The administration of President Goodluck Jonathan has admitted that the wanton rot in the criminal justice system has in recent times escalated the culture of self help and the spate of terrorist attacks in the country.
The attorney-general of the federation and minister of justice (AGF), Mr Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN), made this observation while delivering a keynote address yesterday at the national dialogue on torture, extrajudicial killings and national security, entitled, 'Human Rights Implications', organised by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in Abuja.
Adoke said that the federal government had noted with concern that the police had, through the years, relied on 'Police Force Order 237' to commit extrajudicial killings.
He said that the order, which allows the police to shoot any suspect or detainees trying to escape or avoid arrest, had led to the extrajudicial killings of 7,195 people in four years, out of which 2,500 were detainees.
The AGF said: "A recent report by the Network on Police Report in Nigeria (NOPRINN) said the reckless use of arms by security agents had resulted extrajudicial deaths in four years across the country.
"More recently, the chairman of the NHRC revealed that this approximated to the summary execution of well over 2,500 detainees.
"Although these figures have been stoutly disputed by the police, even the most charitable defenders of the force cannot deny that some dishonourable officers indeed have taken the law into their hands in the most barbaric fashion, by killing suspects and innocent citizens," Adoke added.
However, the acting British high commissioner, Giles Lever, urged the federal government to continue to sustain the moratorium on death penalty pending when it was able to enact the law to abolish death penalty in the country
According to the Canadian high commissioner, Mr Chris Cooter, human rights, whether in Canada or Nigeria, are not granted by the government, but are inherent to and belong to every individual.
"That is why they are universal, as both our countries recognise," he said.
The AGF, who revealed that plans were afoot for his office to take over from the police the power to prosecute any criminal suspect in the courts, said the force was peopled by laymen who could not adequately prosecute defendants in court.
He said that, henceforth, the police would only concern themselves with investigations of criminal acts of suspects, on the grounds that the inability to diligently prosecute offenders and the general state of helplessness of the victims of crime to get justice had led to the resort to self-help.
"According to a school of thought," said Adoke, "the spate of wanton killings and gruesome attacks on persons which has increased in recent times and the apparent lack of will or capacity on the part of security agencies to arrest this trend appears to fuel the incentive for self-help measures that often manifest as acute and barbaric practices.
"There is no doubt that the rule of law has taken flight in the society which condones a situation where citizens take the law into their hands and summarily try and execute suspected felons.
"The apparent slow pace of the criminal justice system, particularly the corruption that permeates the system, has been identified as the main reason why citizens take laws into their hands.
"I have, on numerous occasions, listened to, or read, how disenchanted victims and complainants of an offence are treated, especially with the pervasive corruption in the police: how the police can no longer be trusted to conduct a dispassionate enquiry into a complaint; how many complainants suddenly find themselves behind bars in a curious travesty, and how prosecution and trials are slowed by tardiness and ceaseless adjournments.
"There is no doubt that a holistic reform of our criminal justice system is long overdue. In my humble view, the issue transcends the police; the Ministry of Justice and the courts are also complicit. What we are witnessing in the form of self-help by victims and sympathisers is really collateral damage exerted by the rot in the system.'
Adoke further noted that these challenges had tremendous impact on national security.
"We need to ask these questions in the light of growing concerns about terrorist attacks and mass killings that have ravaged some parts of the country, more so when there is palpable evidence that the escalation in the spate of attacks by the Boko Haram group on the police and other security installations is a probable reaction to the extra-judicial execution of the leader of the sect, Muhammed Yusuf, while in police custody in 2009."
But the managing partner of the 'Legal Resources Consortium,' Olawale Fapohunda, disagrees with the federal government over its comment on the ills in the police system, saying the approach of the government to police reform has made the agency an endangered species.
Fapohunda, however, dismissed the idea of state police on the grounds that the solution to the problems of crime, insecurity and terrorism in Nigeria was a question of federal or state policing, but achieving a police service which is efficient, honest and professional to the core.
The Legal Resources Consortium, which co-sponsored the event along with the NHRC and the National Assembly, said that rather than the federal government implementing police reform, it had ceaselessly been setting up reform committees without end.
"The inauguration of the Parry Osayande committee, with terms of reference similar to previous high-level committee on police, is a clear indication of lack of interest of the administration on police reform," he said, noting that instead of implementing the reports, the ministry was rather promoting the endless culture of setting up committees. He added that the police could not check criminality because of the lack of modern tools to carry out its job.
"Are we aware that the police officers are today endangered species, with more than 100 officers killed in active duty in the past three months? How can we reasonably expect a citizens' police given its poor level of endowment? Can we possibly expect police to protect our rights when the right to the dignity of a majority of its officers is violated on a daily basis?"
Meanwhile, the NHRC boss, Professor Bem Ange, noted that with the increased power conferred on the commission by the NHRC Act 2010, it was now well placed to promote, protect and enforce the human rights of all persons in Nigeria.
In the same light, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) yesterday drew attention to the rights of the victims of bomb blast across the nation, saying that the internal insecurity to life and was also violation of the citizen's fundamental human rights.
Speaking at a seminar organised to mark this year's Human Rights Day, the NBA president, Okey Wali, called on those who are aggrieved in any way to come forward and table their grievances for discussion.
According to him, "One area which has witnessed serial violations of the rights of the Nigerian people is in the area of internal security. Thousands of persons have lost their lives on account of bombings and destruction associated with the current insurgency in Nigeria. Thousands of persons have been displaced and properties worth billions of Naira destroyed. We now have more orphans and widows who cannot explain the offence their loved ones committed that led to their death.
"Insurgents with no clearly defined mission and ideology have unleashed mindless destruction of innocent lives and property and the situation does not seem to be abating."
"We call on all individuals and organisations with any form of grievance to table those grievances for public discussion. Targeting innocent persons and their property in a mindless orgy of violence can only create a lawless society and can never lead to political and economic progress.
"On the other hand, hundreds of insurgents have been extra judicially executed. Hundreds of insurgents have been detained for over one year in various detention centres operated by the military," he said.