Nigerian police
Amnesty has alleged that the suspects held by the elite police unit were subjected to hanging, starvation, beatings, shootings and mock executions [Representational image] Reuters

Amnesty International has accused an elite Nigerian police unit of torture and bribery demands. In its report, Nigeria: You have signed your death warrant, Amnesty has claimed that police officers of Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) torture inmates for bribe and also steal money from them and their families for their freedom.

The squad was set up to probe serious violent crimes, primarily armed robberies and kidnappings.

The report, which was published on Wednesday (21 September), contains horrific details of the former detainees. It also encloses reports from lawyers, human rights defenders, journalists and collected testimonies.

"A police unit created to protect the people has instead become a danger to society, torturing its victims with complete impunity while fomenting a toxic climate of fear and corruption," Damian Ugwu, Amnesty International's Nigeria researcher, said.

The human rights group has alleged that the suspects held by the SARS were subjected to hanging, starvation, beatings, shootings and mock executions until "they either make a 'confession' or pay officers a bribe to be released". It also claimed that they were treated like animals and were not allowed to contact a lawyer, a doctor or their family during their detention period.

"SARS officers are getting rich through their brutality. In Nigeria, it seems that torture is a lucrative business," Ugwu said.

However, SARS has denied any wrongdoing and said no torture had taken place. But one senior officer on the condition of anonymity told the human rights campaign group that at least 40 officers, believed to have carried out several acts of torture and ill-treatment of detainees, were shifted to other stations in April 2016. However, he was unable to claim whether the charges against them were investigated or not.

According to a case study featured in the report, 32-year-old Chidi Oluchi was tortured after being arrested by SARS officers in the Nigerian city of Enugu. "They told me to slap myself and, when I refused, they started beating me with the side of their machetes and heavy sticks. My mouth was bleeding and my vision became blurred," Oluchi claimed and added that he was freed only after he paid N25, 500 ($100) to the authorities.

Meanwhile, it was reported that in December 2014, the Nigerian police had launched a human rights manual that put complete ban on torture of inmates, but SARS has failed to execute it.

"With the Nigerian government's previous attempts at stamping out torture proving completely ineffective, it is time for the authorities to ensure that officers responsible for such human rights violations are finally held accountable.

"There is also an urgent need for robust legislation that ensures all acts of torture are offences under Nigeria's criminal law," Ugwu asserted.