LAGOS, Nigeria – Nigeria's federal police want to interrogate the leader of the nation's human rights commission over comments he made about officers carrying out so-called "extrajudicial" killings in the country, a practice widely documented by activists, his lawyer said Monday.
Activists in Nigeria warn the demand to question Chidi Anselm Odinkalu could have a chilling effect in Nigeria, a young democracy where authorities still use security agencies to suppress dissent.
Odinkalu, the chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, received a written request from investigators at police headquarters in Nigeria's capital Abuja to appear for questioning, lawyer Bamidele Aturu said. The request comes from a talk Odinkalu gave March 5 in which he said that the police force "executes well over 2,500 detainees summarily every year," Aturu said.
Police had asked Odinkalu to appear Monday, but Aturu said the human rights commission chairman had a medical appointment previously scheduled. Aturu said he and others had been trying to reach police to reschedule the interrogation, but had been unable to reach the officers involved.
"There is no way he would honor the appointment at the expense and at the risk of his health," Aturu said Monday.
Olusola Amore, a federal police spokesman, said Monday that he had no information about the interrogation request and declined to comment.
The killing of arrestees by police officers in Nigeria remains an open secret in this country of more than 160 million people. Studies by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have repeatedly documented cases of underpaid and undertrained officers killing suspects with impunity. The police use euphemisms for the slayings, saying the suspects would be "escorted," sent out on an "errand" or "transferred to" Nigeria's capital Abuja, the reports claim.
Mohammed D. Abubakar, who took over as police inspector general in January, gave a speech in February in which he said that "justice has been perverted, people's rights denied, innocent souls committed to prison, torture and extra-judicial killings perpetrated."
It's unclear why police now want to speak with Odinkalu, who heads the federal human rights agency. In a statement, Amnesty International condemned what it described as the "police intimidation" Odinkalu faces.
"The police ought to be spending their time and energy investigating allegations of extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances and torture committed by their officers, rather than harassing the National Human Rights Commission," said Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty's Africa director.
Nigeria Human Rights Commission: http://www.nigeriarights.gov.ng/
Nigeria Police Force: http://www.npf.gov.ng/npf/
Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellap.