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Why torture remains prevalent in Nigeria ~ by Okechukwu Nwanguma

Statement by RULAAC on International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, June 26, 2021

Torture which may be simply (but not exhaustively) defined as ‘the action or practice of inflicting severe pain or suffering on someone as a punishment or in order to force them to do or say something’ remains prevalent in Nigeria in spite of reforms and ‘revolutionary changes’ in criminal justice laws and legislation in Nigeria.  The culture of violence remains pervasive.

The Nigerian Constitution prohibits torture. The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act prohibits and criminalises torture.

The Anti-Torture Act was passed and signed into law in 2017. The Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) which repealed and replaced the colonial Criminal Act and Criminal Code was passed in 2015 after Lagos State had passed the Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL) in 2007 and revised it in 2011. Many other states have followed suit by adapting and passing versions of the ACJL in their various states.

The violence against persons (Prohibition) Act was passed in 2015. The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was passed in 1981; Nigeria ratified it without reservation in 1985, signed the Optional Protocol in 2000 and ratified it in 2004.

Nigeria has also domesticated the Child Rights Act

The new Police Act passed and signed into law in 2020 also criminalises and expressly prohibits the use of torture by the police.

The framework of legal standards on policing in Nigeria also include international laws and treaties and laws accepted by or applicable to Nigeria as a member of the international community. Nigeria ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) on 29 October 1993 and the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment (Torture Convention) on 28 June 2001 both of which prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by law enforcement and state agents. Nigeria’s Constitution requires that international treaties must be specifically adopted into domestic law in order to be directly enforceable within the country. While Nigeria’s ratification of both Convention against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights does not automatically make either legal instrument domestically applicable in Nigeria, it is nevertheless significant in defining the scope of legal norms that Nigeria desires to be associated with internationally.

Neither the ICCPR nor the Torture Convention has been specifically adopted into domestic law in Nigeria. However, the prohibition of torture is very well established in international law as a peremptory norm. The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which is part of Nigeria’s domestic law, similarly prohibits torture. Nigeria indicates its acceptance of this principle by firmly prohibiting torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment in its 1999 Constitution. Nigerian law prohibits the admission in evidence of any confessional statements obtained by means of torture or similar coercion.

In spite of these enactments, commitments, reforms and ‘revolutionary changes’ in criminal justice laws and legislation, the practice of torture remains widespread in law enforcement practices in Nigeria just as lawlessness and violence remain the defining features of national life in Nigeria.

The culture of violence inherited from the colonial police remains within the Nigeria police. Many police officers still believe that torture is a legitimate means of interrogation. Police training has not succeeded in changing this colonial culture and orientation of violence and subjugation. Many citizens also leave with the wrong notion that torture is a normal and legitimate way to extract truth. But torture is a crime in Nigeria as can be seen from the array of local laws and international legislation and standards that Nigeria subscribes to. It is also an international crime classified among crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute.

Nigerian has failed to fulfill its voluntarily undertaken obligations under regional and international human rights and humanitarian laws prohibiting torture and requiring state parties to prevent and punish torture

Rather than fulfil its obligations under these international laws, government continues to promote the culture of violence.

It is our view that government has not demonstrated genuine commitment to end torture and the culture of violence in Nigeria. President Buhari’s shoot at sight orders and the Inspector General of Police’s orders to police officers to act without regards to the rules of engagement and without sensitivity to the respect and protection of human rights – all help to promote the culture of violence, including torture.

Several laws that aim to promote professionalism and respect for human rights in law enforcement practices are not strictly implemented and enforced by the leadership at both law enforcement and political levels.

All staff of the Nigeria Police ought to be conversant with and have access to these applicable laws and standards. However, in its 2006 report, the Presidential Committee on Police Reform acknowledged that ‘these important regulatory books that all officers must acquaint themselves with are either in short supply or no longer in circulation. The result is that many young police officers are not familiar with them, to the detriment of their professional competence’.

The situation has not changed. Awareness remains very low among law enforcement officials of the laws that should guide law enforcement practices. The laws are also not available for use by law enforcement officials. Research conducted by RULAAC on the levels of awareness and implementation of the ACJA among police officers in Lagos and Anambra States show that awareness is very low. The laws are also not available.

Lack of accountability and redress for the crime of torture

Officers who commit torture are not punished according to the law. Victims are never given justice.

Lack of adequate funding, equipment and operational facilities hamper the ability to effectively implement the laws and discharge the obligations contained in the laws.

Without adequate funds and facilities it is difficult to ensure effective compliance with aspects of the laws. For example, some provisions of the ACJA/ACJL such as the requirement that interrogation of criminal suspects shall, among others, be video-recorded cannot be complied with partly due to lack of facilities and funds to procure the facilities necessarily to give effect to this provision. The British Council had in the past provided sample Statement Taking Rooms in selected police stations in Lagos and Anambra States and equipped them with cameras and other equipment. This was to promote effective implementation of the ACJA with respect to video recording of interrogations and to help reduce torture of criminal suspects during interrogations. But the facilities were never put to use in any of the pilot police stations and were actually vandalised in some of the stations.

Without the infrastructure and skills to support criminal investigation, the NPF is institutionally unable to respect the presumption of innocence nor maintain credible crime records. Instead, “they now resort to parading suspects in handcuffs and others killed by them extra-judicially, such as armed robbers to impress the general public that they are working, when, at this stage, the innocence of the suspects should be presumed and their human rights protected by the Police. The effect of this is a tradition of compromised investigations and unsuccessful prosecutions, which the Nigerian Supreme Court has noted, results “in acquittal of criminals who should have been convicted.”

The Way Forward

1. Nigerian government must demonstrate genuine commitment to ending the culture of lawlessness and violence including the use of torture. This it can do, among other ways, through leading by example. Government must itself, respect, comply with and ensure compliance with the laws it makes.

2. The Nigerian government must ensure effective implementation of all laws including the Police Act, the Anti-Torture Act etc by prosecuting perpetrators under these laws.

3. Nigerian government must as well, fulfill its obligations under regional and international legislations and standards it subscribes to. It must ensure effective investigation and prosecution of all acts of torture.

4. Nigerian government must follow up on its commendable ratification, in 2009, of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture by fulfilling its obligations under the protocol.

5. The Federal Government must adequately fund and equip the police with the facilities including enhancing its forensic capabilities. This is necessary to make the resort to torture unnecessary

7. Police leadership must send a strong signal that it will no longer tolerate or condone torture by bringing to account all officials who continue to practice torture. Victims of torture must also be afforded redress including legal and psychological support.

Okechukwu Nwanguma
Executive Director

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