Extrajudicial Killings in Nigeria

Harassment of humans by the law enforcement agencies personnel has always been a major issue in Nigeria. However, the frequency of extrajudicial killings in recent times has taken a geometric upward swing.

Over the years, extrajudicial killings have led to the death of several Nigerians over the years. Though in the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, Section 33(1) of the 1999 constitution states that *every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, except in the case of execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty and convicted for in Nigeria*. This constitutional provision is very clear that no person has the right to take another person’s life unless such person was convicted for a crime and ordered to be executed by a law court.

There are many ways people’s lives are taken abruptly in our society today. Some people are killed by armed robbers during robbery operations; some are killed in political fights; some are killed by kidnappers; others are killed by terrorists, yet some are killed by cultists; others are killed by hired assassins. Most of the victims of these various forms of gruesome killings die based on the selfish motives of the killers or the sponsors of such killers. In some instances, some people are accused by other people of committing a crime, instead of following the due process of reporting to law enforcement agencies and exploring due legal process, the accused are killed by a mob of civilians. Sadly, at times law enforcement agencies personnel who should be upholding the law partake in this filthy act.

Even though many often try to justify their extrajudicial killing with different excuses which includes civilians involved in such act saying they don’t trust the judgment of the Police hence taking judgment into their hands, or the Police officer involved in such claiming they are empowered as a uniform man carrying and if they are to kill anyone, nothing would be done about it. Still, no reason justifies doing this which is clearly against the law which is meant to be observed and binding to all.

The Nigeria Police Force is responsible for hundreds of extrajudicial executions, and many other unlawful killings and forced disappearances each year. It has been a common practice that the majority of these cases go uninvestigated and unpunished. The families of the victims usually do not get the justice they deserve. Many do not even get to find out what exactly happened to their loved ones. There has been a number of cases in which suspects were tortured to death while in detention. In some other cases, people are victims of enforced disappearances; the police tell the families that they were transferred to a different police station or released on bail, but have no documentation to confirm it.

There are also examples of cases that have been in court for a very long time e.g The killings of Nassarawa University students by soldiers in 2013 (Premium Times, February 2013), The officers who killed Kolade Johnson in Lagos are yet to be prosecuted. Also, the Inspector Dania Ojo who was responsible for killing a girl and injuring a man at Ajegunle Lagos is still at large (Punch, April 14, 2019).

Perhaps the result of the few examples cited could discourage victims from reporting such cases believing that justice may never come which can also lead to them taking laws to their own hand which will degenerate to serious chaos in the society.

However, there is still a need for laws and orders of the land to be maintained. And that people do not just lose their lives in an unjust manner whether through the hands of law enforcement agents or fellow civilians. Everybody has a right to life and anyone who may have committed any offence has a right to be tried in law court before being condemned.

This paper seeks to look into the significance and justification, propose a hypothesis or problem statement, examine the purpose and scope and analyze and interpret findings gotten from the data gathered.

Extrajudicial killing is defined as a deliberated killing not authorized by a previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples. Or a killing that was carried out without legal authority(www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/extrajudicial). Amnesty International also refer to extrajudicial killing as “unlawful and deliberate killings carried out by order of a government or with its complicity of acquiescence’. And extrajudicial killing was affirmed to be an effective violation of the right to life, as guaranteed by the provisions of Nigeria’s constitution (Edo and Sagay, 2012)

Often times most people often think the term extrajudicial killings is only talking about the illegal killings done by Police officers or other uniformed personnel, this is not so, as any killings that are done by anyone be it People in Government, Governmental backed security agencies or private citizens which was not authorized by a law court are all an act of extrajudicial killings.

Most of the time, the killings by the police happen at legal and illegal check-points, legal and illegal raid, and at police stations, while those of civilians often happen at the scene where the alleged crime was perpetrated.

Though it seems the killings that were carried out by the Police are much more than that of civilians. This may be so because it is expected of police to save and protect lives and not to take it. So this might be the reason why the killings that have to do with the Police gains more recognition than that of mob action and this is understandable. But it might also be that most people are now enlightened and know killing of a suspect is wrong and therefore device other means of dealing with such like the case of a Man that was caught stealing and made to clean gutters as punishment in Enugu. He was even fed during the process(https://www.legit.ng/1240192-man-caught-stealing-clean-gutters-punishment.html). So the crux of the matter is that most of the reported extrajudicial killings were carried out by the Police.

This is why this study seeks to examine the rise in the involvement of the Police officers in the act of extrajudicial killings and how it can be stopped in Nigeria.

Nigerian Constitution made provision for each individual to have rights to live and that no one is allowed to take another person’s life except in the case of executing a court judgment. However, there has been continued killings of people for various alleged offence that lacks substantial reason or evidence and without taking such issues to a law court and made to go through a normal judicial process. In order to put an end to this bad trend, there is a need for the proper action to be taken, starting from creating awareness of what extrajudicial killing represents and that it is in no way acceptable, as well as what can be done to prevent it and also put in place mechanisms that make sure it is prevented.

This study adopts both the Ethical (social responsibility theory) and Agenda-setting theory. Social responsibility is an ethical theory, in which individuals are accountable for fulfilling their civic duty; it means the actions of an individual must be beneficial to society as a whole.

In other words, this theory of social responsibility is built on a system of ethics, in which decisions and actions must be discussed and ethically validated in public panel before proceeding. The action or decision must not cause harm to society or the environment or else it would be considered to be socially unacceptable.

Relating this theory to the research questions of this paper, we can, therefore, say the press and the people reporting an event have a responsibility to report events of extrajudicial killings from the angle of the victims as well as the angle of the culprits to create a balance and fairness. The theory mandates reporters of an event to report events as they happened while bearing in mind the need to show the implications on the society.

Bearing in mind however that press/media correspondents will not always be available at the time such an event may be happening, the use of technology has become really important in getting such information. The use of a mobile phone camera by witnesses present to capture events as they occur has become really helpful in establishing facts of such events in recent times. It is now very clear that information and communications technologies (ICTs) both the hardware and software that facilitate information sharing which in turn plays an increasingly important role in the protection of all human rights, including the right to life. Information harnessed in this way can be used to secure not only accountability but the technology can also ensure visibility or mobilize support for persons in immediate danger.

Agenda-setting theory, on the other hand, describes a very powerful influence of the media on the ability to decide what issues are important. That is, if an event is covered and reported frequently and prominently, the audience will regard the issue as more important. Agenda-setting theory was formally developed by Max McCombs and Donald Shaw in a study on the 1968 American presidential election. Although Agenda-setting theory can be traced to the first chapter of the newspaper columnist Walter Lippmann’s 1922 book, Public Opinion. In that chapter, titled ‘The World Outside And The Pictures In Our Heads’, Lippmann argues that the mass media are the principal connection between events in the world and the images in the minds of the public. Even though he didn’t use the term ‘agenda-setting’, Walter Lippmann was writing about what we today would call ‘agenda-setting’.

In the research done in 1968 by McCombs and Shaw, they focused on two elements: awareness and information. Investigating the agenda-setting function of the mass media, they attempted to compare and contrast the relationship between what voters in one community said were important issues and the actual content of the media messages used during the campaign. McCombs and Shaw concluded that the mass media exerted a significant influence on what voters considered to be the major issues of the campaign. Also, this theory holds that the media have the ability to advise or tell audiences what issues are major and relevant, thus setting the agenda.

It is on this premise I consider the theory relevant in this study. The more the media or people discuss extrajudicial killings, either by reporting the events or discussing the implications, the more the public gets to know about it and this awareness would create some level of vigilance and serve as an awakening call to people. It would also be talked about among them regularly.

It is, however, important to realize that apart from media agenda, which would usually emanate from the conventional mass media, there is still the public agenda which refers to issues the public has given attention to overtime. In this context, such an agenda could become a media agenda when it gets the attention of conventional media. For instance, the killing of the girl in Ajegunle and the killing of Kolade Johnson was first posted on the internet by individuals before it was picked by the conventional media. Likewise most of the happenings of nowadays, it mostly gets posted and reported first on Social Media such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook e.t.c before getting picked up by the conventional media.

While the media agenda presented to the public results from countless day-to-day decisions by many different journalists and their supervisors about the news of the moment, (McCombs, 2002) public agenda emanates from the public. It could be posted on social media and when it spreads and starts to trend, it gains media attention.

In order to substantiate the views being proposed in this paper from the public, I interviewed some people in Nasarawa State University, Keffi and some from Keffi town to know their understanding of the subject matter. An Oral interview was used as the instrument for the interview, and 50 people were asked. Out of the 50 people asked, 50 of them responded and used for their response was used to prepare this analysis. Results of which are presented in simple frequency tables as follows:

This particular question was used to test the level of awareness of the respondents on the subject topic. To know if respondents know about extrajudicial killings in Nigeria. Findings show that 46 respondents representing 92% say they know about it. 1 person which represents 2% said they did not know, while 3 people which represents 6% were in different.

This question sought to know respondents’ views on which media of communication should be used to create awareness about extrajudicial killings in Nigeria. Findings show that 25 respondents representing 50% say it should be the internet. Next is Radio at 10 people (20%), Followed closely by Television which 5 (10%) people opted for. Others are Newspaper/Magazine which 3 people (6%) wanted, 4 people (8%) suggested Community meeting, 1 person (2%) said workshops, and 2 people (4%) opted for Advocacy groups and Billboards/Posters which gives a total of the 50 people who took part in this research.

To further get their views on the subject matter, this question was asked to know why extrajudicial killings take place. The options cut across various possible reasons for both forms of extrajudicial killings considered in the paper (the one carried out by the Police or fellow citizens). Findings show that 50% (25 people) say it is because police officers are not well-trained, while 10 people (20%) say it is because police officers are greedy when they ask for a bribe and if they are not given, they shoot. 5 respondents representing 10% say it is because people are impatient with suspected criminals. Also, 10 respondents representing 20% say it is because people do not believe they would get justice in the courts.

The first research question sought to examine what level of awareness available about extrajudicial killings in Nigeria. This is to establish and know the level of people’s exposure to the act in Nigeria. To test for this question, respondents were asked if they know about extrajudicial killing. With a 98% positive response, it shows that respondents are aware of extrajudicial killings in Nigeria and this can be attributed to the high level of technology in communication nowadays because from the answers we can see the internet played a huge role as the source of information. It was, however, necessary to know more about their knowledge of extrajudicial killings.

So they were asked why they think extrajudicial killings take place, and it can be seen from the response that the response to some two of the options regarding killings by the Police was way higher than those carried out by the police, the spread of responses confirm the fact that both the police and the people are involved. It may also be that the respondents are more concerned with extrajudicial killings by the Police than they are with those by the people because the Police should be the one fighting against such activities in the Country, but sadly are among those doing this. The fact that the specific reason about police officers not being well-trained, and followed by the option that the police officers are greedy when they ask for a bribe and if they are not given, they shoot call attention to areas of Reformation of the structures of the Security Agencies in the country. And that Training workshops should be conducted from time to time for Officers and also ensure that erring officers found guilty are dealt with accordingly with enough publication of such to create awareness.

Also, the fact that there was still a considerate amount of answers pointing to specific reason about people being impatient with suspects and followed by the reason that people are not confident about getting justice in court, call attention to areas of need to create awareness by the media.

The second research question was to examine how people get information about extrajudicial killings in Nigeria. To test this question, respondents were asked where and how they get information concerning extrajudicial killings in Nigeria. Social media and the internet got the combined highest response rate of 80%. This indicates the major role technology is playing in information sharing in this generation. This is not unconnected with the speed of delivery in the use of technology. The fact that most of these killings would also happen when there is no professional journalist in the scene to report it, leaves them to be captured by individuals on their devices and then upload to the social media or other internet platforms. It becomes important here that operators of television, radio, and newspapers should depend on such other media to access these reports and make them available for their audience.

The third research question was to examine how awareness can be created about extrajudicial killings in Nigeria. To test this question, respondents were asked on ways they think effective awareness can be created about extrajudicial killings in Nigeria. Findings show that 25 respondents representing 50% say it should be the internet. Next is Radio at 20% which was closely followed by Television at 10%. Others are Newspaper/Magazine at 6%, as well as Community meetings (8%), workshops (2%), Advocacy groups and Billboards/Posters (4%). The fact that all the options were chosen shows that awareness creation on this subject should be through various channels. However, it is noteworthy that the highest response rate is on the internet, again showing the leading role technology should play in sharing information about this. One of the characteristics of the internet and social media is the ability to interact, which makes most communication fast and interactive.

This shows that messages to create awareness on extrajudicial killings should be in simple, easy to understand language, pictures, and videos. Messages should be on the implications for the victim’s family, the need to develop confidence in the court process as well as need to take a suspect to the police instead of people taking laws in their hands by killing them. There is also an important need to train the Police properly on handling arms and emotions control, proper funding, and good remuneration to avoid bribe. And above all, a fair, just, and open trial of such reported cases in a court of law with swift and timely judgment will encourage people to follow the due and lawful process.

This paper has examined the issue of extrajudicial killings in Nigeria in relation to how to engage the use of media communication to create awareness about it and also bring an end to it. The paper was able to establish that two forms of extrajudicial killings exist in Nigeria. It has also shown that people know about both forms of extrajudicial killings. Most people know about extrajudicial killings through the internet and social media. Though majority of the people would want awareness creation to be by the internet, some people would still consider other media channels of television, radio, seminars, workshops, billboards, posters. In order to ensure proper awareness creation on this issue, I arrived at the following conclusions:

There should be proper training for the police on the handling of arms and relating with civilians. There should also be increased funding for the police force as well as increase remuneration for the officers and Government should ensure they are paid all their entitlements as at when due. Also, a mental examination should be carried out on each officer before recruiting them and should be carried out from time to time.

Government and relevant civic organizations should organize advocacy campaigns to speak on this. They should also use billboards and posters to discourage it among civilians and in the police force. Development organizations should collaborate with the entertainment industry and the broadcast media to use radio drama, as well as songs for campaigns on this.

Broadcast stations should discuss the topic on their various current affairs programs, bringing experts to answer questions on how civilians can arrest a suspect and hand them over to the authorities for the proper investigation process.

The Print media should write editorials on the subject of extrajudicial killings with a view to encouraging the government to check it in the police force and also encouraging the judiciary to ensure quick dispensation of justice on such cases.

Also, print and broadcast media channels should consider having a system that encourages individuals in society to send them instant reports of events they happen to witness. This way it will be easier to capture such moments through appropriate channels, maximizing the internet and social media.