few cases are investigated and hardly any officers are brought to justice on account of torture and other ill-treatment. In a few instances where cases became public knowledge, the police authorities usually promised investigations. However, Amnesty International has found that no investigation or prosecution of perpetrators took place in any of the cases documented in this report”.
The Federal Government of Nigeria has repeatedly promised to reform SARS. On 14 August 2018, the Nigerian Vice-President ordered an immediate reform of SARS, citing the widespread public outcry against their conduct, as the basis for the order.
He also directed the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to set up a judicial panel to investigate SARS alleged unlawful activities. Hours later, the police authority announced a list of reform measures aimed at increasing SARS’ public accountability for its actions. The measures include the change of name from Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) to Federal Special AntiRobbery Squad (FSARS), the appointment of high-ranking police officer to supervise the operation of FSARS and the restriction of FSARS operations to the prevention of armed robbery and kidnapping.
The organization said “Despite these promises of reform and accountability for violations, this report shows that SARS officers continue to subject detainees in their custody to torture and other forms of ill-treatment with total impunity.
“Amnesty International believes that the ongoing impunity enjoyed by SARS officers for human rights violations points to deficiencies in policing practice and the absence of an effective police accountability system”.
PATTERN OF VIOLATIONS
Amnesty International, other human rights groups and UN bodies have, in the past, drawn attention to the pervasive use of torture and other abuses by SARS officers. In its report ‘You have Signed Your Death Warrant’ published in 2016, Amnesty International documented 58 cases of suspects who were tortured while in SARS custody.
Despite these reports, growing public outcry and many promises to reform SARS, violations by SARS officers continue. Since 2016, Amnesty International has documented at least 82 cases of torture, ill-treatment and extrajudicial executions by SARS.
Most victims are young men between the ages of 18 and 35, poor and from vulnerable groups, and are tortured either to extract information and “confessions” or as punishment for their alleged offences. Amnesty International found that torture is a routine and systemic part of police investigation in SARS; that many SARS stations use designated ‘torture chambers’ – special interrogation rooms commonly used for torturing suspects. These are often known by different names such as “the temple” or “the theatre” and are in some cases in the charge of an officer known informally as “O/C Torture” (Officer in Charge of torture).
In numerous cases, Amnesty International saw scars, bruises, and dried blood on victims’ bodies. Many of those subjected to beatings did not receive the medical care they required. In some of these cases, the violations were allegedly ordered by high-ranking officers. Despite verbal assurance from police authorities, the outfit continues to violate the rights of detainees.
PERVASIVE TORTURE AND OTHER CRUEL, INHUMAN OR DEGRADING TREATMENT OR PUNISHMENT
Torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment are absolutely prohibited in all circumstances under international law. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture. Torture can be physical or mental.
It is not enough for states to simply prohibit and criminalise torture under national law; states must take a range of further measures to protect people and prevent these forms of violation. International human rights law and standards are a series of safeguards, which, if implemented, would reduce the isolation of detainees and maximise the opportunities for the actions of the authorities to be monitored, and to intervene, if torture is alleged. The Nigerian Constitution and other domestic laws also provide several similar safeguards for suspects.
Both international human rights law and Nigerian law also prohibit the use of statements obtained through torture or other ill-treatment. Despite these provisions, however, Amnesty International’s research indicates that torture and ill-treatment remain routine practices in SARS detention centres. Amnesty International has received persistent reports of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees in SARS custody.
CASE OF MIRACLE ONWE
23-year-old Miracle was arrested in February 2017 and detained at SARS detention centres in Awkuzu and Neni in Anambra State, on the allegation of laptop theft. He told Amnesty International that he was tortured and hardly given any food during his 40 days in detention by SARS, before he was charged and brought before a court.
“At SARS Awkuzu …their leader directed them to hang me. They took me to the back of the hall and tied me up with ropes. They tied my hands behind me, tied my two legs together and then tied the rope binding my hands with that around my legs behind me, causing my chest to protrude. They had two, already prepared iron stands where they hang people. They passed an iron rod through the ropes and then lifted me up by the rod and hung me from the iron stand. Then they started to use all manner of items to beat me, including machetes, sticks, inflicting me with all manner of injuries… When the first officer came to check and saw that I was almost unconscious, he went to call their team leader, who then asked them to bring me down. They dumped me inside the interrogation hall…
Miracle told Amnesty International that the next day, he was taken from Awkuzu to a SARS detention centre in Neni, where he was detained for 40 days. He said he was denied food and water by SARS during the course of his detention, and only managed to stay alive with the help of inmates who smuggled sachets of water into his cell at midnight. He alleged that eight of his co-detainees died of starvation during the period of his detention. Miracle was taken to court on 25 March 2017 and charged for armed robbery but was discharged for lack of evidence. A lawyer who took up the case of Miracle told Amnesty International that he wrote the Inspector General of Police (IGP) in May 2017 asking for an investigation, but failed to get any response from the IGP.
CASE OF SUNDAY BANG
Sunday Bang, a 24-year-old amateur boxer, described how he was arrested at home in Abuja in October 2018, by three SARS officers and accused of robbery. He was arrested because he had visited his girlfriend a few hours before her house was raided by armed robbers. Sunday Bang told Amnesty International that during his five weeks’ detention by SARS, he was not allowed access to his relatives or a lawyer. He described his experience at SARS office in Abuja to Amnesty International:
They took me to the torture chambers the second day after my arrest. One policeman, in charge of torture, came with a bicycle/car tyre tube and a hard piece of wood. He tied my left arm with the tube. It was very painful and my arm went numb. He tied me from my palm to the end of my upper arm. They beat me with a stick and rod on my arms, knees and legs. They broke my two legs… I couldn’t stand… I was bleeding from my legs and body. My blood was flowing all over the floor. I kept telling them that I was innocent of the accusation. The police officer was threatening he would shoot me if I didn’t admit that I participated in the robbery. I was very weak because I had not eaten any food since my arrest.
Bang told Amnesty International that his arms were specifically targeted during his torture, to ensure that he would no longer be able to use them to box. Three weeks after his arrest, the police arrested the robbers who robbed Sunday Bang’s girlfriend’s house but said they would not release him until his injuries were healed, to prevent him from being able to lodge any complaint against the police. He was kept in detention for a further two weeks without access to medication. He was eventually released after his relatives paid N20, 000 ($55).
CASE OF KOFI BARTELS
Kofi Bartels (34) is a broadcast journalist with a radio station in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. He was arrested on 4 June 2019 in Port Harcourt, when he attempted to record on his mobile phone, the beating of a young man by three SARS officers. The SARS officers took Kofi to the station, where he was detained. He described his experience at SARS office to Amnesty International:
‘‘I was taken to a room, it looked like a detention room. It was not like a cell, but a room. My phones were confiscated. Two of the four policemen engaged in slapping me, one after the other and beating me. Another two joined in beating me up when they heard I had been filming what they had been doing. For about forty-five minutes, I was slapped. I suffered hearing loss at a point; I couldn’t hear. At a point they took my shoes from me. It was quite unfortunate. I was beaten black and blue. I was not allowed to sit on a chair, I was on the floor on one leg. After a while, I was told I was going to be thrown into jail, that the beating was just the beginning. They told me they would hand me over to a male inmate who was going to have anal sex with me.’’
Kofi was released after news of his arrest went viral on social media. The police apologised and promised to punish the officers responsible for his torture. Kofi told Amnesty International that he was invited during an in-house trial of the policemen and asked to identify the officers who had tortured him. He is not sure if anyone was ever punished for his ordeal.
In most of the cases documented by Amnesty International, the victims were unable to report their experiences to the police authorities, because they were afraid the perpetrators might come back to victimise them. In some cases, victims of torture were expressly warned not to disclose their experiences to anyone, or they would be killed. A 27-year-old trader who was tortured at SARS Awkuzu office, told Amnesty International: “The OC SARS told me that I should ensure that nobody hears about what happened. That if he gets information that I discussed my ordeal with anybody, they would come back and execute me.”
At least 30 former detainees interviewed in the course of this research by Amnesty International said that they were held for long periods of time, sometimes for up to ten months, without being taken to court and without access to their lawyers, a doctor or family members. These are direct contraventions of the principles of a fair hearing and presumption of innocence, as guaranteed by Section 36 of the Nigerian Constitution as well as international law and standards.
SARS authorities often publicly parade some of their victims in the media, in what appears to be an effort to showcase their achievements in ‘crime fighting’.
In about 80 cases documented by Amnesty International between January 2018 and May 2020, young men between the ages of 18 and 30, often seen in handcuffs with visible signs of torture, including lacerated bodies and gunshot wounds, were paraded alongside weapons allegedly recovered from them. Several local human rights organisations in Nigeria, including the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Access to Justice (AJ) and International Human Rights and Equity Defence Foundation (I-REF), have protested to the police about publicly displaying suspected criminals who are yet to be convicted. This is despite the fact that there is a court ruling condemning the practice.
TARGETING MONEY AND PROPERTY
Amnesty International’s research suggests that financial gain – rather than curbing armed robbery and other forms of criminal activity – appears to be one of the motivating factors of the SARS, as they constantly raid public places frequented by young people, in order to extort money from them. Evidence collected indicates that SARS officers regularly demand bribes, steal and extort money from criminal suspects and their families. Additionally, SARS officers act outside of their legal ambit by investigating civil matters and in some cases torturing detainees involved in contractual, business and even non-criminal disputes.
Most victims of ill-treatment by the SARS are usually poor. Many are arrested by the SARS officers during large dragnet operations involving mass arrests, including raids on bars and television viewing centres, and ordered to pay a bribe to be released. Those who are unable to pay are often tortured, either as punishment or to coerce them to find the money. The alternative is to risk being labelled as an armed robber. In most cases, this occurs with the full knowledge and acquiescence of superior police officers.
Since 2016, Amnesty International has documented 15 cases where SARS officers arbitrarily confiscated the property of suspects of crime, in clear contravention of the Nigerian constitution.
Gift Ezenwa, a 32-year-old woman, told Amnesty International that her husband, Collins Ezenwa was executed by SARS on 27 January 2017 in Owerri, Imo State, after being accused of kidnapping. Her husband, a 35-year-old ex-police officer, was accused of armed robbery and kidnapping by the police. On 27 January 2018, the police paraded his dead body and the bodies of three of his associates. The police announced that they were killed during a gunfire fight with SARS officers at Owerri.
Gift’s lawyer, however, told Amnesty international that the photo released by SARS Imo State Command suggested that the deceased persons were arrested at a police checkpoint and taken to the SARS station in Owerri, where they were executed.
Two months after the death of Collins Ezenwa, the police arrested four of his relatives and extorted various sums of money from them. One of the relatives, a 48-year-old trader, told Amnesty International that he was arrested in his village in Imo State and taken to Lagos, where he was detained for two weeks. He paid N1 million ($2,777) to the police before he was released.
Gift also told Amnesty International how another police unit, the Intelligence Response Unit (IRT), made elaborate plans to illegally confiscate family assets, including cash, buildings and business assets.
“All our vehicles have been unlawfully confiscated by the police and converted to their personal use… I saw one policeman using my car and… was driving the Sienna my husband gave his cousin… Our hotel has been taken over by the police. I was informed that our Prado jeep is being used by SARS for patrols. Our hotel is currently managed by someone appointed by the police and he renders account to the police. The hotel makes a cash turnover of about N12m every month. To ensure that I have nothing, the police went to a furniture shop at New Haven where my husband made a cash deposit of N2, 200,000. 00 for a set of house furniture and retrieved the money from them… One of my brothers was arrested and everything of value he had, including money was taken by the police… The police have also stopped our tenants from paying rent to me. I have absolutely nothing.
“The police IPO warned me to cooperate with them and comply with their instructions and not to involve lawyers in my discussions with them. He said that he knew that I was innocent, but my husband made billions within two months, that I married him for his money. That my husband must have been a kidnapper or stumbled on money, but that men who stumble on money do not display wealth like he (my husband) had done… One policeman advised me to cooperate and work with the police, so that the police would give me “something” (a token) from my late husband’s estate; that when police kill men like my husband “they must collect” (make money) or make sure that everything is wasted”.
Amnesty International confirmed that there was no judicial order authorising the police to confiscate Ezenwa’s property until 22 September 2019, much later than the date on which the police had illegally confiscated it.
Amnesty International saw a court document where the police made an application for authorisation to confiscate the late Ezenwa’s assets. The application was dated 10 December 2018, several months after the properties were seized.
Amnesty International also saw another court order rejecting the request of the police to freeze the bank account of Collins Ezenwa. The police had approached a magistrate court, requesting an order to freeze a bank account jointly owned by the late Collins Ezenwa and his wife. The police, however, proceeded to freeze the bank account.
On 14 January 2019, a police officer attached to the Intelligence Response Unit (IRT) told the presidential investigation panel on the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) that he had supervised the confiscation of Ezenwa’s property in Enugu. He, however, failed to produce any court documents authorising the police action.
Amnesty International wrote to the Inspector General of Police in November 2018, asking for an investigation, but did not get a response. A senior police officer later informed Amnesty International that the police had started investigating the case.
Further inquiry by Amnesty International in May 2020 indicated that the investigation was still ongoing. However, none of the SARS officers involved in the killing of Ezenwa has been removed from their duties and none have been prosecuted.
Ugochukwu, a 32-year-old trader in Anambra State, told Amnesty International that SARS officers extorted N6, 000,000 ($16,666) from him, after detaining him for six days and subjecting him to different forms of torture and other ill-treatment, including a mock execution.
He disclosed to Amnesty International that SARS officers arrested him without a warrant on 30 April 2018, at his shop along Ugwunwasike in Ogidi, Anambra State. The police accused him of paying money to a criminal gang that was blackmailing him.
He was taken to SARS station at Awkuzu, where SARS officers demanded from him the sum of N20, 000,000 ($55,325) in exchange for his freedom. He recounted his experience to Amnesty International:
“…On the 5th day, they brought me out and told me that my life would end on that day, since I was refusing to cooperate with them… Four policemen blindfolded me and handcuffed me and pushed me into their car. They drove for about two hours and stopped at a particular spot. They removed my blindfold. I saw that I was beside a borrow pit inside the bush. I had no idea where we were…
“They told me that my life had come to an end, as I would be executed shortly. Their leader told them that they should shoot me as soon as he gave the signal. I was crying and pleading, but they refused to listen. They all pointed their guns at me.
I heard the command to shoot and heard the sound of rapid gunshots. I passed out. When I regained consciousness, I saw that I was inside their vehicle, blindfolded. They took me back to the cell… They said I would not be so lucky the next time. I had no option but to agree to their terms.
“I transferred the money using my mobile phone application and they allowed me to go. One of the officers told me that they would kill me if I revealed my ordeal at SARS to anyone, including my family members”.
International Human Rights and Equity Foundation (IREF), a human rights organisation based in Anambra State, petitioned the Inspector General of Police on 5 July 2018, asking for an investigation. On 17 October 2018, the police investigative team summoned Ugochukwu and his lawyer to Abuja and returned the entire amount of money extorted from Ugochukwu to him. He was told that the money was recovered from the policemen who had arrested and detained him.
His lawyer told Amnesty International that no disciplinary measures were taken against the SARS officers. The head of the SARS team responsible for the torture and extortion of money from Ugochukwu retired from the police force in December 2018, while the rest of the team remain at their duty posts.
Samuel Eke, a 25-year-old trader, told Amnesty International that he was arrested by SARS officers at a bar in the Okpoko area of Onitsha on 14 May 2018 at about 7 pm and detained for three days at a police station in Onitsha. He said that the same officers also arrested 35 other young men, who were detained with him.
“They accused us of being cultists (gang members) and demanded that everyone pays the sum of N10, 000. Most of the detainees’ relatives paid and they were granted bail. I was released on the third day when a human rights activist intervened on my behalf.”
The human rights defender who effected Samuel Eke’s release told Amnesty International that between January 2018 and October 2018, he had intervened in the arrest of at least 70 young men between the ages of 16 and 30. He said most of the victims were picked up on the street, from a football viewing centre or a bar. They were often accused of being gang members and asked to pay money for bail.
On 23 May 2018, Tope Bass, a 29-year-old musician, was arrested by SARS officers in the Alagbado area of Lagos after a woman claimed she recognised him as one of the people who had robbed her a few days earlier.
“The husband (of the robbed woman) invited the SARS officers by phone. When they came, they cuffed my legs and hands and used my clothes to cover my face. They took me away with the young girl working at the shop where I was arrested. The girl was accused of hiding my loot. They took us to SARS, Ikeja. One SARS officer used a cutlass to flog me on my back. I was given about 20 blows. SARS officers collected N50, 000 ($139) from the girl’s relatives and allowed her to go.
“On the third day, they brought me out of the cell and started to torture me again. They beat me with sticks, their hands and a cutlass, and kept asking me where I kept my guns. I told them I didn’t have a gun. When my family members came to the station, they were told that the woman who had accused me of stealing wanted me to pay her the sum of N350, 000. They also asked [my family] to pay the sum of N80, 000 to enable them to track the woman’s missing phones. SARS demanded a total of N580, 000 ($1611) from my family. My family refused to pay. I was detained for four days before I was taken to court and charged for armed robbery. My lawyer was not informed when I was taken to court and the magistrate remanded me in prison”.
Tope spent three months in prison and was released after the court struck out his case on 24 August 2018.
Betty Abbah, a human rights activist who played an active part in advocating for his release, told Amnesty International that the police and the woman who accused Tope of robbery failed to attend the trial. The activist and her organisation have documented occurrences where SARS officers and collaborating members of the public had, together, framed people for the purpose of extorting money from them. The activist’s suspicion is that Tope was the victim of such a ploy.
A 58-year-old taxi driver told Amnesty International that SARS officers on a highway in Kogi State in November 2017, arrested him and his passengers, and forced them to pay N30, 000.
“We were driving from Okene to Abuja. I had four passengers with me. Before we got to Lokoja we were stopped by five armed men in a Hilux vehicle. They said they were from SARS. They said they had caught some robbers in the same type of car as ours the previous day. They searched our bodies and the car but found nothing incriminating. They asked me to go to the back and sit with the other passengers, while one of them drove my vehicle. The rest of the policemen drove in their Hilux car behind us. They drove for about two hours, deep into Kogi State. Eventually, they stopped at a lonely place and asked us to come out of the car. They demanded for N50, 000 to release us. One of them said we should not waste their time, else he would execute all of us. We pleaded with them that we did not have money. When we realised that they were bent on executing us if we failed to give them the money, we all contributed all the money on us and gave [it to] them. We gave them about N30, 000. They drove us back to the Lokoja highway and asked us to go.”
TARGETING YOUNG PERSONS
Amnesty International research showed that young persons between the ages of 17 and 30 are at the most risk of arrest, torture or extortion by SARS. Amnesty International spoke to 20 young men during this research. They were arrested during street raids, at television viewing centres and pubs, in 2017 and 2018.
According to them, SARS officers often lookout for well-dressed young men, especially those in new cars. Often, these young men are accosted at roadblocks or on the streets and accused of being internet fraudsters, known as ‘Yahoo boys’ in local parlance. The young men are taken to the station and are threatened with being charged for robbery, unless they agree to pay large sums of money for bail.
Adetokunbo, a 22-year-old university student, spoke to Amnesty International about an experience he had, when he was physically attacked by four SARS officers in the Okota area of Lagos in May 2017. The attack took place after SARS officers saw him with an iPhone and consequently accused him of being a Yahoo boy (Internet fraudster).
“They held me by the trousers and when I protested and asked what my offence was, they all descended on me and started to hit me. My shorts were torn as they were trying to search my back pocket, where I kept my wallet. They put me in handcuffs and threw me inside their car. They were beating and slapping me from different sides. I told them to check my ID card or allow me to make a call. They didn’t listen to me or even check my phone. They asked who my father was that I could use an iPhone, which they could not afford. They pointed a gun at my head and said they could ‘waste’ me and nothing would happen… There were two other men in the car who were arrested because the policemen saw a valid visa with them. They were making plans to travel abroad when they were arrested. The two men, who were also accused of being Internet fraudsters, were searched by the policemen and their ATM cards seized. They took N70, 000 from me and took the other two men to an ATM to withdraw money… They released the two men at Oworonsoki. They took me to the 3rd Mainland Bridge and asked me to go”.
Out of the 20 young men interviewed by Amnesty International, 15 were between the ages of 18 and 25. They told Amnesty International how they were accused of fraud and arrested by SARS officers, mostly along the street, at public viewing centres or in their homes. Amnesty International documented at least 25 cases where SARS officers raided public places, including pubs, which are frequented by young men. In many of these cases, the victims were arbitrarily arrested and detained in a cell, upon failure to pay money requested by police officers.
A 25-year-old man told Amnesty International: “I was accosted by four SARS officers at Olu Obasanjo Way, Port Harcourt, on 2 December 2017. They took me in their vehicle and drove to the nearby police station, where the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) openly told me that if I had no cash, I should take them to the ATM to withdraw money for them. I took them to the ATM along Olu Obasanjo Way to prove that I had no money. When they saw that I had no money, I was let go.”
The police authorities have often announced that SARS officers are mandated to investigate serious criminal cases involving armed robbery and kidnapping. However, Amnesty International research shows that SARS officers involve themselves in other matters, including civil cases. In the cases documented by Amnesty International, senior police officers, including an Inspector General of Police (IGP), were responsible for ordering the arrest of citizens for offences that were not related to armed robbery or kidnapping.
For instance, on 1 January 2018, Tim Elombah, an online journalist and six of his family members, were arrested by 15 armed SARS officers at about 4:00am at his home in Nnewi, Anambra State. Elombah said he was detained for 25 days and subjected to several forms of ill-treatment, after he was accused of publishing a defamatory article against the IGP on a website. Tim Elombah was released on 28 January, after a high court declared his detention illegal and ordered his release. The police, however, charged him for cybercrimes; cyberstalking, cyber-intimidation and terrorism-related offences. In May 2018, a high court awarded the cost of N5 million ($13,870) against the police, for infringing on the fundamental rights of Tim Elombah and his brothers. The judgement remains unenforced as at the time of this report.
On 14 August 2018, SARS officers arrested journalists Samuel Ogundipe, Musikilu Mojeed and Azeezat Adedigba, all of the Premium Times, a Nigerian online newspaper, after they visited the police station on invitation by the police in Abuja. While Musikilu Mojeed and Azeezat Adedigba were released after several hours of interrogation, Samuel Ogundipe was detained for three days and charged to court after he refused to reveal the source for an article he wrote, which allegedly embarrassed the IGP. While at the police headquarters, Samuel was told that he had written several articles in the past, which the IGP had found embarrassing. Samuel was arraigned secretly at a magistrate court, without the knowledge of his lawyers and charged for criminal trespass and theft of police documents. He was released after a magistrate court granted him bail on 16 August 2018. Incidentally, the arrests occurred the same day the IGP announced plans to reform SARS.
The editor of an online newspaper based in Port Harcourt told Amnesty International that on several occasions, he had been arrested and intimidated by SARS officers, over his criticism of SARS.
“On one occasion, early in June 2018, I was arrested by SARS personnel (about five of them) at GRA Port Harcourt, on my way from an interview at about 6 pm. They accused me of writing nonsense about their Commander. I asked them who their Commander (was) and they responded by hitting me with the butt of their gun. I was equally accused of being Gov (Governor) Wike’s lackey. I don’t even know who the Governor is, never seen him before. I was bundled inside the boot of their vehicle and taken to their station. They asked me to write a statement, but I refused. They took me to the cell and detained me with suspected robbers for about four hours until a lawyer friend intervened and effected my release.”
Amnesty International has documented at least twelve other instances since 2016 when journalists and bloggers were either arbitrarily arrested or intimidated by SARS officers.
IMPUNITY AND LACK OF REFORM
Amnesty International’s 2016 report repeatedly highlighted the failure of the State to ensure prompt, effective, independent and impartial investigations into allegations of torture by policemen. Such failure has created a climate of impunity, in which those who commit such violations can continue to do so without the fear of being held accountable. In all the cases documented by Amnesty International, there was not a single instance in which a SARS officer was punished for their alleged role in perpetrating torture. Furthermore, the report noted that the Nigerian police authorities were unable to provide a single instance when SARS officers were punished for torture. In every case investigated by Amnesty International, the perpetrators acted with impunity.
Shortly after Amnesty International launched its report on SARS in 2016, the police authorities promised to investigate all the cases detailed by Amnesty International and bring to justice the SARS officers responsible for torture and other inhuman and degrading treatment. On 12 October 2016, a coalition of 23 human rights organisations and lawyers called for the investigation of a senior police officer and the head of SARS Awkuzu, for human rights violations allegedly committed by officers of SARS, Awkuzu. This followed previous calls to the IGP by the same coalition.