Nigeria's torture profile, hitherto regarded as an open-secret, known only by security agents, victims of torture and their relatives, has burst open on the global stage following the release of a comprehensive by Amnesty International, entitled "Welcome to Hell."
The report graphically exposes the fact that Nigeria’s police and military routinely torture women, men, and children – some as young as 12 – using a wide range of methods including beatings, shootings and rape.
|teenage boy arrested for being a suspected militant |
had melted plastic poured on his back in 2013
“Welcome to hell fire”: Torture and other ill-treatment in Nigeria details how people are often detained in large dragnet operations and tortured as punishment, to extort money or to extract “confessions” as a shortcut to “solve” cases.
“This goes far beyond the appalling torture and killing of suspected Boko Haram members. Across the country, the scope and severity of torture inflicted on Nigeria’s women, men and children by the authorities supposed to protect them is shocking to even the most hardened human rights observer,” said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director.
“Torture is not even a criminal offence in Nigeria. The country’s parliament must immediately take this long overdue step and pass a law criminalizing torture. There is no excuse for further delay.”
Compiled from hundreds of testimonies and evidence gathered over 10 years, the report exposes the institutionalized use of police torture chambers and routine abuses by the military in a country that prohibits torture in its constitution but has yet to pass legislation outlawing the violation.
The report also reveals how most of those detained are held incommunicado – denied access to the outside world, including lawyers, families and courts.
Torture has become such an integral part of policing in Nigeria that many police stations have an informal “Officer in Charge of Torture” or O/C Torture. They use an alarming array of techniques, including nail or tooth extractions, choking, electric shocks and sexual violence.
In one illustrative incident Abosede, aged 24, told Amnesty International how sickening police abuse left her with a permanent injury:
“A policewoman took me to a small room, told me to remove everything I was wearing. She spread my legs wide and fired tear gas into my vagina… I was asked to confess that I was an armed robber… I was bleeding… up till now I still feel pain in my womb.”
Nigeria’s military is committing similar human rights violations, detaining thousands as they search for Boko Haram members.
Mahmood, a 15 year old boy from Yobe state, was arrested by soldiers with around 50 other people, mainly boys between 13 and 19 years old. He told Amnesty International that the military held him for three weeks, beat him repeatedly with their gun butts, batons and machetes, poured melting plastic on his back, made him walk and roll over broken bottles and forced him to watch other detainees being extra-judicially executed. He was eventually released in April 2013.
Military in Yobe state even arrested and beat a 12 year old boy, poured alcohol on him, forced him to clean vomit with his bare hands and trod on him.
“Soldiers pick up hundreds of people as they search for those associated with Boko Haram, then torture suspects during a ‘screening’ process that resembles a medieval witch hunt,” said Netsanet Belay.
“Torture happens on this scale partly because no one, including in the chain of command, is being held accountable. Nigeria needs a radical change of approach, to suspend all officers against whom there are credible allegations of torture, to thoroughly investigate those allegations and to ensure that suspected torturers are brought to justice.”
In most of the torture allegations against Nigerian state security forces documented by Amnesty International, no proper investigations were carried out and no measures were taken to bring suspected perpetrators to justice.
When internal investigations within the police or the military do take place, the findings are not made public and the recommendations rarely implemented. Of the hundreds of cases researched by Amnesty International, not one victim of torture or other ill-treatment was compensated or received other reparation from the Nigerian government.
The Nigerian government is aware of the problem and has set up at least five Presidential Committees and working groups over the last decade on reforming the criminal justice system and eradicating torture. However, the implementation of these recommendations has been painfully slow.
“Our message to the Nigerian authorities today is clear – criminalize torture, end incommunicado detention and fully investigate allegations of abuse,” Netsanet Belay said.
“That would mark an important first step towards ending this abhorrent practice. It’s high time the Nigerian authorities show they can be taken seriously on this issue.”
FACTS AND FIGURES
Nigeria: Two-faced on torture
Although Nigeria prohibits torture and other ill-treatment in its constitution and has signed numerous international human rights protocols banning the violation, authorities continue to turn a blind-eye to torture and have not even made the violation a criminal offence. The following facts and figures give an idea of the scale of the problem and the government’s prolonged failure to act.
Torture by numbers
5,000 – the minimum estimated number of people detained since 2009 since military operations began against the armed group Boko Haram, many of whom have been tortured or otherwise ill-treated
500 – the number of interviews with torture survivors, detainees, their relatives, rights defenders and lawyers Amnesty International conducted during its research
20 – the number of research visits to Nigeria made by Amnesty International that contributed to this report
12 – the number of commonplace torture methods documented in Amnesty International’s report
7 – the number of years since the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture found that torture had become an “intrinsic part of the functioning of the police in Nigeria” and recommended torture to be criminalised.
7 – the number of international protocols banning torture that Nigeria is party to and is failing to implement
2 – the number of years that legislation criminalizing torture has been pending in the Nigerian parliament
1 – Informal Officer in Charge of Torture, known as O/C Torture, in many Nigerian police stations
Nigeria’s top torture techniques
The Nigerian police and military commonly use a disturbing range of methods to torture people in custody:
Beatings, including with whips, gun butts, machetes, batons, sticks, rods and cables
Rape and sexual assault, including inserting bottles and other objects into a woman’s vagina.
Shooting people in the leg, foot or hand during interrogation
Extracting nails, teeth, fingernails and toenails with pliers
Suspending detainees upside down by their feet for hours
Tying detainees to a rod by their knees and elbows and suspending them as on a
Forcing people to sit, lie or roll on sharp objects, such as glass or a board with nails
Electric shocks, including administering shocks to the genitals
Choking with ropes until victims faint
‘Tabay’ – when officers tie detainees elbows are behind their backs and suspend
Water torture’ – when hot and cold water are poured on naked bodies
Failing in its obligations
By allowing routine torture to go unchecked, Nigeria’s government is breaching its agreements under:
1. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
2. United Nation Convention against Torture and the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture
3. International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance
4. The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights
5. Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women
6. Convention on the Rights of the Child
7. The Geneva Conventions – common Article 3, and the Second Additional Protocol
Testimony from the Torture Chambers of Nigeria
Police arrested Chinwe at the hotel where he works on 31 July 2013. Two guns and a human skull had been found in the hotel. He told Amnesty International that officers stripped him and the 12 other hotel staff (six women and six men), beat them, placed them in an unventilated police van and left it in direct sunlight for five hours.
On 1 August they were moved to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad’s centre in Awkuzu, Anambra state. He told Amnesty International:
“I was thrown inside a cell. I noticed a written sign on the wall “Welcome to hell fire”... I was taken to the interrogation room. There was a police officer at one end with two suspects who were chained together. That was the ‘theatre’ – the interrogation room. I saw ropes streaming down from the ceiling tops, bags of sand elevated on the perimeter wall fence of the hall and all types of rod and metal in different shapes and sizes. I heard shouts and screams from torture victims… I saw buckets of water on standby in case anybody faints or opts to die before appending [their] signature to already written statements.”
Chinwe described how four officers questioned him about his family and academic background, tied him by his hands and legs, passed a rod between them and elevated him from a perimeter wall. They poured water on him whenever he passed out from the pain.
Chinwe was charged with murder and remanded in custody. He has since been freed on bail and is currently awaiting trial.
Musa is a market vendor at his village in Yobe state. On 7 October 2012, soldiers from Nigeria’s infamous Joint Task Force arrived at the village looking for people associated with Boko Haram and arrested Musa along with over 180 other people.
Musa told Amnesty International that he and the other detainees were taken to a detention centre in Potiskum known as the ‘rest house’. He said that soldiers forced him and six other men into a deep hole in the ground, in which four other men were already standing.
The bottom of the hole was littered with broken glass and Musa and the others had to stand barefoot on the glass.
Musa said he spent three days in the hole. He discovered one of the other men had already been there for three days. The man’s hands were tied behind his back and his skin was peeling off because the cable his hands were tied with had been doused in acid. His body was covered in blood. According to Musa, the soldiers would also periodically pour cold water or hot melted plastic on them while they were in the hole.
Afterwards Musa was transferred to Damaturu camp, known as ‘Guantanamo’, where he was left for three days without food or drink. Musa says soldiers walked on detainees in their boots, beat them in the morning, and kept them in unventilated cells all day. He estimated that one or two people died in the camp every day as a result of the treatment.
Musa was eventually released from the camp without charge, but had to flee his home for fear that he would be picked up and tortured again.
A former soldier who served at Damaturu confirmed to Amnesty International how torture was routinely used at the camp.
“…An electrified baton is used on a person to make them talk. People have also been tied up [outdoors] for long periods, their limbs tied to the wire around the basketball court. They tie people with their hands stretched behind their arms (Tabay)… people kept like that for six or seven hours lose their hands, people kept like that much longer can even die. The interrogators also shot many people in the knees, or use sticks to beat them...”
Abosede was 24 years old when police arrested her in Lagos on 18 November 2013. She told Amnesty International she was held for five months on suspicion of theft and repeatedly sexually assaulted while in custody. She also said that policemen constantly verbally abused her, calling her and the other women in detention ‘prostitutes’ and ‘robbers’.
She said that on a number of occasions during her detention a policewoman would take her to a small room and tell her to undress and lie down. The officer told her to ‘confess’ to the theft while firing tear gas spray into her vagina. She resisted for several traumatic episodes, but eventually gave in for fear of the pain. Despite bleeding as a result of the torture, she was never taken to hospital.
Abosede was charged with theft and remanded in custody at Kirikiri women’s prison in Lagos. She is still in prison awaiting trial now, ten months after her arrest.
Moses was 16 years old and awaiting the results of his secondary school exams when his life changed forever. On 27 November 2005, the Nigerian army him and charged him with stealing three phones.
Moses describes being shot in the hand and soldiers beating him on the head and back during his arrest. He was initially held at the army barracks, where he said soldiers showed him a corpse and when he was unable to identify the dead man, he was beaten.
After being transferred to Epkan police station in Delta State he suffered further torture and ill-treatment. Moses told one human rights defender that the police severely beat him with machetes and batons; tied and hanged him for several hours in interrogation rooms and used pliers to pull-out his fingernails and toe nails in order to force him to sign two confessions.
Moses’ trial took place at the High Court in Effurun, Delta State. The investigating officers failed to show up and Moses was convicted solely on the basis of the victim’s statement (which Moses’ counsel claims to be full of inconsistencies) and the two confessions Moses made under duress.
After eight years in prison, Moses was sentenced to death by hanging. Moses Akatugba was never given the chance to challenge the Court for the alleged acts of torture suffered during his detention. Today he sees his family just twice a month, as he sits and waits on death row. In February 2014, Moses told them:
“The pain of torture is unbearable. I never thought I would be alive till this day. The pain I went through in the hands of the officers was unimaginable. In my whole life, I have never been subjected to such inhuman treatment.”