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Tuesday, 05 December 2023 07:09

Anti-Torture Act: Not for savage security operatives, suspects

More than five years after the Anti-Torture Act was enacted, security operatives have continued to subject suspects to varying shades of savagery in the name of interrogation. Even with Section 8 of the Act providing for vicarious liability for torture, both senior and junior officers dehumanise their “victims” without a care in the world. NGOZI EGENUKA reports that several factors including lack of political will, ignorance, conspiracy of silence, capacity gap, etc., were behind the gross lack of implementation of the Act.

Yambali Umaru, a carpenter, was in detention for seven years after his friend alleged that he was a member of Boko Haram insurgents, in 2011.

The “friend” who framed Umaru up was arrested when he attempted to return a stolen motorcycle from a village, which had been raided by the insurgents.

 

Following his detention, Umaru, alongside others, who were unable to write a statement for three months, was taken to an underground cell in the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCIID) Area 10, Abuja, where they were stripped to their panties, and allowed to feasted on by bedbugs, which resulted in skin infections.

“They asked us to claim that we are Boko Haram members or risk death. They hung me on the rafters, used live electric cables to shock my penis, whipped me with everything in sight including an iron rod, cane, and whip lashes, as well as used pliers to remove my toenail. From the barbaric experience that we were subjected to, about five people among us died.

“From there, we were transferred to Wuse Zone Three, where we were further tortured and starved routinely. They, thereafter, moved us to Sankangi Road, Niger State, where they kept more than 3,000 people in a hall. We were masked and handcuffed, while the policemen kept collecting money from our family members on the pretext that they would soon release us,” he narrated.

He explained that after three years, a police officer advised their parents to engage the services of a lawyer. It was the lawyer who was engaged that petitioned the Inspector General of Police (IGP). “The IGP then ordered the Investigative Police Officer (IPO) to take us to court.”

The victim said that he and others went through a harrowing experience, of deprivation while the matter lingered in court before they were eventually discharged and acquitted for lack of evidence on March 30, 2018.

 

Also, Patrick Okachi, a hotel Janitor at the Statement Hotel, on November 3, 2022, was brutalised by officials of the Department of State Services (DSS), over an alleged foreign currency and jewelry theft leveled against him by his employer.

According to him, the hotel’s representative called in the DSS operatives, who on arrival, started beating him with an electric cable, while threatening him with a handgun and knife. He was thereafter stripped, blindfolded, and taken away to a Portakabin, where the operatives, in collaboration with a vigilante group, continued beating him with pieces of wood, and belts, and also smashing bottles on his head, just as he was teargased.

After spending the night inside the container, was taken to a police container at Katamkpe, on the outskirts of Abuja. Upon hearing of his ordeal, the police officers asked the DSS officials to take him to the station.

Okachi said that immediately after the policemen left, the DSS boss sent for him, but on seeing his near-death condition – bleeding eyes, nose, and genitals- he immediately sent him back to the security post (Portakabin) to avoid dying at the DSS’ Office.

The company’s representative, Okachi stated, then invited the police to take full custody of him. But the DPO, who was equally alarmed by his condition, refused to detain him but ordered that he be taken to the Police Hospital, Garki for treatment, where he was freed upon recovery.

IGP Kayode Egbetokun

Like Okachi, Victor Oduka, a victim of state torture now has to live with an ear defect, after being slapped and beaten multiple times when he was detained for three days in Ogun State, after he was accused of having soft copies of some company documents, in August 2022, by his boss, an Indian.

Oduka explained that being an administrator sometimes required the exchange of documents on the phone.

He said while in detention, his phone was forcefully seized, and when they didn’t find any soft copy of the alleged documents, the mobile phone was returned to him and he was released from detention. But the case is currently ongoing.

Since 1975, Nigeria has been a signatory to the “United Nations Treaty Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,” which prohibits torturing suspects to extract information, or to subdue them.

Section 34 of the Nigerian Constitution provides that every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person, and accordingly (a) No person shall be subject to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment.

Determined to check the continuous use of torture by state agencies in the course of doing their jobs, on December 29, 2017, the Eight National Assembly passed the Anti-Torture Bill, and former President Muhammadu Buhari signed it into law.

The Anti-Torture Act was established to put an end to torture and other forms of inhuman treatment.

The Act fills the existing legislative gaps by explicitly making the right to freedom from torture, cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment a non-derogable right, criminalising torture, and protecting victims and witnesses of torture.

Section 1 of the Act titled “Duty of Government” imposes an obligation on the government to ensure that all persons, including suspects, detainees, and prisoners are respected at all times, and that no person under investigation, or held in custody is subjected to any form of physical/mental torture.”

It admonishes the government to adhere to domestic and international standards on absolute condemnation and prohibition of torture.

More than five years later, this Act is observed more in breach, as the majority of law enforcement officers, whose duty it is to interrogate suspects brazenly abuse the law with the continuous use of force and torture against suspects.

In September 2023, the Solicitor-General of the Federation, Mrs. Beatrice Jedy-Agba, said that the Nigerian government has taken strategic measures aimed at unequivocally routing out torture in the country.

Jedy-Agba who is also the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Justice said that the nation would review anti-torture legislation and institutionalise anti-torture measures in law enforcement and detention facilities.

Speaking on the blatant failure of implementation of the anti-torture law, a legal practitioner and the Executive Director, of Sterling Law Centre, Deji Ajare, said that a combination of factors including a lack of political will, corruption within the force, the prevailing culture of violence and impunity in were to blame.

According to him, despite the promising provisions outlined in the legislation, there has been a distinct lack of urgency and commitment from political leaders to actively enforce and promote its implementation. This, he said, may be due to a lack of understanding regarding the gravity of torture as a human rights violation, or a failure to prioritise this issue amid other pressing concerns.

His words: “Corruption, which unfortunately pervades many aspects of the Nigerian society, also undermines the successful implementation of the Anti-Torture Act. This legislation requires effective enforcement mechanisms and institutions, as well as, the allocation of resources, staff, and training within the internal and external accountability mechanisms to prevent and address torture within law enforcement agencies.

“However, corruption within these institutions hampers efforts to build effective systems, as it perpetuates a cycle of incompetence, dishonesty, and lack of accountability.”

Ajare explained also that Nigeria faces a general culture of violence and impunity that further obstructs the implementation of the Act. He said that violence has long been ingrained within society, exacerbated by factors such as economic inequalities, ethnic tensions, and social unrest.

Sometimes, citizens, he pointed out, mobilize law enforcement agencies to arrest and brutalise other citizens for civil matters that ought to be resolved through the usual methods of conflict resolution.

“Similarly, you see citizens sometimes cheer law enforcement agencies on when they perpetuate violence as was the case in North-East in the counter-insurgency quest and currently in the South-East under the guise of an anti-secessionist offensive,” he stressed.

He stated that to ensure implementation of the Act, efforts must be directed towards fostering political will, promoting transparency and accountability within institutions responsible for enforcing the act and changing societal attitudes towards violence and impunity.

The Deputy Director of Prisoners’ Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA), Mrs. Ogechi Ogu, a lawyer, said that Section 10 of the Anti-Torture Act, mandates the Attorney General of the Federation and other law enforcement and investigative agencies to ensure that mechanisms for the implementation of the Act are put in place.

“Though there are recorded efforts made concerning the implementation of the law, these efforts have not made much impact because the element of investigation, prosecution, and punishment of offenders are yet to be seen by the general public,” she said.

Explaining, she said Section 8 of the Act provides for vicarious liability for torture, which means that the person who participates in the perpetration of torture, a person present during the commission of the act, and the superior officer of the perpetrator who issues an order to lower ranking personnel to torture a victim are all liable as principal perpetrators.

“Consequently, there is in existence what can be called a conspiracy of silence, which then makes the report of cases of torture, or proper investigation of such sabotaged to save the many officers that would be affected by the outcome of such investigations,” she said.

Ogu, however, said that from experience gathered through training of officers, especially the police, most of them are unaware of the Act and its implications.

“Also, Rules and Regulations for the effective implementation of the Act as provided for in Section 12 are yet to be made by the Attorney General of the Federation, though this is in progress.

“Section 11 of the Act, which provides that the AGF and other concerned parties shall ensure education and information for law enforcement personnel, civil or military, medical personnel, public officials and other persons who may be involved in the custody, interrogation or treatment of any individual subjected to any form of arrest, detention or imprisonment, is yet to be implemented.

“Very little has been done in the area of capacity building, awareness creation, and sensitisation by the government. The most that is done currently is by NGOs,” Ogu said.

She added that the issue of the capacity gap, and unavailability of modern equipment and technology for investigation, makes officers resort to torture as a matter of practice and available means of eliciting evidence from suspects need to be addressed.

For the former National Coordinator of Network of Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN Foundation), Emmanuel Ikule, the implementation of the Act is possible because it was enacted to ensure things are done rightly.

He said that torturing suspects to get confessional statements promotes laziness among officers. He noted that there is a need to ensure accountability of the powers given to security agencies and demand transparency in their investigations.

According to him, implementation can thrive if the law enforcement agents are ready for it by adhering to all the processes of investigation.

Ikule added that having a functional national committee on torture, which is the oversight agency on the law that ensures its implementation would aid execution.

He also said that the police should develop its capacity to use forensic equipment to get perpetrators of crime make use of camcorders and CCTV for documentation and collaborate with other organisations to enhance their jobs.

He emphasised, however, that all these laws work better when there is a political will to push for implementation.

In his reaction, the National Coordinator of Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP), Chino Obiagwu (SAN), said the Act is not implemented because agencies responsible for enforcement are the main culprits.

He added that a major factor fueling the continuous violation of the Act is that victims are worried that if they complain and seek redress, they might be targeted for more victimisation since the same security agencies are still empowered to handle such complaints.

“The Anti Torture Act prescribed punishment of up to 14 years for acts of torture, but no one has been effectively prosecuted despite the widespread reports of torture.

“Without the victim’s complaints, it is not possible to identify perpetrators and enforce the law,” he pointed out.

[Guardian]

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