• Sheet of paper Report

‘Welcome to hell fire’: Torture and other ill-treatment in Nigeria

September 26, 2014

"On 17 September 2013, about five policemen came to my house to arrest me. They did not tell me the reason for my arrest.

The first place they took me is SOS [Swift Operation Squad, a special police unit] and then later to Anti-Kidnapping Unit (AKU). They ask me what I do for a living. I tell them I work in a timber business… Then they took [me] to temple [a special room for torture in the station]. The temple is where they torture people. They took me to the temple on the same day at 11pm.

They handcuffed my legs and tie it with rope. They now carry a big rod and cross through my leg and hands. One person lifts one side of the rod; the other person lifts the other rod. They hang me up leaving the weight of the rod on me. They now use machete, one pipe iron to torture me. They tortured me in my chest, head, stomach, leg and every part of my body. By the time they torture me, torture me, torture me, there was a lot of blood. They tortured me on my heart, my face, my waist. There are wounds on my back. My mouth was full of blood. I wanted to say help me but all that came out was blood.

They tortured me until I lose control, until I collapse. I fainted totally. I lost control of my body. Later I woke up and found myself lying in my pool of blood. When they saw that I am awake, they ordered me to pack [pick up] my blood and eat it. The blood was mixed with sand but they told me to eat it. I eat everything. It's smelly. I do it. They gave me a paper and told me to sign. I wanted to know the content of the paper but they used their gun to hit my head. I could not read what they wrote inside the paper. I just signed."

Diolu was 26 years old when he was arrested from his house in Port Harcourt, Rivers state, that day in September 2013. He was not told why he was arrested, nor was he given access to a lawyer during detention.

Unfortunately Diolu's experience is not unique in Nigeria. Amnesty International's research has found that countless other more people have suffered, and continue to suffer, similar torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (hereinafter ill-treatment) at the hands of the Nigerian security forces, including the police and military.

Torture and other ill-treatment are absolutely prohibited, at all times, by international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture (CAT) – both of which Nigeria is a state party to. Acts of torture and certain types of other ill-treatment are crimes under international law. The Nigerian Constitution also prohibits torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment.

Despite the above, Amnesty International found that torture and other ill-treatment are routine practice in criminal investigations across Nigeria. Suspects in police and military custody across the country are subjected to torture as punishment or to extract 'confessions' as a shortcut to "solve" cases – particularly armed robbery and murder.

Many police sections in various states, including the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and Criminal Investigation Division (CID), have "torture chambers": special rooms where suspects are tortured while being interrogated. Often known by different names like the "temple" or the "theatre", such chambers are sometimes under the charge of an officer known informally as "O/C Torture" (Officer in Charge of Torture).

The risk of torture and other ill-treatment is exacerbated by the endemic corruption in policing. Amnesty International's research found that police often detain people, sometimes in large dragnet operations, as a pretext to obtain bribes, alleging involvement in various offences ranging from "wandering" (loitering) to robbery. Those who are unable to pay the bribes for their release are often tortured as punishment, or to coerce them to find the money for their release. They also risk being labelled as an "armed robber" and are then at further risk of being tortured to extract a "confession". Suspects without money are also less likely to be able to access a lawyer, family members or medical treatment. Rape by police is a common method of torture inflicted primarily on women. Sex workers and women believed to be sex workers are particularly targeted by the police either for financial bribes or rape.

Reports of torture and other ill-treatment in the north of Nigeria have increased over the last few years as the conflict in the north-east of Nigeria has escalated. An estimated 5,000 to 10,000 people have been detained since 2009 as part of the military operations against the armed Islamist group Boko Haram. A large number of these detainees – accused of having links with Boko Haram – appear to have been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment. Almost all are held in extremely poor conditions that themselves amounts to ill-treatment. A wide range of torture methods are used by both military and police, including beatings; shootings; nail and teeth extractions; and rape and other sexual violence (see box 1).

Systemic Failures

Amnesty International's research into cases of torture, enforced disappearances and deaths in military and police custody, reveals a pattern of inadequate criminal investigation by police and military and a disregard for due process. This facilitates human rights violations in custody, including torture and other ill-treatment; denies people suspected of a crime a fair trial; and ultimately hinders successful prosecution of suspects. Security officials are rarely held accountable for failures to follow due process or for perpetrating human rights violations such as torture. The absence of acknowledgement and public condemnation of such violations by senior government officials further assists in creating a climate for impunity and raises serious concern about the political will to end such human rights violations.

In addition to such impunity, various other factors facilitate the routine and systemic practice of torture and other ill-treatment in Nigeria. The police force is poorly trained to carry out criminal investigations. Police rely heavily on interrogation and confessions to solve cases and arrests are routinely carried out before investigation. Similarly, military operations conducted against Boko Haram rely heavily on "screenings" and mass arrests of detainees, who are then detained for lengthy periods without charge or trial.

The Nigerian justice system fails to prevent torture and other ill-treatment. Despite torture being constitutionally prohibited, a Bill to criminalize the practice is yet to be passed. This is despite the fact that two different Bills have been pending in the National Assembly for over two years.

Although international human rights law and Nigerian law lay down a series of safeguards to prevent torture, these are rarely implemented in practice. Amnesty International interviewed hundreds of victims who stated that they had been arrested – both by the military and police – without warrants, had been interrogated in incommunicado detention – without having access to their families or lawyers – and had not been produced before a court within a reasonable time. The flouting of such safeguards left them at the mercy of the security forces.

Although international law and Nigerian law prohibit the use of confessions obtained through torture or other ill-treatment as evidence in court, several lawyers told Amnesty International that in most cases the police rely solely on confessional statements to prosecute criminal cases. Since most victims of torture are too poor to afford a lawyer, concerns about how "confessions" have been extracted are often not raised before the court in such cases. Further, even if the "confession" is eventually struck down and the police are unable to produce sufficient evidence to continue prosecution, the victim will have nevertheless spent months or years in detention awaiting or undergoing trial.

Amnesty International found that the vast majority of complaints about torture and other ill treatment do not lead to an investigation of any kind. In most cases involving allegations of torture by security forces that Amnesty International has documented, no proper investigations or measures have been taken to bring suspected perpetrators to justice. In cases where investigations have taken place, they were usually internal within the police or military, the findings were not made public and no criminal or disciplinary action was taken against the police or military involved. Thus, the cycle of impunity continues unabated.

Claims for compensation are rare with most victims too poor to afford a lawyer and an inadequate legal aid system. In all the cases researched by Amnesty International, no victim of torture or other ill-treatment was compensated by the government.

The above situation is not new. Over the years, several Nigerian and international organizations have reported on the pervasive use of torture by police and other security agencies. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment concluded after a 2007 mission to Nigeria that "In Nigeria, torture and illtreatment are widely practised in police custody; they are particularly systemic in the Criminal Investigation Departments. Torture is an intrinsic part of the functioning of the police in Nigeria. This unacceptable state of affairs must end." As far back as 2005, the Nigerian human rights organization Access to Justice reported that the police force was using torture as "an institutionalized and routine practice in its criminal investigation process." In 2007, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) stated that torture is used "as official means of investigation of offences" and that "most cases in court are prosecuted by the police based on "confessions" obtained under circumstances of torture from accused persons."