Amnesty International has challenged the Federal Government to criminalise the use of torture by the Police and military as a tool of investigations due to the horrific experience victims go through in the hands security agents. Evelyn Okakwu writes
During the recent briefing by internationally acclaimed human rights group, Amnesty International;, titled “Welcome to hell fire”; torture and other inhuman treatments in Nigeria” it indicted the Nigerian Military, stating that the arm of government, which is expected to protect the people is involved in serious acts of torture meted against Nigerians without cause.
To buttress its point, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director, Netsanet Beley stated that torture is not even a crime in Nigeria, despite the fact that the constitution of the Federal Republic abhors torture. According to Belay; “The scope and severity of torture meted upon these Nigerians by the same institution expected to protect them is shocking even to the most hardened human rights observers. The human rights group therefore stated thus; “Our message to the Nigerian authorities today is clear; “Criminalize torture, end incommunicado detention and fully investigate allegations of abuse.”
The Nigerian Police Force (NPF) in its reaction to the Amnesty report, through a statement from the Force Relations Officer, Ag Cp. Emmanuel Ojukwu, denied the possibility of any truth in the report regarding it as a blatant falsehood.
Nonetheless, analysts have critically looked into the issues raised by the international rights group. More so, other facts abound which gave credence to the report by Amnesty international. These include the survivors of torture who spoke on air, as well as the places, mentioned as torture chambers like that located at Anambra state; (Awkuzu SARS).
Furthermore, a major point by the rights group was the fact that the Nigerian constitution does abhor torture, though it is not regarded as a crime in Nigeria.
This statement has also been vied in various forms by analysts. Hence the need to reassess what the constitution says about torture; According to barrister Godwin Ogboji; sections of the Nigerian constitution that relates to fundamental human rights, include sections 33-46 of the constitution.
The constitution specifically states in section 34, where it talks about the right to dignity of human person that; “34. (1) Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person, and accordingly (a) no person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment; (b) no person shall be held in slavery or servitude; and (c) no person shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour”.
Yet, in the report, Amnesty international identified various methods used by the Nigerian police and Military organisation to compel obedience, such as beating shooting and rape.
In the words of one of the survivors Justine Nwankwo; “If God was not on my side I would have lost my spine because of the bags of cement they placed on us while forcing us to comply. The torture is something only God can explain. I refused to die; otherwise, I would have died in August following my arrest and consequent torture. Because if you are unable to carry on in the cell where they kept us, you will first of all go mental, after which you will die. I witnessed about six deaths in the cell during my detention and all of them first went mental before finally giving up. After each case of death, the police are informed and they respond with a sharp query intended to ascertain whether the person has really died; “Has he died well well?” he adds.
Nwankwo said he was arrested in the hotel premises where he worked as a manager, and was stripped necked after the police headed to a particular room 102, in a manner that he said was more suspicious than usual, and found two human skulls and some unused rifle. “They took us to a cell in Awkuzu SARS, Anambra state where they used robe to pull me by the neck. Two officers stood at opposite points with the rope pooling it till it injured me on the neck, so they stopped and used a cloth round my neck before continuing. The torture went on till I was forced to sign a blank paper.
Nwankwo added that the man who lodged in the controversial room, 102 came to the hotel as John Obi, but investigations later revealed that his name was Olisah Ebuchiem. Nwankwo further stated that no arrest has yet been made of the man by the police.
“Rather they have continued to threaten me to drop my case in court, because the case has been filed in court. In fact just last Wednesday, before I came to Abuja, this week an MTN number; 08034138116, called me threatening to waste me if we failed to drop the case”, he added.
But what does the constitution say about arrest and subsequent detention of people? Barrister Ogboji responds “Section 35 (3) that deals with right to personal liberty states that; “Any person who is arrested or detained shall be informed in writing within twenty-four hours (and in a language that he understands) of the facts and grounds for his arrest or detention. (4) Any person who is arrested or detained in accordance with subsection (1)(c) of this section shall be brought before a court of law within a reasonable time”.
Section five explains the meaning of reasonable time; “(5) In subsection (4) of this section, the expression “a reasonable time” means – (a) in the case of an arrest or detention in any place where there is a court of competent jurisdiction within a radius of 40 kilometres, a period of one day; and (b) in any other case, a period of two days or such longer period as in the circumstances may be considered by the court to be reasonable”.
So why does the Amnesty international state that torture is not a crime in Nigeria. What happens in the event of a failure to comply with the above sections?
According to the Barrister, Sub-section (6) of the same part of the constitution adds: “(6) Any person who is unlawfully arrested or detained shall be entitled to compensation and public apology from the appropriate authority or person; and in this subsection, “The appropriate authority or person” means an authority or person specified by law”.
This implies that; in the event of a violation, all that a victim is entitled is a mare apology stated in public, or an unspecified compensation.
Another survivor of the torture who spoke at the event was a Mbezuigwe Onyekachi, who said he was arrested for stealing a vehicle.
“They came to my house on the 10th of March and arrested me. They took me to a place where they tortured me to compliance, by stating that I had actually stolen the vehicle.”
Amnesty international further stated that most of those detained are held incommunicado, denied access to the outside world, including lawyers, families and courts.
As noted by the Amnesty report; “Torture has become such an integral part of policing in Nigeria that many police stations have an informal “Officer in Charge of Torture” or O/C Torture. They use an alarming array of techniques, including nail or tooth extractions, choking, electric shocks and sexual violence”.
More so, the reaction by the NPF has not been without its own criticisms. Cp. Emmanuel Ojukwu, had in the statement said Amnesty’s report is a blatant falsehood containing ambiguities and certainly exaggerating.
The Police, in the statement accused the international rights group of failing to meet with them during the period of compilation of the report; which according the statement, was within a period of seven years.
But the report, as stated by Amnesty was compiled in ten years, as against the seven years mentioned by the NPF.
More so, the mare existence of horrible torture chambers like the one at Awkuzu SARS contradicts the claim by the NPF that it is working in line with international best practice on the job and will never engage in any such inhuman actions against civilians.
“We are versed with international best practices, and the dictates of the Nigerian Constitution as regards human rights. So the Police do not routinely torture suspects. It is not systemic or endemic. Whenever instances of human rights abuses are brought to the notice of superintending officers, the offending personnel are promptly sanctioned in line with the laws and regulations”
Certainly, the nature of consequences for laws against torture in Nigeria has rendered the laws inadequate in themselves.
However, as stated by the Jean-Baptiste Niyizurugero ; Africa Programme Officer for the Association for the Prevention of Torture;
“Various mechanisms must be put in place to ensure that the first major step, which is criminalizing torture does not give room for further problems”.