ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria’s corrupt police force acts on the whims of the highest bidder and officers carry out extra-judicial killings and torture, the acting inspector general of police said.
President Goodluck Jonathan has ordered a complete overhaul of the police and sacked the former inspector general and his six deputies last month after a key suspect in a Christmas Day bomb attack escaped.
“The Nigeria police force has fallen to its lowest level ... police duties have become commercialised and provided at the whims and caprices of the highest bidder,” Mohammed Abubakar, who became acting police chief last month, said in a speech to senior officers on Monday.
“Justice has been perverted, people’s rights denied, innocent souls committed to prison, torture and extra-judicial killings perpetrated,” Abubakar added. The address was distributed to reporters on Tuesday.
Police corruption has long been visible on Nigerian streets, where officers set up checkpoints used to extort small bribes from drivers. Police are available to hire and guard the property of rich businessmen, diplomats and politicians.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have said the Nigerian police exploit their position to carry out robberies, unlawful killings and destruction of property but it is unusual to hear such admissions from within the security forces.
Many residents in northeastern Nigeria, homeland of Boko Haram, also say the police are doing more harm than good - encouraging support for the radical Islamist sect by robbing the homes of suspects, raping women and carrying out killings.
Boko Haram, which has killed hundreds this year, has been waging an insurgency against the police and other authority figures since 2009. Its attacks have grown more deadly and sophisticated in the past six months.
The sect’s former leader Mohammed Yusuf was killed in police custody that year and its members state the extra-judicial killing as one of the key factors driving their attacks.
A policeman was killed on Tuesday by an improvised bomb near a military checkpoint in the northern city of Kaduna, local police spokesman Aminu Lawal said.
On Monday, security forces shot a director within the Kaduna ministry of information, who they said attempted to force his car into the state government house. Boko Haram have carried out several suicide car bomb attacks.
Jonathan, a southern Christian, has been criticised for not controlling the surge in violence by Boko Haram, a group which wants Islamic law more widely applied across Africa’s most populous nation.
But Abubakar’s unusually strident comments are likely to lend support to Jonathan’s pledge to reform the police.
Abubakar ordered senior police officers to release anyone held unlawfully, dismantle the highway road blocks used for bribery and to disband special squads and teams so investigation outfits can be brought within the original police structures.
“Our Special Anti-Robbery Squads have become killer teams engaging in deals for land speculators and debt collection. Toll stations in the name of check-points adorn our highways with policemen shamefully collecting money from motorists in full glare of the public,” Abubakar said.
“Illegalities thrive under your watchful eyes because you have compromised the very soul of our profession. Our respect is gone and the Nigerian public has lost even the slightest confidence in the ability of the police to do any good thing.”