• Extrajudicial killings, rights abuse smear regional security outfits

    Extrajudicial killings rights abuse smear regional security outfits - nigeria newspapers online
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    To the Ekesinachis, the deaths of Ifechi and Emeka still bring a lot of emotion and haunting memories. The duo were gruesomely murdered on the same day.

    Their younger brother, Chido, took a deep breath as he tried to recount the unfortunate incident that led to his brothers’ deaths to our correspondent.

    The 20-year-old Ifechi, and 22-year-old Emeka were among seven youths allegedly murdered by Ebubeagu agents on July 17, 2022, in Otulu, a community in Imo State.

    The duo had attended the marriage introduction of their friend and were basking in the euphoria of the celebration, unaware of the doom that awaited them.

    ‘’That is the saddest day of my life,” Chido said.

    He continued, “My brothers attended the introduction of their friend and never returned. The wound caused by their deaths has not healed. Our parents still cry anytime they remember the incident.”

    Chido would have been killed too and the tragedy would have been more for the family to bear had he not had another engagement that took him out of town two days before the event.

    “The person having the event was very close to us. I had made preparations to attend alongside my brothers but two days to the day, I had an engagement that took me out of our community. I was sincerely not happy that I did not make it. It was disheartening when we were informed about the incident. Maybe I would have been dead too, who knows,” a distraught Chido muttered.

    Unlike Chido who could not make it to the gathering, Iheukwumere ThankGod did, but escaped death by a whisker.

    The assailants shot his leg while he tried to hop on his motorcycle to escape from the men, who had invaded the gathering.

    Not minding that he had been hit, he sped off but was given a hot chase by the operatives, who fired another shot at him.

    He said, “It was not a wedding per se, it was something more like an introduction. He went with his family and his friends followed him. We were almost done when this Hilux roughly drove in and started shooting at people. They did not utter a word to suggest any of us had committed a crime.

    “I was shot in the leg but I managed to get close to where my motorcycle was and sped off. I thought I had escaped but looking back, I saw the Hilux at my back. I was shot again and fell off the bike. They left me for dead. I, however, managed to crawl inside the bush and found help.”

    ThankGod now battles many problems.

    Eight months after the ill-fated incident, he still groans with pain and has stopped going to a hospital for treatment due to his inability to pay the backlog of medical bills he owed.

    He has also lost his source of livelihood and relies on gifts from friends and well-wishers to fend for himself, his parents, and five siblings.

    ThankGod said, “To date, anytime I remember the incident, I weep and hardly will a day pass that I won’t recall it. I am still in pain; I still use crutches. I need more treatment; the pain is too much for me. I have not been able to feed myself and my family; I depend on what people give me, that is what I have been living on. I was a welder and I was living comfortably, feeding myself, my parents, and five siblings. I was responsible for their upkeep and schooling.

    “We now rely on N1,000 or at most N5,000 people give me as gifts. I stopped going to the hospital because I was unable to pay for the bills and that is the reason behind the pain I feel. I should still be in the hospital by now. The leg was shot several times.”

    The Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodinma, however, claimed that the victims were bandits killed after an operation of the Department of State Services.

    The Governor’s Chief Press Secretary, Oguwuike Nwachukwu, in a statement issued after the incident, noted that the state government would not be deterred by “propaganda” in its bid to curb insecurity in the state.

    But ThankGod insisted that Ebubeagu perpetrated the act, denying that they were bandits.

    He said, “They said we were bandits; it is a lie. We are well-known in the community. My life has been ruined for what they call me which I am not. As you are talking to me, you are making me remember the incident; the most annoying part is that I am suffering for what I know nothing about.”

    Allegations of extrajudicial killings and brutality by Ebubeagu agents are not peculiar to Imo State.

    Five youths were reportedly killed when men of the unit stormed a community in Ebonyi State on October 17, 2021.

    A stray bullet from an operative also killed one during a protest in a community in Imo State on July 24, 2021.

    Also, Ebubeagu agents were accused of assaulting a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party on November 9, 2021.

    Many were injured as operatives of the agency allegedly attacked Labour Party loyalists in Ebonyi State on November 13, 2021.

    The Chief Press Secretary to the Imo State Governor, Oguwike Nwachuku, asked our correspondent to send a text message when contacted for a reaction on the excesses of the security outfit.

    He had also yet to respond to a text message sent to him on the matter as of the time of filing this report.

    Sabo community in the Ijebu-Ode area of Ogun State was on April 24 thrown into mourning after two people were allegedly killed by Amotekun operatives.

    One of the harmless citizens killed was 28-year-old Ibrahim Jamilu, who had gone to a mosque to observe solat, an evening prayer.

    After praying, he ran into the hands of the operatives, who shot at him.

    His mother, Aishat, told our correspondent that she asked his younger brother to wake him up for the prayer without knowing death was lurking by the corner.

    She said her son was shot while stepping out of the mosque.

    “It happened on Saturday during Ramadan, around 5pm. He was sleeping at my place. I asked his brother to wake him up for prayer (solat). He told me to give him N200 to cut his hair and I did. Later, he left for the mosque.

    “I was home cooking. The incident happened opposite the mosque at Lukmos Junction. I heard a gunshot at the mosque but I didn’t know it was him. Later, one of his friends called me, asking if I was aware of what happened and I said, ‘yes’. I told him I was less concerned about it. I later went out,” Aisha said.

    She noted that on getting to the scene of the incident, she saw her son on the floor howling in pain and made an attempt to get close to him, but was threatened by one of the operatives.

    She said, “The man that shot him threatened to shoot me as well if I moved close to him. My son was lying lifeless there though he was still breathing and they didn’t allow anyone to carry him. They carried him inside their vehicle and took him away. They use one Amotekun vehicle while the second was not a red vehicle. “

    Aisha said rather than taking Ibrahim to a hospital for treatment, the operatives headed straight for a morgue.

    “Later, his brother took a bike and followed them with the intention that they would take him to the general hospital but they did not.

    “He died inside their vehicle; when they carried him and I was shouting, ‘My son, my son’, he looked back, raised his hand, and made a gesture suggesting I should go back home,” the bereaved mother added.

    She said her son did not deserve to die in such a way, adding that he was an easygoing person.

    “If he offended me and I scolded him, he would start to cry. His wife has not got over it; his child clocked two years on March 10, 2023,” Aisha stated.

    Before Ibrahim, there was Femi Ilori.

    Femi was killed a month after his father, Sunday, a thrift collector in Ogun State, survived a ghastly motor accident.

    The 57-year-old father had since left the area for Ikenne because of the trauma of his son’s death.

    He told our correspondent on the phone that he was not around when Femi was killed.

    According to him, residents did not immediately announce the death to him as he was only told that Femi had been arrested by Amotekun operatives and taken to Igbeba Police Station.

    He added that he was told his son was not at the station when he visited Igbeba.

    He said, “The incident happened not more than a month after I had an accident that almost claimed my life. Up till now, his death brings me pain. He was supposed to go to work on that day because he was an apprentice in a barbing salon. I went to his mum’s place that day and I overheard some people talking. I asked them what was happening and they told me something happened to Femi but they didn’t disclose it.

    “They only told me to go to the police station to check on him. They said that some people came to Sabo and took him to the station. That’s how I went to Igbeba Police Station. I got there and they said they didn’t detain anyone named Femi.”

    He said one of Femi’s friends later opened up to him that he had been killed and taken to a morgue.

    Sunday said, “While leaving the place, we saw Amotekun’s vehicle and we stopped them to ask about the people they arrested. They told us they didn’t arrest anyone.

    “Meanwhile, one of his friends that followed us who didn’t want to disclose the incident to us initially told me that Femi had been taken to the mortuary. I left for the mortuary, and we found him on the floor.

    “I asked what happened and I was told some people dropped him there and they were not aware of what led to his death. I asked how they would accept a corpse without having details about it. “

    When asked the offence his son committed, he said he was told Femi and his friends were having a debate on a football match they had just watched when Amotekun operatives stormed the area and asked them to raise their hands.

    He said Femi and his friends took to their heels.

    “They started pursuing him till he ran into a woman’s house. I was told he hid behind the door; they forcefully broke the door to arrest him. The woman started shouting that Femi was her child and they shouldn’t arrest him.

    “He was dragged out after they injured the woman and taken to a corner behind the house where he was shot six times. He fell, and they dragged his corpse till they got to their patrol vehicle. It was after they said he was not the one they were looking for,” the father said.

    Apart from the trauma the death of his son caused him, Sunday said it also took a toll on his finances.

    He said, “I’m a thrift collector; I spent all the money in my care on the incident. Now, I have to stop the work and keep paying the debt I owed, which I’m still on.

    “His mother also didn’t have anything again. I was the one that buried the boy. I bought the coffin and the land I buried him on. I spent all I had on it. I don’t have anybody, but I have God. Because of that, I relocated to Ikenne to get over the situation.”

    A tenant in the house Femi ran into for cover, Kafilat Olamilekan, said she was brutalised by the Amotekun operatives when she demanded an explanation for the arrest.

    She said, “Femi ran inside our landlady’s room because he’s our neighbour. He did not have a bad character, so we allowed him to hide. When those people came, they entered through the backdoor and asked about him and we told them nobody entered there. They forced her door open with their legs and searched her room. They later found him and took him out.

    “I was panicking and trying to run. During this period, one of them injured me with the butt of his gun on my hand and I fell. They dragged him and killed him beside the house.”

    Sunday and Aisha have yet to get justice for the murder of their children.

    The duo said they were in the dark about the efforts made by the police and the Amotekun corps to apprehend the culprits.

    Aisha recalled that some operatives of the corps were arrested but were later freed.

    “Yes, they did and later they were told to free them. It even pained his brother when they were told to free them and since then, we didn’t see any action. We know this happened because we are nobody,” she added.

    “We’ve tried all we can to ensure those behind my son’s death are apprehended but everything has been abortive. It pains us. Raising a kid from childhood to adulthood isn’t easy,” Sunday lamented.

    The spokesperson for Amotekun in Ogun State, Dave Akinremi, said the duo of Femi and Ibrahim were cultists, adding that they were killed during a gun battle with a joint team of security operatives in the state.

    He said, “On the issue of the killing in Ijebu Ode in 2021, our operatives were not responsible. But there was a joint operation by the police, Amotekun, So-safe, VGN, OPC, hunters, NSCDC SWAT, etc, on the day in question when cult killings were happening almost every day.

    “In the process, two of the suspected cultists who engaged the joint team were demobilised and two of the operatives involved (not Amotekun) were identified and taken to the SCID for investigation. So, if there’s any inquiry on this, it should be addressed to the police.”

    The Ogun State Police Public Relations Officer, Abimbola Oyeyemi, was called several times, but he did not pick up his calls.

    He did not also respond to messages demanding an explanation on why the culprits were allegedly set free.

    Amotekun is the reason Oluwasegun Oluwarotimi had one of his legs amputated.

    As a commercial motorcycle operator in Akure, Ondo State, he was going about his work when a trigger-happy officer of the security outfit shot at his left leg.

    The operatives had stormed the area and shot into the air, which made Oluwarotimi’s colleagues and others at the scene to run for cover, but he stayed put.

    He said he didn’t run because he believed Amotekun was a security outfit and he had no skeleton in his cupboard.

    The victim said, “On August 9, 2021, around 9am when I was going about my daily hustle as an rider, I took a passenger to Araromi, Akure, and when the passenger alighted, he gave me N500. I had to look for his change.

    “It was around this time that an Amotekun corps van drove in and shot in the air, which caused fear and caused people to start running; I did not run because I presumed the officers were carrying out their lawful duties, and I did not do anything incriminating that might warrant me to flee at the sight of Amotekun officers. Four of them alighted from the van, and to my surprise, they started beating me. Before I knew it, one of them shot at my leg.”

    He told our correspondent that he was afterwards dragged into the back of a van and taken to the Amotekun headquarters at Alagbaka, where he was abandoned.

    Oluwarotimi said, “I was abandoned outside, uncared for and bleeding until a senior officer came out and directed that I should be taken to the outfit’s medical unit.

    “At the Amotekun’s medical unit, the nurses only bandaged the injury and referred me to the Federal Medical Centre, Owo, where I was attended to briefly because of the ongoing strike action of doctors at the time. I was driven roughly down to Owo, with my fractured thigh barely hanging to the flesh.”

    He said he had no further care, which worsened his situation, adding that his leg became smelly as it began to decay.

    His leg was later amputated.

    After abandoning him to his fate, he dragged the corps to court and was awarded N30m as compensation.

    But as of April 26, 2023, he had yet to be paid.

    He said, “Since the amputation of my leg, I can’t do any work. My children have not been attending school. I am still owing the debt I incurred to settle my medical bills. I plead with the government to pay me this money; the damage they have done to my life is more than the money.”

    The Commander of Amotekun in Ondo State, Adetunji Adeleye, said the outfit had dismissed two officials, demoted seven, and sanctioned many to instill discipline in the corps.

    He said, “For an outfit that has conducted thousands of operations and recorded successes and has one accidental discharge, I don’t know why it is drawing so much attention but when you consider the colossal loss of a life, it’s equally understandable. As human beings, we are not above mistakes but as far as we are concerned, training and retraining are going on.

     “The law setting up the corps is very clear on the punishment of any erring officer.  In the last three years, we have dismissed two officers and demoted seven and a good number of them served lesser punishment.  We are striving to achieve perfection.  We want to make a difference.”

    Also known as Sharia Police, the operations of the outfit have been heavily criticised by many Nigerians.

    Many residents in Kano and other 12 northern states where the outfit is functional have had hideous encounters with Hisbah operatives.

    Two of them were approached by this reporter but declined comment for fear of victimisation.

    But in an interview with a wine store operator who gave her name only as Chika for security reasons, accused the operatives of brutalising her despite being four-month pregnant during a raid on her store on December 14, 2021.

    She said, “I was sitting in my shop when I saw a group of people entering and packing my goods.

    “As I kept asking them to leave me alone while trying to dial my husband’s number, one of them started dragging my phone from my hand while another was applying electric shocks to my back. They eventually collected the phone and kept torturing me with the electric device.

    “What pained me most was that they kept beating me despite telling them I was pregnant. They saw that I was pregnant but they did not care. I was four months and some weeks pregnant. “

    Chika said she was forced into a vehicle, which conveyed her to the board’s headquarters in the Sharada industrial area of Kano, where the beating continued.

    But the Hisbah’s Deputy Commander-General (Operations), Shehu Ishaq, denied the allegation, saying the group’s operations were legitimate and void of human rights abuse.

    “Our job does not entail beating or insulting anyone except if the culprit engages or confronts our workers. Our workers will have to defend themselves and we don’t allow our staff members to go out for operations in combat uniform, ‘’ he was quoted as saying.

    Ebubeagu was formed in December 2021 by South-East governors in the five states of the region to complement the effort of security agencies in the fight against crime.

    The outfit was, however, disbanded by a court in Ebonyi State after it was found guilty of engaging in human rights abuse, extortions, illegal arrests and use of firearms.

    The Western Nigeria Security Network, codenamed Operation Amotekun, was founded on January 9, 2020, in Ibadan, Oyo State, by governors in the South-West region.

    The outfit was created following the spate of criminal activities in the region, particularly an increase in kidnapping by suspected herdsmen.

    Members of the outfit were drawn from local hunters, the Oodua Peoples’ Congress, Agbekoya, and vigilance groups.

    Unlike its counterpart in the South East, Amotekun has yet to be disbanded in any state.

    Human Right Watch likened the role of Hisbah to that of vigilance groups operating in other parts of the country as a response to the failings of the police.

    Hisbah has 13 major schedules of duty outlined in the 2007 Kano Hisbah Law No. 4, Section 7, Subsection 4.

    One of them is that Hisbah adherents should operate in line with approved services in complementing the police and other law enforcement agencies in preventing vices, apprehending culprits, and charging them before the appropriate court of law.

    On some occasions, however, they have allegedly operated outside of their establishment statutes.

    Security operatives have consistently violated human rights law in the country. A 2021 report by a pro-democracy group, Centre for Democracy and Development, stated that security operatives killed over 13,000 people extra-judicially from 2011 to 2021.

    While the atrocities by the security outfits have lingered on, our correspondent observed that the operatives have been indulged by the inability of state governments, federal law enforcement agencies and human rights institutions to sanction them.

    This is evident in the case of Femi and Ibrahim, whose parents have been denied justice.

    While the outfits may have brought pain to some citizens due to the excesses of their officials, they have also recorded some successes in the fight against crime.

    For instance, the security units made a number of arrests and interventions which helped quell criminal activities in their areas of operations.

    However, a report by the International Crisis Group expressed concern about human rights abuse and lack of accountability by these outfits, adding that they were taking after earlier groups like the Bakassi Boys in the Igbo-speaking South East states and the Yan Sakai in the North-West.

    The two groups committed serious human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests, torture and extrajudicial killings of criminal suspects, some of whom were burned alive or dismembered with machetes in public.

    The ICG report, titled, ‘Managing Vigilantism in Nigeria: A Near-term Necessity’ added that the worst had yet to come until strong measures were put in place to check the activities of security outfits.

    “Without stronger oversight from a combination of federal and state authorities, community leaders, and civil society, many worry this problem could get worse, with further and potentially more egregious abuse deepening the prevailing culture of impunity and aggravating insecurity,” it added.

    – Force spokesman

    The spokesperson for the Nigeria Police Force, Muyiwa Adejobi, said the police had received many petitions against the security outfits, adding that some of the allegations were being investigated.

    Adejobi, said, “Ordinarily, we expect them to complement us, but in most cases, many of them do not. We have talked to them on several occasions. We have received complaints against them, so we are aware many of them go out of their boundaries. Where cases are reported against them, we take them up, following the provisions of the law.

    “The state governments should harmonise these outfits and collapse them with the police structure in their states. They should be under the supervision of the police so that they can be held accountable and guided. In some cases, these outfits see police as rivals. This will not help us.”

    A human rights lawyer, Tope Temokun, said the lack of a legal framework that could compel accountability was responsible for the misconduct of operatives of the security outfits.

    He said, “All these formations need a proper legal framework that will restrain them from arbitrariness. Without a legal framework that would compel accountability, they will end worse than the police.

    “These establishments would not have been necessary if conventional police did not fail us. But we must be careful not to afflict ourselves with greater evils than we set out to cure.

    “For instance, Section 5(2) of the Ondo State Amotekun Corps Law provides that in the course of carrying out their duties, they must safeguard the constitutional rights of citizens as guaranteed in the constitution. If Amotekun that has this guiding provision could act arbitrarily, how much more those who do not have?”

    A security expert and Managing Director, Beacon Consulting Limited, Kabir Adamu, attributed the abuse to a lack of structure and the involvement of retired security personnel.

    He said, “First off, there is no clear delineation of their roles vis a vis that of the statutory federal security structures. This created extensive discourse, forcing an arrangement that left them harangued and forced into a box where their functions became unclear.

    “The second point is the influence of state governments, in particular the governors and officials around them, who sometimes attempt to use these state-level security structures to achieve either personal or political party interests.

    “Thirdly is the concern around their training. Most of the state-level security arrangements are supervised by retired military or police personnel who are now serving as commissioners or special advisors on security to governors. There is a general perception that these ex-security personnel have carried over the non-respect for human rights and civil liberties in their former organisations and transferred these to state-level organisations.”

    He lamented that no state had an ombudsman to check human rights abuse.

    To curb the excesses of the outfits, Adamu recommended reorganisation of security in the country.

    He said, “There is the need to ensure the decentralisation of security in Nigeria and to have this as an agenda for the incoming administration. The administration needs to get the buy-in of state governments. Already, there is an initiative in the Nigeria Governors Forum called Peace and Inclusive Security Initiative that can harness and mould into a platform to support the functions of the Council of State, National Security Council, and Nigeria Police Council.

    “Overall, an enhanced cooperation and coordination, as well as collaboration between the federal and state governments on security, will augur well for the country and help improve both kinetic and non-kinetic means of addressing insecurity.”

    An activist and researcher, Damian Ugwu, said the outfits had further compounded the pains of Nigerians.

    He said, “The outfits were primed to fail ab initio. The underlying factor that led to their formation was the fact that the police failed in their duty to protect the people. Why did the police fail? You look at several issues; the police are not accountable to the people, they are under-resourced, and the policemen are inadequately trained.

    “If you look at these issues deeply you will discover that these regional outfits lack the same thing. The meaning of this is that we have not improved policing by adding these outfits to the fray.”

    Ugwu called for the dissolution of the outfits, adding that efforts should be geared towards building a strong police force.

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