Nigeria’s appalling human rights record was the focus of global attention recently when the international rights group, Amnesty International, released a chilling report on the use of torture as a main weapon of investigation by the police and the military. Barbaric in every sense of the word, the sordid details of the report pieced together from 10 years of painstaking investigation and interviews of about 500 torture victims, should provoke any responsible government into finding a permanent solution to the problem.
The report completely unmasked what has become a routine practice among the country’s security agencies, the main purpose of which is usually either punitive or to extract confessions from suspected criminals or extort money. The practice includes rounding people up randomly, regardless of age or sex, some of them completely ignorant of what they are being accused of, and putting them through long detention periods where they undergo torture. “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,” Netsanet Belay, AI’s Research and Advocacy Director, said.
One of such victims of the soul-destroying brutalisation, simply described as Abosede, narrated her harrowing experience to AI: “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 feel pain in my womb.” Horrific!
It will be difficult to fault the claims of AI, given the way the security agencies behave whenever they are carrying out their duties. While arresting people, even when there is no obvious resistance from the suspect, it is common to see them kick and beat up people who have not yet been convicted of any offence and who should be treated as innocent until otherwise declared by a court of competent jurisdiction. The culture of intimidation and torture has been so long entrenched that it has become ingrained in the system. If the practice was dominant during the military era, the same should not be the case more than 15 years after the return to democratic governance.
It is also not surprising that the report is coming shortly after a similar embarrassing report of how the Nigerian Army has been committing extrajudicial killings in the process of prosecuting the ongoing war against the Boko Haram terrorists. The earlier report from the same AI tends to corroborate the current one, which also has very harsh words for the army.
Torture, it has been globally acknowledged, is a blatant violation of a person’s fundamental human rights, which recognise “the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” as “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” It is also no secret that confessions obtained under duress cannot be taken to be reliable. How many people would undergo what Abosede was made to go through and still maintain their claims of innocence even of a crime they did not commit?
Each time AI releases a report on the abuses of the Nigerian security agencies, it has been met with sturdy denials. In this particular instance, the police have denied the report, describing it as containing “blatant falsehoods” and “innuendoes”.
But there is the need to acknowledge the problem so that, collectively, solutions can be found. Admittedly, the practice is not limited to Nigeria. Even in the most advanced democracies, cases of torture do occur occasionally. But when they become a matter of public knowledge, they are usually dealt with as criminality and the offenders duly punished. For instance, Some American soldiers were convicted and sent to prison for using abusive interrogation techniques on inmates of Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq in 2005.
This report should be thoroughly investigated and those deemed to have been culpable, no matter how long ago, should be brought to justice and shown the way out of the Force. Generally, police have very low ethical standards, but ours are atrocious. Developing a civilised police outfit, the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation says, requires three basic tenets. First, there must be a policy in existence that spells out their ethical mission and sets standards that officers must live up to. Second, strong and ethical leadership must exist and be in place. These executives set the tone for the department and lead by example, never choosing the easy route in lieu of the ethical one. Third, agencies must ensure that they hire ethical people and appropriately deal with those onboard who are not.
Police authorities should adopt new methods of testing candidates for their psychological propensity to act ethically and humanely. Corruption has a strong link with the misuse of police authority. Rogue and corrupt officers should be fished out and flushed out of the system.