The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Nigeria’s mechanism for the protection of human rights, has accused the police in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) of shooting live bullets into its premises, damaging properties worth millions of naira.
In a statement issued during the week and signed by its executive secretary, Tony Ojukwu, NHRC said the Monday attack on its headquarters was the second between 2018 and 2020.
NHRC added that its officials investigating cases of human rights abuse by the police are also constantly harassed by police officers, apparently to intimidate and force them to hand off the cases.
Amnesty International Nigeria has demanded “a thorough, effective and impartial investigation into the alleged attack,” describing the development as reckless and horrific.
According to NHRC, police officers after members of the outlawed Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) protesting against the continued detention of their leader, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, had descended on the premises of the commission and “deliberately targeted” the compound.
The statement reads in part; “Having assessed the situation, we are of the view that the premises of the Commission was deliberately attacked by the police with not only tear gas canisters but with live bullets. The side door glass of one of the staff vehicles parked in the compound was shattered by bullets with bullet holes while the driver’s door frame had a live bullet presently lodged inside it.
“The window glass of one of the offices, department of education and promotion as well as the security gate house was also pierced by bullet holes.
“Now, this is not the first time the commission was attacked directly by officers of the Nigerian Police Force. Several officers of the Commission investigating complaints of human rights violations have in the past been assaulted and intimidated by officers of the Nigerian police.”
The commission said the harassment had continued because its earlier complaints to the appropriate authorities, including the office of the inspector-general of police, swept the matter under the carpet.
“The premises of the Commission just like the courts should be one of such places where every Nigerian should feel free, where human rights must be respected and staff should be able to carry out their constitutional mandate without fear of intimidation,” the statement added.
Amnesty International demands probe
Reacting to the development, the director, Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, said the attack must not only be investigated but that culprits must be made to face the wrath of the law.
The human rights organisation, in a statement shared with PREMIUM TIMES, said the frequent resort to lethal force to quell peaceful protests must be condemned by everyone.
“This reckless and horrific incident which happened while supporters of Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) were holding their usual protest by the headquarters of NHRC, once again, shows Nigerian police’s total disregard for human life and brutal violation of freedom of assembly.
“We condemn this violation of human rights and frequent resort to lethal force by the police whenever they are handling peaceful protests. Live bullets fired by the police put lives at risk, damaged some parts of the building and some staff vehicles parked in the office premises of the commission. Our findings show that this is not the first time police are targeting the offices of NHRC with live bullets and tear gas. On many occasions, some staff of the commission investigating human rights violations were threatened and intimidated by the police.”
Police keep mum
Meanwhile, the police frustrated all efforts to get them to react to the development.
When called on the phone, the police public relations officer, Frank Mba, said whatever happens within the FCT metropolis is handled by the FCT police command and not the national headquarters of the force.
“You know, the Nigeria police headquarters does not micromanage its affairs. Just like any other state of the federation, whatever happens within the FCT is handled by the FCT police command. They have their own police commissioner and the command has its own spokesman.
“It is only a matter of national interest that the headquarters responds to. So on this, you may have to speak with the command for adequate response.”
However, the spokesperson for the command, Anjuguri Mansah, neither picked calls made to his phone nor replied a message sent to him.