Nov 15 2007

“Instant Justice”: can African police do better?

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 7:01 PM

Nigeria’s chief of police admitted this week what every Nigerian — and Africans living in most other sub-Saharan countries — knows well: thieves and people suspected of robbery are often killed on the spot of their apprehension, either by angry mobs or, as is in the case in Nigeria, by the police themselves. In an interview with the BBC, Nigeria’s top cop, Mike Okiro, has admitted that his forces have killed at least 785 suspected criminals in the past 90 days alone. The average works out to 9 people killed every day by Nigeria’s police. And that’s the number that the chief, who assumed his post 100 days ago, admits to. He also says about 60 officers have been killed in the same period.
The BBC’s report reminds me of a visit I made 5 years ago to the oil-rich Niger Delta as a member of an Amnesty International fact-finding mission. Amnesty had recently reported on the practice of “extra-judicial” killings by police of suspected robbers. We are were checking, among other things, on whether the practice was increasing or declining. For a time, Nigeria’s police indeed seemed less likely to shoot and kill suspects. But with disorder rising in Nigeria, patience for “due process” is vanishing. Unfortunately, many Nigerians have so little sympathy for ordinary criminals that they support “instant justice,” even when the murders of the apprehended occur in plain view. Of course, skepticism towards the police is growing. Even Nigerians who favor harsh punishments concede that the police are notoriously dishonest and that no one accused of wrong-doing by the police should be punished on the spot. Yes Nigerians want order but “instant justice” carries too high price.

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