Amnesty International, a non-governmental organization which seeks an end to grave abuses of human rights, has lambasted Nigeria’s police and military over the arbitrary exploitation and torture of Nigerians through a wide range of methods, including beatings, shootings and rape, among others.
In a report titled, “Welcome to hell fire: torture and other ill-treatment in Nigeria,” and released in Abuja on Thursday, Netsanet Belay, Director, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy, chronicled how Nigerians are often detained in dragnet operations and subdued through tortures in order to make them confess to crimes they did not commit.
According to Belay, the report, a compilation of hundreds of testimonies and evidences spanning a decade, is an expose of institutionalized use of police torture chambers and routine abuses by the military in a country that prohibits torture in its constitution but fails to punish violators.
“This goes far beyond the appalling torture and killing of suspected Boko Haram members. Across the country, the scope and severity of torture inflicted on Nigeria’s women, men and children by the authorities supposed to protect them is shocking to even the most hardened human rights observer,” Belay said.
While stressing that torture, which does not amount to a criminal offence in Nigeria, has become an integral aspect of policing in the country, Belay urged the National Assembly to pass a law that criminalizes torture.
“Torture is not even a criminal offence in Nigeria. The country’s parliament must immediately take this long overdue step and pass a law criminalizing torture. There is no excuse for further delay,” he advised
Belay, who accused the Nigerian police of using an alarming array of techniques including nail or tooth extractions, chocking, electrical shocks and sexual violence, recounts the ordeal of one Abosede, a 24-year-old lady, who was abused by police officer.
“A policewoman took me to a small room, told me to remove everything I was wearing. She spread my legs wide and fired tear gas into my vagina… I was asked to confess that I was an armed robber… I was bleeding… up till now I still feel pain in my womb,” Abosede said in the report.
While lashing out at the military for human rights violations in the North-East in their quest to fight insurgents, the report called for a radical change of approach and the suspension of officers who have been alleged to have violated human rights.
“Soldiers pick up hundreds of people as they search for those associated with Boko Haram, then torture suspects during a ‘screening’ process that resembles a medieval witch hunt. Torture happens on this scale partly because no one, including in the chain of command, is being held accountable. Nigeria needs a radical change of approach, to suspend all officers against whom there are credible allegations of torture, to thoroughly investigate those allegations and to ensure that suspected torturers are brought to justice,” Belay admonished.
Baley, who urged the Nigerian authorities to criminalize torture, says an affirmative action in that direction would mark an important step towards ending the abhorrent practice.
“Our message to the Nigerian authorities today is clear – criminalize torture, end incommunicado detention and fully investigate allegations of abuse. That would mark an important first step towards ending this abhorrent practice. It’s high time the Nigerian authorities show they can be taken seriously on this issue,” he said.
Torture by numbers
5,000 – the minimum estimated number of people detained since 2009 since military operations began against the armed group Boko Haram, many of whom have been tortured or otherwise ill-treated
500 – the number of interviews with torture survivors, detainees, their relatives, rights defenders and lawyers Amnesty International conducted during its research
20 – the number of research visits to Nigeria made by Amnesty International that contributed to this report
12 – the number of commonplace torture methods documented in Amnesty International’s report
7 – the number of years since the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture found that torture had become an “intrinsic part of the functioning of the police in Nigeria” and recommended torture to be criminalized.
7 – the number of international protocols banning torture that Nigeria is party to and is failing to implement
2 – the number of years that legislation criminalizing torture has been pending in the Nigerian parliament
1 – Informal Officer in Charge of Torture, known as O/C Torture, in many Nigerian police stations
Nigeria’s top torture techniques
The Nigerian police and military commonly use a disturbing range of methods to torture people in custody. They include the following:
- Beatings, including with whips, gun butts, machetes, batons, sticks, rods and cables
- Rape and sexual assault, including inserting bottles and other objects into a woman’s vagina
- Shooting people in the leg, foot or hand during interrogation
- Extracting nails, teeth, fingernails and toenails with pliers
- Suspending detainees upside down by their feet for hours
- Tying detainees to a rod by their knees and elbows and suspending them as on a roasting spit
- Forcing people to sit, lie or roll on sharp objects, such as glass or a board with nails
- Electric shocks, including administering shocks to the genitals
- Choking with ropes until victims faint
- ‘Tabay’ – when officers tie detainees elbows behind their backs and suspend them
Water torture’ – when hot and cold water are poured on naked bodies
Nigeria’s Failed Obligations
By allowing routine torture to go unchecked, Nigeria’s government is breaching its agreements under:
1. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
2. United Nation Convention against Torture and the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture
3. International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance
4. The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights
5. Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women
6. Convention on the Rights of the Child
7. The Geneva Conventions – common Article 3, and the Second Additional Protocol
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