Global watchdog Amnesty International (AI) has accused the police of using torture and other inhuman treatment to extract statements from suspects. The police deny the allegation, saying AI has never seen anything good in them. In this report by ERIC IKHILAE, lawyers call for strengthening of existing measures to curb rights violation.
GLOBAL watchdog Amnesty International (AI) has stirred the hornet’s nest with its report which accused the police of torturing robbery suspects. In the report entitled: “You have signed your death warrant: Torture and ill-treatment by Nigeria’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS)”, AI examined Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) operations in Awkuzu (Anambra State), Enugu and Abuja (the Federal Capital Territory).
The report noted that despite the global condemnation of torture, the Nigeria Police were still using it. In the report released in Abuja, on September 21, the group’s researchers found that male and female detainees were tortured and ill-treated to extract information and confessions.
The researchers found that major victims of torture in police custody were poor awaiting trial inmates, who could hardly afford to hire lawyers.
But the police have since faulted the report, saying their men do not torture detainees. Besides, Commissioner of Police in charge of Federal SARS, Dibal Yakadi, said his men were ready to operate within the law.
Police spokesman Deputy Commissioner (DCP) Don Awunah described the report as misleading and a misrepresentation of facts, unverified accounts and absolute distortion of the state of SARS.
“The report is evidently the characteristic mindset and pattern of Amnesty International to deride and castigate public institutions, especially in developing countries like Nigeria,” Awunah said.
The case against the police
Despite the police denial, many are convinced that policemen apply brute force and crude methods in their investigations.
A report released in 2007 by the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, said the use of torture was widespread in police custody in the country.
It added that torture was “particularly systemic in criminal investigation departments and formed an intrinsic part of police operations, especially in the extraction of alleged confession.”
Also, a report entitled: “Killing at will: Extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings by the Nigeria Police,” released by AI in 2009, detailed how police personnel abuse Force Order 237 to “commit, justify and cover up acts of torture and other forms of ill-treatment, as well as extra-judicial executions.”
Force Order 237 refers to the police’s Rules that guide the use of firearm, which provides for much wider scope for the use of lethal force than is permitted under international law and standard.
Critics argued that apart from these documented reports, there are tales told daily by victims that put a lie to continued denial by the police. They further argued that even where physical torture is not applied, the practice of detaining suspects in inhuman conditions, over-crowded cells where inmates are denied food and healthcare are other forms of torture.
Torture under the law
According to experts, torture constitutes a gross violation of human rights; it is prohibited in the country, and its illegal status is reflected in several enactments.
Besides several international instruments against torture, there are many local laws that frown against its use, particularly as an investigative instrument.
Some of such international instruments include the United Nations Convention Against Torture (UNCAT), Article 7 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), the Robben Island Guidelines for the Prohibition and Prevention of Torture in Africa (RIG), among others.
Sections 34 and 35 of the Constitution frown against torture. Section 34 states: “Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person and accordingly, no person shall be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment…” Section 35 provides for the right to personal liberty, to the effect that any person who is arrested or detained in relation to an alleged offence, possesses the right to remain silent or avoid answering any question until he/she consults with his/her lawyer or any person he/she desires.
The intention is to prevent where suspects are compelled by security agents, through torture or other forms of ill-treatment, to make statements.
The constitutional provisions in sections 34 and 35 are strengthened by laws such as the Evidence Act (2011), Administration of Criminal Justice Act, Criminal Procedure Act and the Criminal Procedure Code.
Section 29(2) of the Evidence Act (EA) renders inadmissible (at trial) any statement obtained through torture, threat or intimidation. It provides that only confessional statement freely made without any form of inducement, threat or undue influence could be admitted in evidence.
In most instances, the court conducts a trial-within-trial to ascertain the voluntariness or otherwise of a statement where there is a dispute between the defence and prosecution over whether or not the statement was voluntary.
The Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, as a way of addressing the problem of torture, provides in Section 8(1) that criminal suspects must be accorded humane treatment, having regard to the dignity of the person, and must not be subjected to any torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
The Criminal Procedure Act (CPA) in sections 124 and 126, and Rule 9 of the Statement of the -Officers Rule (1960) provide how the police should obtain statements from suspects or witnesses and do not allow the use of threat, torture or inducement to influence statements.
The Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) also contains similar provisions in sections 4, 9, 17 and 19 to the effect that no person arrested on suspicion of commission of crime should be subjected to any form of ill-treatment, including detention in inhuman conditions.
Existing measures against torture
In recent past, the Federal Government has initiated some measures to curb incidence of torture in detention facilities by the police and other security agencies.
Some of these include the creation of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the Public Complaint Commission (PCC), the National Committee Against Torture (NCAT), Police Service Commission (PSC), Police Council, among others.
For instance, the NHRC is authorised, under the NHRC Act 2010, to visit any detention facility in the country to investigate any case of human rights violation, to summon persons and to award compensation, enforce its decisions.
The NCAT also has the powers to visit detention facilities and investigate complaints of torture. The PCC is empowered to receive and investigate complaint about the conduct of public officers and state’s agents.
On its part, it is the responsibility of the PSC to, among others, ensure discipline among its personnel. It combines this also with the task of formulating guidelines and policies regulating appointment, promotion and discipline in the Nigeria Police Force.
Outside these institutional measures, the court also provides remedy to victims of torture, who are allowed to sue for compensation.
Why torture persists
Experts are of the view that the deployment of torture as a major tool of trade by security agents, particularly the police, still persists despite existing measures, owing to their evident inadequacies.
The AI noted that the failure to ensure prompt, effective and impartial investigation into allegations of torture by police, in violation of explicit provisions of other local and international laws, fuels the climate of impunity where those who commit such violations persist without fear of being held accountable.
“Many of the reports of torture brought to AI’s attention were not investigated by the police authorities, the PSC or NCAT. When AI met with the Chairman of the PSC in April 2016, he said though they are authorised to investigate SARS activities, they have to send the findings of their investigations back to the IGP,” the report said.
It added that, in cases where torture was proved, the police authorities transfer the identified culprit out of the station where he/she committed the violation to frustrate the victim’s steps for redress.
In addition to this, police personnel also find ready shield in Force Order 237 (the manual of guideline for the use of force and firearms by police officers), which the AI noted, is also frequently abused.
As part of its reform efforts, the NPF held a training session between July 21 and 23, last year, where it examined a draft proposal for the review of Force Order 237. The then IGP, Solomon Arase, had while addressing the session, stressed the need for the police to modify it operations to avoid cases of rights violation.
But, despite his stated commitment to the review of the law on the use of force by the police, it is not in public domain that Arase endorsed the reviewed Force Order 237, produced with the support of some international agencies, for use before he left office.
Also, despite its powers to investigate and penalise rights violation, the NHRC has not been very successful in the execution of its mandates either. The public is only informed of the constitution of investigation panels in relation to cases of rights violations, the reports are hardly made public.
Where awards are made, as was the case of the killings of eight individuals in Apo, Abuja by security agents in 2014, payments are not effected by culprits, who are mostly state’s agents.
It is also argued that security operatives mostly escape liability for established cases of torture by leaning on the Public Officers Protection Act, which prohibits the institution of cases against public officers or institutions after three months of the action complained about.
The law, particularly in Section 2(a) provides: “Where any action, prosecution or other proceedings is commenced against any person for any act done in pursuance or intended execution of any act or law or of any public duty or authority or in the execution of such act, law, duty or authority, the following provision shall have effect: The action, prosecution or proceedings shall not lie or be instituted unless it is commenced within three months next after the act, neglect or default complained of, or in case of a continuance of damage or injury, within three months next after the ceasing thereof.”
Chairman, Nigerian Law Reform Commission (NLRC) Kefas Magaji, at a workshop on the reform of the Public Officers Protection Act, faulted the continued retention of the law which he said is 100 years old.
“Besides the historical antecedents, the main problem of the act is the special protection it accords public officers (now including public institutions) which requires that an action against a public officer, if not instituted after three months from when the cause of action arose, is statute-barred.”
Despite its inherent inadequacy, the law is yet to be repealed or amended. It was learnt that a draft Bill prepared by the NLRC last year has since been submitted to the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) for onward transmission to the National Assembly, but without result yet.
Observers also blame the persistent incidence of torture on the failure of the country to criminalise acts of torture. They argue that where individual perpetrator of torture and other inhuman treatments are subjected to criminal prosecution would serve as a better deterring measure.
They noted that the current practice where victims of proven cases of torture are only entitled to financial compensation, which is mostly defrayed by the employers of culprits, is inadequate.
Safeguards against torture
Law experts, including Sebastine Hon (SAN), Joseph Nwobike (SAN) and Mahmud Magaji (SAN), said there was the need to improve on existing measures to allow for a reduction in torture cases.
They suggested the need for existing institutions, like the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Police Service Commission (PSC), among others, to be made to play their roles as required rather than existing in name alone.
Experts call for the urgent passage of a bill to criminalise acts of torture. They urged the Federal Government not to allow the suspension, under any circumstances, of the existing safeguards for the prevention of torture and related inhuman treatments.
Hon, Nwobike and Magaji suggested the strengthening of existing anti-torture mechanisms, and the need for victims to explore available remedies to deter future occurrences.
In addition, Hon said: “As a remedy, a defence lawyer need to be at alert. He can sue the police officer, who tortured a suspect personally, while his/her employer, the Nigeria Police Force, could answer vicariously for such an act.
“The police high command should be objective in addressing complaints against its men who engaged in such dastardly act. If they fail to do so, the Public Complaint Commission is there. The National Assembly is also there. Because, I believe if an example is made of a policeman or an officer, they will put their acts together,” Hon said.
Nwobike advised victims to always avail themselves of available remedies including suing for damages to serve as deterrence. He noted however that not all cases of application of force by security agents should be condemned because circumstances may require the deployment of unconventional methods. He cited the reported cases of tortured deployed by United States’ agents against terrorist suspects in Guantanamo Bay.
Magaji added that continuous training and enlightenment for security agents, particularly the police on issues concerning human rights, will go a long way in reducing incidents of torture and other ill-treatments.