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Police Officers on Trial for Murder in Nigeria

In the Nigerian capital of Abuja, six senior police officers went on on trial this week for murder, the first time that officers have ever faced trial in Nigeria.

In June, six traders from Apo, a suburb of Abuja, were killed at a police checkpoint. Though police say they killed the traders in self defense, people in the traders' home village led a public outcry and demanded a government investigation.

In response, a judicial panel was set up by the Nigerian government to investigate the killings. Five of the six accused police officers were in court this week, including a deputy police commissioner. The men pleaded not guilty. The sixth man is still at large.

A relative of one of the victims, Omijie Al Kel, told VOA that his family is asking for compensation for the killing. He also said that if those on trial are found guilty, the family should be there when they are punished.

"I want to [say] from the point of view of the family that, whatever form of punishment, if they are found guilty, that, like is done in other parts of the world, the family of the deceased should be made to be witnesses to when that punishment is being carried out," he said.

Abdul Ladan, a lawyer for one of the accused, deputy police commissioner Danjuma Ibrahim, said that his client is being targeted by the media because of his high-profile status on the force. "At the moment, the law presumes him innocent," he said. "It doesn't matter what the media says."

Amubi Nzelu, the lawyer for the six traders killed in June, says police in Nigeria kill people with little reason day after day. "What you want is a police force," he said. "Not butchers. Not executioners."

Human rights groups in Nigeria have called for a restructuring of the police force, claiming it is corrupt.

The recently appointed inspector-general of police in Nigeria, Sunday Ehindero, says the police are carrying out their duty. He says that since he took office, police have arrested 600 armed robbery suspects and killed another 114 suspects who engaged them in battle.

If any of the defendants accused of killing the traders are found guilty, they could face the death penalty.