Understanding Nigerian Torture Prohibition Bill

By Abubakar Jimoh

Over the years, Nigerian security forces have been regarded among the crudest in the world as a result of the intentional use of excessive force and extra-judicial killing, verbal attacks and psychological intimidation reportedly mounted on a suspect to extract confessional statements and killing of robbery suspects without judicial trial.

While observing torture in part of Nigerian Police, in 2010, an article titled “The Psychological Effects of Police Brutality and Torture” written by Law Mefor, Consulting Psychologist and National coordinator of Transform Nigeria Movement confirms that with Nigeria as a typical example, police brutality exists in many countries. He regarded police brutality as one of several forms of police misconduct, which include false arrest, intimidation, racial profiling, political repression, surveillance abuse, sexual abuse, and police corruption.

Mefor wrote: “Police brutality is closely related to torture. Torture could actually be an extreme form of police brutality. Technically, the term ‘police brutality’ is now generically used to cover all government security agencies – police, prisons, military, name it. One aspect of torture that must engage our attention here is psychological torture, which is less well known than physical torture and tends to be subtle and much easier to conceal.

“In practice, the distinctions between physical and psychological torture are often blurred. Physical torture is the inflicting of severe pain or suffering on a person. In contrast, psychological torture is directed at the psyche with calculated violations of psychological needs, along with deep damage to psychological structures and the breakage of beliefs underpinning normal sanity. Torturers often inflict both types of torture in combination to compound the associated effects.

“In Nigeria, these forms of torture are everywhere you have government security agencies operating, especially the police and the prison. The police cells and prisons are punitively run in Nigeria to inflict maximum psychological damage. If it is not intended, then, it has become a huge achievement by default.”

Similarly, in August 15, 2013, a report published by the Vanguard Newspaper lamented that the deployed Joint Task Force including both military and police in the northeast “…have been accused of widespread atrocities. These have included summary executions, arbitrary arrests and torture, according to leading rights groups.”

A study research titled “Welcome to Hell Fire – Torture and Other Ill-treatment in Nigeria” published by Amnesty International revealed that countless people have suffered, and continued to suffer torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (hereinafter ill-treatment) in the hands of the Nigerian security forces, including the police and military.

Conversely, relevant provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantee the right to freedom from torture, inhuman and degrading treatment. Consequently, any act of torture is a violation of human rights. Just as section 33(1) of the Constitution guarantees the right to life and states: “Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of a sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty.”

Meanwhile, the only permissible limitations on the right to life are contained in section 33(2) of the Constitution, which provides that a person shall not be regarded as having been deprived of his life in contravention of this section, if he dies as a result of the use, to such extent and in such circumstances as are permitted by law, of such force as is reasonably necessary: (a) For the defence of any person from unlawful violence or property; (b) In order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained; or (c) For the purpose of suppressing a riot, insurrection or mutiny.

Thus, any killing not within the context of section 33(1) & (2) above will be unlawful and illegal.

In the context of the United Nations General Assembly, torture constitutes an aggravated and deliberate form of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. To the European Commission on Human Rights, the word ‘torture’ is often used to describe inhuman treatment, which has a purpose such as the obtaining of information or confessions, or the infliction of punishment, and is generally an aggregate form of inhuman treatment.

Also, the European Commission on Human Rights, while interpreting a provision under the European Convention similar to section 33(1) of the Nigerian Constitution, maintained that right to life imposes obligations on states to take appropriate steps to safeguard life including taking appropriate steps to promote security and prevent murder and other crimes threatening life. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has equally noted that the right to life includes a duty to prevent wars, acts of genocide and other acts of mass violence causing arbitrary loss of life.

Section 34(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides that “…no person shall be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment”.

Report by Amnesty International highlighted that torture and other ill-treatment are absolutely prohibited, at all times, by the international human rights law, including the International Convention against Torture (CAT) – both of which Nigeria is a party to. Acts of torture and certain types of other ill-treatment are crimes under international law. The Nigerian Constitution also prohibits torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment.

Despite the above, Amnesty International observed that torture and other ill-treatment are routine practice in criminal investigations across Nigeria. Suspects in police and military custody across the country are subjected to torture as punishment or to extract ‘’confessions’’ as A shortcut to ‘solve’ cases – particularly armed robbery and murder.

According to the report, many police sections in various states, including the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and Criminal Investigation Division (CID), have “torture chambers”: special rooms where suspects are “torture”, such chamber are sometimes under the charge of an officer known informally as “O/C Torture” (Officer in Charge of Torture).

In a recent press statement in Abuja, Amnesty International has called on the Nigerian legislature for speedy passage of Anti-torture Bill also known as a ‘Bill for an Act Penalizing the Commission of Acts of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishments, Prescribing Penalties Thereof and for Other Purposes’ into law, primarily criminalises torture as a means of extracting information and confession from suspects in detention cells across the country.

The Bill if passed into the law will help to: ensure the rights of all persons, including suspects, detainees and prisoners are respected at all times; and that no person placed under investigation or held in custody of any person in authority shall be subjected to mental and psychological harm, physical harm, force, violence, threat or intimidation or any act that impairs his/her free will; and  fully adhere to the principles and standards on the absolute condemnation and prohibition of torture set by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and various international instruments to which Nigeria is a State party.

The Bill attributes torture to physical torture, which shall be understood as referring to such cruel, inhuman  or  degrading treatment  which  causes  pain,  exhaustion,  disability  or dysfunction of one or parts of the body, suchas: systematic beatings, head‐bangings, punching, kicking, striking with rifle butts and jumping on the stomach; food deprivation or forcible feeding with spoiled food, animal or human excreta  or other food not normally eaten; electric shocks; cigarette burning, burning by electrically heated rods, hot oil, acid; by the rubbing of pepper or other chemical substances on mucous membranes, or acids or spices directly on the wounds; the submersion of the head in water or water polluted  with excrement, urine, vomit and/or  until the brink of suffocation; being tied or forced to assume fixed and stressful bodily positions; rape and sexual abuse, including the insertion of foreign bodies into the sex organs or rectum or electrical torture of the genitals; other forms of sexual abuse;   mutilation, such as amputation of the essential parts of the body such as the genitalia, ears, tongue, etc; dental torture or the forced extraction of the teeth; harmful exposure to the elements such as sunlight and extreme cold; the use of plastic bags and other materials placed over the head to the point of asphyxiation; the use of psychoactive drugs to change the perception, memory alertness or will of a person; other forms of  aggravated  and  deliberate  cruel,  inhuman  or  degrading physical and/or pharmacological treatment or punishment; and mental/psychological torture, which shall be understood as referring to such cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment calculated to affect or confuse the mind.

The Bill further holds that  “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability, or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for torture”; and prohibits “secret  detention  places,  solitary  (except  for  public  health  reason  or security  of  co‐inmates),  incommunicado  or  other  similar  forms  of  detention, where torture may be carried on with impunity”.

In a report titled “Nigeria: Navigating Secrecy in the Vetting and Selection of Peacekeepers” launched by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), it was revealed that corruption, especially in relation to the payment of allowances for peacekeepers has been responsible for undermining the morale of peacekeepers and has also been a cause for indiscipline among the contingents, including possibly sexual exploitation and abuse and other human rights violations.

According to CISLAC, “Over the years, sexual exploitation and abuse and human rights violations by members of the Nigeria Armed Forces and the Nigeria Police Force have been rampant with no proactive responses by the concerned institutions to deal with the situation in a systematic manner that would win the confidence of the public.

“There is ground to suspect that training for peacekeepers is inadequate. In particular “the curriculum for the police is severely undeveloped and there are critical gaps in areas that are vital to effective policy, such as forensics and crime management, special victims, human rights and information technology.”

Moreover, Amnesty International has argued in support of CISLAC when it confirms in its recent report that “The risk of torture and other ill-treatment is exacerbated by the endemic corruption in policing. …police often detain people, sometimes in large dragnet operations, as a pretext to obtain bribes, alleging involvement in various offences ranging from wandering (loitering) to robbery. Those who are unable to pay bribe for their release are often torture as punishment, or to coerce them to find the money for their release. They also risk being labeled as an ‘armed robber’ and are then at further risk of being torture to extract a confession. Suspect without money are also less likely to be able to access a lawyer, family members or medical treatment. Rape by police is a common method of torture inflicted primarily on women. Sex workers and women believed to be sex workers are particularly targeted by the police either for further bribers or rape.”

The above among other related issues call for the prompt passage of the Anti-Torture Bill to safe Nigerians from culture of impunity and violations by security forces.

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