Following post-election violence in which an estimated 800 people were killed and 65,000 displaced, according to Human Rights Watch, state prosecutors need to follow through on arrests to try perpetrators and seek justice, rather than initiating new commissions of inquiry that will go nowhere, say civil society and human rights groups.
“These crimes were state-level crimes - a federal-level inquiry is useless,” said Innocent Chukwuma, director of the Centre for Law Enforcement Education (CLEEN) in Lagos. According to Chukwuma, the governor of Bauchi State in the north recently announced that 600 people involved in violence there had been arrested. “If you have arrested this many, why set up an investigative panel - the next stage is to take them to court and try them,” he told IRIN.
Violence broke out in northern Nigeria on 17 April as election results emerged announcing incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan in the lead, causing supporters of opposition presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari, a northern Muslim from the Congress for Progressive Change, to protest. Protests degenerated into sectarian and ethnic riots in northern states.
The impetus for much of the violence was at least partly driven by widespread anger among northern youths who feel marginalized by their leaders, say analysts. “The ugly situations is a combination of poverty, loss of public confidence in elections… with the electorate feeling they would not get justice from election tribunals, and the inability of political leaders to manage communal and interfaith relations,” said Iheoma Obibi, director of NGO Alliance for Africa, and an accredited election observer.
Most of the victims were killed in three days of rioting in 12 northern states - Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Niger, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara.
Commissions of inquiry
President Jonathan has set up a 22-person commission of inquiry into the violence, but analysts remain sceptical it will lead to anything.
Numerous committees and commissions of inquiry set up by state and federal governments to investigate election-related killings over the past decade have resulted in few to no prosecutions, according to Human Rights Watch and other groups.
Some 300 people were killed after the 2007 elections, but only a few were tried, reports Human Rights Watch.
The government sets up commissions so that it can be seen to be doing something, CLEEN’s Chukwuma told Human Rights Watch. “Panels of inquiry have become a tunnel through which the government runs away from their responsibility to bring the culprits of violence to book”… ”Going to these panels buys the government time and when the problems drop from the headlines they go back to business as usual.”
By supplanting police investigations into the violence, these government panels risk doing more harm than good, Eric Guttschuss, researcher with Human Rights Watch, told IRIN.
A number of the deaths in Kaduna State were attributed to the police and military, according to Kaduna-based human rights group, the Civil Rights Congress.
In Kaduna’s capital, Zaria, residents alleged that on 19 April, soldiers and police stormed into homes rounding up young men suspected of taking part in the riots following tip-offs; shooting them, and dumping their bodies in hospital morgues. Sabiu Mohammed, a resident who was among volunteers who went around hospitals in the city, said they recovered 19 bodies in four hospitals.
Precedent indicates most of the police and military involved will not be charged, reports Human Rights Watch.
Of the 700 who died following Jos elections in 2008, military and police leaders were thought to have been involved in 133 cases of unlawful killing, but no one was prosecuted, said Guttschuss.
Police and military were again involved in extrajudicial killings, including public executions outside police headquarters, in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, in July 2009 during a crackdown on the supporters of radical religious group Boko Haram. Not a single police officer was prosecuted, said Guttschuss.
In the April 2011 violence, rights groups heard accounts of police and soldiers in Kaduna, Gombe and Bauchi states systematically beating people they had rounded up after the riots, according to Civil Rights Congress.
Security sector reform to improve accountability in the sector has been attempted by the government but it has been “half-hearted” and “episodic” said CLEEN's Chukwuma.
Spokespersons from the police and military have repeatedly stressed they were just doing their job to keep the peace. Kaduna State governor spokesperson Reuben Buhari dismissed reports of police violence: “These accusations are without basis and are a deliberate attempt to smear the image of the security personnel who have done an excellent job of restoring and maintaining peace in the state,” he told IRIN.
To break the cycle of impunity, states and security sector leaders should put their own houses in order, rather than rely on politicized government-led investigations, Chukwuma told IRIN.
One precedent with evidence of success was an internal panel of inquiry set up by the deputy commissioner of police following the killing of traders in the capital, Abuja, in 2005. It identified individual police officers behind the killings and put them on trial; while the government paid compensation to the victims.
Such internal investigations are more likely to produce results than politicized, government-led investigations, he added.
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