ABUJA, Nov 15 (Reuters) – Nigerian police have killed 785 suspected armed robbers in the past three months and lost 62 of their own men, the national chief of police was reported as saying on Thursday.
Human rights groups and U.N. experts have accused Nigerian police of killing robbery suspects instead of arresting them and in some cases using the “armed robber” label as a pretext to kill innocent people who cross them.
Mike Okiro, the acting inspector general of police, was reported in Nigerian newspapers as saying that during his first 90 days in office, police had arrested almost 1,600 suspected armed robbers and killed another 785.
The figures suggest Nigerian police are killing people at a similar pace as in 2003, when they reported shooting dead 3,100 robbery suspects in a year.
Armed robberies are extremely frequent in Africa’s most populous country, where criminals target private homes, public places and cars stuck in traffic jams. They also mount roadblocks to carry out highway robberies.
But police have been accused of frequently opening fire on suspects when there is no reason to do so.
A U.N. special rapporteur on extra-judicial killings said in 2005 that police picked up these habits during decades of military dictatorship but not enough had been done to change their attitude since the return to civilian rule in 1999.
Last year, another U.N. rapporteur said police also routinely torture those in detention by beating them or shooting them in the legs and then letting their wounds fester.
These experts, as well as campaign groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have said police enjoy complete immunity for their actions while suspects are deprived of basic rights such as the right to face trial.
The majority of inmates in Nigerian prisons have never been convicted of a crime. (Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Michael Winfrey)