ZERO TOLERANCE FOR TORTURE MUST BE LAUNCHED BY MR. PRESIDENT
When in December 2013, my comrade friend and sister, Josephine Okei-Odumakin, called me up on phone to meet her with few others to watch a documentary, discuss it and take a decision. First, I became worried and began to wonder what the documentary could be all about? I called her back some hours later enquiring what was so special about this documentary and she gave me a slight description of what was contained in the said documentary. With an emotional laden voice, she briefly narrated the story to me. It was a case of torture by some members of Oodua Peoples' Congress, OPC on two women at Oba Morufu International Market, Ejigbo, Lagos, for allegedly stealing pepper. I accepted the invitation and joined her and other concerned Nigerians on the agreed day to watch one of the most callous torture perpetrated against women I have ever watched. I have read from documented stories the torture meted out to women especially in war like situations, for instance, the Rwandan genocide. Most of the women who joined in watching this about 15 minute horror documentary wept uncontrollably while, I fought back mine. We, there and then agreed that something urgently needed to be done to track down the men who committed this sacrilege. We countered the argument that we should postpone our actions till after the yuletide celebrations, we agreed to immediately put up actions in the direction of getting these evil doers to face the law. And, we did, as the perpetrators of that evil act are now undergoing prosecution in our law court. Thanks to the Police authorities who sprang to action immediately at ensuring the perpetrators were traced to their hideouts and arrested.
Torture is described as an act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him information, confession or punishment for an act he/she committed or is alleged to have committed. Our lawful security agencies, mainly the Police and other unlicensed and self made security outfits are usually mentioned as perpetrators of unlawful detention, torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment against suspects and sometimes perceived enemies. Nigerian Government looks the other way while this evil is unleashed on citizens of the country by our security agencies (Police). Yet, The Federal Republic of Nigeria ratified the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT) in July 2009 and, immediately established the National Committee on Torture (NCT). This is in pursuing the fulfilment of this obligation that will be empowered to visit places of detention, make recommendations aimed at preventing torture against persons.
Successive Nigerian governments have over the years ratified, signed treaties but implementing such becomes problem. The President Muhammadu Buhari led government must desist from the past by introducing CHANGE in the way government affairs are handled. Nigeria have not actually made this fight against torture a priority and we will urge, plead that the President Muhammadu Buhari led government must ensure that the yet to be appointed Attorney-General and Minister for Justice will put all it takes on the table to tackle torture by our security agencies. It is our conviction that unlawful arrests, detention, torture and other inhuman, cruel treatments meted out to Nigerians by our security agencies are perpetrated as a result of the failure of the Federal Government, National Assembly, the Attorney-General, Inspector-General of Police to have kept mum while this wicked acts by the men and women of the forces are carried out.
All across Nigerian Police Stations and other detention centres, suspects undergo very heinous crimes against humanity in the hands of the Police. The NOPRIN Foundation report, 'Through the Lens of the Media: A Report on Public Perception of the Nigerian Police, vols 1 and 2'. The report catches in full detail the torture, unlawful arrest, harassment and other inhuman treatments Nigerian undergo in the hands of the Police. The Nigerian Police appear not to have any modernized criminal investigation or interrogation hence, the crude method approach. So, the Police IG and authorities must begin to modernize the force by engaging its men in training and re-training. It is obvious, according to findings that the men and women of the Police Force also go through torture during training, service and retirement. We cannot eliminate torture by the Police without first, eliminating the same torture perpetrated against these men by the State. We must treat them like human beings, who are performing very unique and essential service to the society. A visit to any of the Police barracks in the country will call for questions and concern for these men. The buildings are a disaster waiting to happen, there, the men and women, their children live like 'rats, in a dilapidated structures, garnished with cracked and broken walls, overgrown weeds that line some of the major roads, broken sewage pipes littering some backyards, flooded and stinking drainages. Signs of reckless abandonment are all over the place. And the facility houses hundreds of police officers and their families who live in perpetual fear for their lives. Very pathetic!
We must also take the wages, allowances and facilities that aid their work very seriously, if truly we want them to desist from unlawful arrest, detention and torture of suspects. Agreed, that the Police authorities must stand up to right the wrongs amongst their men but, they must not overlook the very vital ingredients that will contribute to the positive development of the Police. There is just one quick way to building sanity in the Police Force and, that is complete overhauling of the system and putting it in the right shape. We cannot reform the police or ensuring the men behave in civilized conduct while neglecting their welfare, certainly not. This is not about making case for the conduct of the police in the cruel manner they handle suspects but, stating the obvious that environment dictates human behaviour and conducts hence, the need to tackle such. If the society, that is, the Government, religious bodies, multi-national companies, and other institutions fail to make meaningful contributions to the welfare of the men in uniform, if the government continue to treat our Policemen/women like animals then we will continue to have beasts in uniform attending to us at the stations, check-points and the rest.
Written by Uzodinma Nwaogbe.