Nigeria police brutality inquiry hears graphic testimony

  • Published
A demonstrator holds a banner during a protest against alleged police brutality, in Lagos, NigeriaImage source, Reuters
Image caption,
Nigeria's #EndSARS protests were led by young people who had complained of police harassment

The first witness at a Nigerian inquiry into police brutality has described how he was tortured and had teeth extracted by members of the now disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (Sars).

Okoye Agu was detained after his boss accused him of stealing from work.

The inquiry in Lagos state was formed in the wake of nationwide protests calling for an end to Sars.

It may also look into the shooting at protests last week in which rights groups say 12 people were killed.

In his testimony, Mr Agu said that in 2014 he was beaten, paraded in public as a criminal, suspended upside down and had two of his teeth pulled out. In addition, his car and mobile phones were sold without his permission by Sars officers.

The police have refused to pay him compensation despite a court order, he told the panel which is being led by a retired judge.

He said his family did not know where he was and when they arrived at the police station after 47 days of searching for him, his wife and mother were also beaten in front of him.

Media caption,

Two families whose lives have been forever changed by police violence seek justice for their loved ones.

Mr Agu's experiences echoed other accusations levelled against Sars officers, who have been said to have harassed, beaten and sometimes killed many people.

The three other cases scheduled to be heard on Tuesday had to be adjourned as some of the relevant witnesses were not available.

The alleged abuses of the hated police unit triggered mass protests across Nigeria that were organised under the hashtag #EndSars. They forced President Muhammadu Buhari to disband the unit.

Independent investigations into police abuses were a core demand of the protesters who rallied across the country for more than two weeks.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
There were nationwide protests against police brutality

The federal government has asked each of the country's 36 states to set up an inquiry and Tuesday's hearing in Lagos state was the first one in the country.

The 11-member panel, which includes two representatives from the protesters, will over the next six months:

  • Listen to and take evidence from all victims or the families of victims of Sars abuse
  • Determine if compensation should be payable and issue a cheque to the victim or dependents
  • Determine if officers should be recommended for prosecution
  • Make recommendations on how to make sure there is no more abuse

Lagos state Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu announced that the scope of the panel had been expanded to include events at the Lekki toll gate on 20 October when witnesses and groups such as Amnesty International said soldiers opened fire at protesters, killing some.

The military has denied involvement in the shooting.

More on the #EndSARS protests:

People will be watching to see how the government goes about implementing the recommendations of the panel once it concludes its work, as there is a long history of authorities disregarding the findings of such bodies, says the BBC's Nduka Orjinmo in the capital, Abuja.

For example, the recommendations made in 2016 by a judicial panel of inquiry into the killings of more than 300 Shia members by the Nigerian army has not yet been implemented by the authorities.