Citizens and torture – The Guardian

By The Citizen

Even on matters of human rights, Nigeria, supposedly a democracy, needs salvation and such must come quickly too. Human rights violation which was once a routine under military rule in  Nigeria was expected to have come to an end with the inauguration of civilian democratic rule in 1999. The subsequent inauguration of the Human Rights Violation and Investigation Commission (HRVIC) headed by the late eminent jurist, Chukwudifu Oputa, to inquire into past violations indeed gave Nigerians hope that impunity would be brought to a closure and that respect for human rights would be the order of the day.

However, a cursory examination of events ever since attests to the intensification of violation of human rights by both security forces and even by citizens. The result is a reign of human rights violations, which should have no place in Nigeria. Two comprehensive reports by a non-government organisation, the Centre for Constitutionalism and Demilitarisation, covering 2011 and 2012 recently are, however, a damning revelation of how security forces have come tops in the ritual of violations in the country. This is a phenomenon that must stop lest it defines Nigeria.

Also the London-based Amnesty International recently released a damning report on human rights violations in Nigeria, titled, Welcome to Hell Fire, Torture and other Ill-treatment in Nigeria. The report states 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.'  The report goes further to note that 'many police stations in various states, including the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and Criminal Investigation Division (CID), have 'torture chambers', special rooms where suspects are tortured while being interrogated.  Often known by such different names as the 'temple' or the 'theatre', such chambers are sometimes under the charge of an officer known informally as 'O/C Torture' (Officer in Charge of Torture)'. As if this is not enough, the international human rights organisation says the endemic corruption in policing has increased the risk of torture. Indeed, the police detain people in commercial raiding operations where cash payments are extorted from innocent victims. Victims are often accused of 'wandering' (loitering) and 'robbery' and those who are unable to pay for their release are sometimes  subjected to torture. The report also says that rape is used as a torture tool through premeditated targeting of sex workers or women believed to be sex workers.

The report notes, in particular, the increase in torture and ill-treatment especially in the security operations against Boko Haram Islamic insurgents in which an estimated 10, 000 people have been detained since the outbreak of full-scale hostilities in 2009.

The report has expectedly drawn the ire of security in the country, especially the Nigeria Police Force, which has refuted the report and stated that it was replete with indecent and intemperate language. The police argued further that the country is largely peaceful and that the men and officers are conversant with the array of laws against human rights violations and therefore do not torture suspects. Whenever breaches occur, according to the Force, the offending officers are punished according to the laws of the land.

Of course, the fact that even as a tool for extracting information, that human rights violations take place in Nigeria cannot be controverted. Indeed, such violations are carried out with blatant impunity, against the background that torture and other forms of violations are not in the nation's statute books. The Nigerian constitution and other international conventions and protocols prohibit every form of human rights violation. For example, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture (CAT) exists and Nigeria is party to it. Section 34 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria affirms the right to dignity of every human person and expressly states that 'no person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment.'

But the laws are nothing unless enforced. Amnesty International therefore, deserves commendation for bringing to the public domain the phenomenon of torture in Nigeria,  which despite protestations to the contrary by the security authorities, is common knowledge to all citizens of this country. Ironically, the task of exposure or even prevention is what the National Human Rights Commission ought to be carrying out with documentation of violations and seeking remediation.

As it is the case with most government agencies, that commission has hardly risen to that task. While there is reason to believe that there is a large number of good officers within the security forces inclined to doing what is right, there are equally bad ones tainting the image of the security forces and carrying out phenomenal human rights abuses. Policemen need re-orientation as well as re-humanisation. Importantly, impunity must be uprooted from the system. Whenever someone, somewhere violates the law, the culprit must be sanctioned. The human rights desk in Nigeria's police stations should also be strengthened and respect for human rights must be made national with civil society oversight. In this time and age, barbarism and violations of rights must and cannot be tolerated.