Nigerian police say they have killed 785 suspected armed robbers and lost 62 of their own officers in the last three months. Human rights groups have repeatedly accused Nigerian police and security forces of killing robbery suspects instead of arresting them. The country's jails are packed with people, most of whom have never been brought to trial. Sarah Simpson reports from Nigeria's commercial capital, Lagos.
Mike Okiro, Acting Inspector General of Police, was quoted in in Nigerian newspapers Thursday as saying that during a 90-day review period under his leadership, nearly 1,600 suspected armed robbers had been arrested and 785 more suspects shot and killed. Some 62 police officers had also been killed in the same period, he said.
Human rights groups have repeatedly accused Nigerian security forces of being too quick to pull the trigger on suspected criminals rather than make arrests. Nigerians have nicknamed the Nigerian Mobile Police, who are authorized to carry semi-automatic guns, "Kill and Go".
Police Spokesman, Haz Iwendi, denies a failure on the part of the police. He says the police do not have the capacity to cope with crime levels.
"When the environment is cozy for the criminal and the police do not have the capacity to effectively cope with the crisis, what you find is that there will be causalities on both sides," said Iwendi.
Iwendi says the large numbers of deaths are also attributable to an increase in armed bank robberies. Regarding human rights issues, he says police have human rights, too.
"It takes only a bullet to kill a man and that bullet does not know human rights," said Iwendi. "So when people are talking about human rights, let us remember the human rights of the police officers."
Violent crime is a major problem in Nigeria, particularly in the cities, where armed gangs invade homes, businesses and banks to rob them. Whole neighborhoods of the commercial capital Lagos are regularly locked down as armed gangs move from house to house hauling away property and cash. Drivers stuck in traffic jams are a favorite target, too.
President Umaru Yar'Adua says he is committed to upholding rule of law in Nigeria. But rights groups say the country is still recovering from more than 15 years of military rule when security forces became used to operating with impunity.
In a recent address in the capital Abuja, Mr. Yar'Adua promised to ease congestion in prisons and rehabilitate convicts.
The majority of inmates in Nigeria's packed and disease-filled prisons have never been charged with a crime. The U.N. last year accused police of torturing detained suspects to extract confessions.