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Thursday, 1 August, 2002, 16:42 GMT 17:42 UK
Death sentences for Nigerian policemen
Nigerian police officers
Nigeria's police force has a major image problem
Three Nigerian police officers have been sentenced to hang for executing two students in December 2000.

The sentence was passed by the High Court in the central town of Makurdi, Benue State on Wednesday.

The killings followed a raid on suspected members of an illegal cult at Benue State University.

This sentence comes as the police are being criticised for using excessive force against armed criminals in "Operation Fire for Fire".

Commenting on the case, the BBC's Chukwujama Eze in Nigeria said:

"This judgment comes at a time of rising public complaints that members of the police force have turned their guns on those same Nigerians they are paid to protect."

Earlier this week, the action of a Nigerian police officer who had acted honestly by returning money he had been wrongly paid, was deemed worthy of an official press release.

Secret location

The Makurdi judge said that he had passed the maximum possible sentence to serve as a deterrent to other police officers who have no respect for the rule of law and its due process.

The three officers, including a deputy police superintendent, arrested two students allegedly in possession of illegal firearms.

Anti-cult poster
Cults are a problem at universities across Nigeria

But instead of taking them to court, the policemen bundled them off to a secret location and shot them dead, the High Court found.

Cult membership, which has spilled over into violence, is a problem in several Nigerian universities.

The police officers had pleaded not guilty.

Our correspondent says that some police officers have become frustrated at seeing criminals freed by courts on legal technicalities.

"It is an open secret in Nigeria that some police officers carry out summary executions of suspected criminals," he told the BBC Focus on Africa.


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