Corroborating Amnesty International Report indicting Nigeria for Endemic Torture

Recently within the country, precisely at Abuja last September, the International Human Rights group, Amnesty International lauched a ten-year report of torture in Nigeria, which claims that the Nigerian Police and military routinely torture women, men, and children- some as young as 12- using a wide range of methods.

Such discovery appears shocking yet it is true. At the launch, Mr Netsanet Belay, the Director for Research and Advocacy of the rights group, contended that although Nigeria prohibits torture and other ill-treatment in the constitution, but the reality on ground shows that the government has continually shown a blind eye to torture in the country.

The report entitled, "Welcome to Hellfire, Torture and Other Ill- Treatment in Nigeria" documented about 500 allegations of torture from security operatives meted on Nigerian citizens. Of these allegations were the stories of Mbazuligwe Onyekachi and Justin Ogochukwu Nwankwo, a friend and former classmate of mine whose case probably yielded the title of the report. Furthermore, the report revealed twelve major methods used by most law enforcement agencies in the country to intimidate victims and extract statements from them, including beatings, shootings and rape. The report also said that since the war on insurgency started, about 5,000 Nigerians have been detained without trial and that some of these detention facilities are not even known to the authorities.

Of particular concern here is the story of Mr Justin Nwankwo, which was demeaning and pitiable. Speaking at the event as a survivor of the torture, Justin Nwankwo said that he was taken from Upper Class Hotel at Onitsha in Anambra state in Eastern Nigeria, where he worked as a manager, after the police came in one fateful morning and searched the hotel thoroughly. According to him, "they headed to particular room 102; two decayed human skulls were found. So they began torturing about 13 of us immediately. I was stripped naked at the hotel. We ended up in the special anti-robbery squad in Anambra known as the Awkuzu SARS. I was thrown inside a cell. I noticed a writing on the wall: 'Welcome to Hell Fire'. They used a rope to tie my neck and with each officer standing on both sides, they drew the rope till they found that a mark had been created on my neck and continued with the tortures." He said several tortures were meted on him, till he complied to sign a blank document.

Such was the story of Justin Nwankwo, a former classmate of mine whom I have known to be incapable of conceiving evil for anyone, a high-spirited and easygoing fellow. At our yearly Old Boys' Association meeting this year, I observed an unusual coldness from Justin, when he stood to express thanks for the association's assistance in his travails with the Nigerian police. Justin was, when perceived, still in pains and also, psychologically devastated after spending sometime in the so called, 'Hell Fire', probably without food and living another day knowing that he is on the verge of death. From what I saw on that day, there was no other proof I needed to confirm that he really underwent the excruciating and intimidating torture of the Nigerian police.

Justin's case just like the other 499 cases noted by the report are only samples from a population that is large. Regularly within the country, the media carry the news of intimidation and manhandling by the Nigerian police meted on the citizenry. I for one, have witnessed such intimidation, which has created a phobia of visiting police station. There you will think you are safe but such thought is deluding and jeopardizing. On this occasion, I was there in soldarity for a close relative of mine who was interrogated there for allegation. So after writing and submitting his statement, the I.P.O. who was in charge of the case, after reading the statement tried to intimidate the my relative to change what he has written. Perceiving such action, I shouted from distance to my relative not to be intimidated into changing the statement. At that time, some policemen tried sending me out of the station. In the process, one with gun threatened to shoot me and I will gone. Another for behind blindfolded me with a slap. Another was beating and electrocuting me, at least I had upto at least 8 electric shocks. After which, instead of sending me out, they told me to now stay behind the counter. There one of the policemen, an elder came to appeal with me and pleaded that I should not worry and that what I had experienced could have been avoided. I told him that it was not my person to see people being intimidated and I would keep quiet. After that, he allowed me to come out from there and go home. I went home with a black eye and in pains, wondering how I, though young, was able to endure all the electric shocks.

The foregoing experience of mine have led me to corroborating the report of Amnesty International. Those who are claiming that these tortures are not existent in the country are only doing so because they have not fell a victim. But we do not have to personally experience such reality before expunging it. Hence, this write-up would in line with Amnesty International's Africa Research and Advocacy director, Netsanet Belay state that, " the country's parliament must immediately take this long overdue step and pass a law criminalizing torture. There is no excuse for further delay." If this is not done, the police will only be regarded as an enemy who is out to intimidate the citizenry they ought to be friends to.

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Articles by Paul Iregbenu