The police have acknowledged the authenticity of an internet video that shows suspected kidnappers writhing at the back of a police van and struggling to breathe after being shot in their private parts by officers.
The police said the suspects were the first to fire at officers attached to the Intelligence Response Team when they attempted to free an abducted victim in Abia State last week.
“In the course of the shootout, some of the kidnappers sustained injuries and were overpowered,” Abia police spokesperson, Geoffrey Ogbonna, told PREMIUM TIMES in response to an enquiry about the video which was obtained by Sahara Reporters.
Mr. Ogbonna, a deputy superintendent of police, put the number of the suspects at ‘over seven’ and vaguely identified the victim as a 76-year-old man with a history of hypertension.
The victim was rescued but later died at the hospital, having allegedly been tortured by the kidnappers in their den, Mr. Ogbonna said.
The officers recovered AK-47 guns, ammunition and three vehicles from the suspects.
The video is believed to have been shot on December 11 or 12. Sahara Reporters published it Thursday night to an outraged audience.
Some officers surrounded a truck marked as belonging to the police in Abia State and in which the suspected had been crammed.
“You wan turn millionaire overnight, bah?” an officer asked rhetorically in Nigerian Pidgin. “You want to get rich quick.”
“This one wants to die,” another voice said in an apparent interjection. “Na death e dey wait for like this; e dey struggle the thing.”
The Nigerian police have for years faced persistent allegations of human rights abuses, and the new video could strengthen the poor public perception of the force.
The Human Rights Watch found in 2007 that Nigeria police officers killed more than 10,000 citizens within seven years, a figure it said was conservative.
Mr. Ogbonna evaded PREMIUM TIMES’ questions about why the officers shot the suspects in the testicles after overpowering them as reported by Sahara Reporters.
He also could not defend the snide remarks the officers uttered to the wounded suspects.
He also did not say how many of the suspects died —if at all— and whether those seriously wounded where receiving medical care.
The footage surfaces amidst growing anger against the police which stemmed from widespread allegations rights abuses, extra-judicial killings and robbery attacks against citizens by officers.
Although most of the claims are directed against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, which is a separate unit from the Intelligence Response Team that carried out the latest operation, rights activists see the gruesome shooting as common amongst all police officers.
“This is a clear case of torture and extra-judicial execution,” said Okechukwu Nwanguma of the Network on Police Reform in Nigeria, NOPRIN.
Mr. Nwanguma decried the unimaginable level of atrocities being allegedly perpetrated by police officers every day in Nigeria, considering that most of the gruesome abuses and execution hardly make it to the public domain.
“The duty of the police is to arrest, investigate and produce accused persons to court for fair trial,” Mr. Nwanguma said. “Executing crime suspects extra-judicially is both unlawful and criminal.”
He called on the police leadership and the Nigerian government to pursue a lasting solution to the horrific activities of officers before it is too late.
“The case underscores the need for the police hierarchy to demonstrate that they are serious about their promise to reform the institution,” said Mr. Nwanguma, whose organisation has tracked numerous cases of abuses by the police for many years.
“Part of this reform would be to bring officers responsible for this and similar egregious violations to a public trial in order to send out a clear message that the police as an institution does not tolerate human rights atrocities,” he added.