Thousands of Nigerians are detained and tortured, and some killed, yearly by their country’s security forces, a damning report by the global rights organization, Amnesty International, said Thursday.
The report indicted the Nigerian military and police for brutal torture and extra judicial killing of Nigerians, including children held in their custody.
It also said between 5,000 and 10,000 Nigerians have been detained since 2009 when military operations began against the armed group, Boko Haram, and that many of them have either been tortured or otherwise ill-treated.
The report, presented in Abuja Thursday compiles 10 years of abuses.
“Torture is a routine occurrence in Nigeria, largely to extract “confessions” or as punishment for alleged crimes and that hundreds of suspects in police and military custody across the country are being subjected to a range of physical and psychological torture or other ill-treatment while security forces act in a climate of impunity,” Amnesty International said.
The report came as Nigerian officials complained about an alleged decision by the United States government to stop Nigeria from procuring arms to tackle Boko Haram.
The United States accuses Nigeria of extensive human rights abuses in its fight against Boko Haram and says its laws forbid arms transaction with any country so accused.
Amnesty International’s report is certain to complicate efforts at resolving the issues to allow Nigeria obtain military support and equipment.
The 62-page report, presented by Nicola Duckworth, a Senior Researcher and Netsanet Belay, Africa Advocacy Director with AI, is titled “Welcome to Hell Fire’ Torture and Other Ill-Treatment in Nigeria.”
AI is a global movement of more than three million supporters, members and activist in more than 150 countries and territories who campaign to end grave abuses of human rights.
AI listed in the report the techniques employed by the military and the police to torture their victims as:
-Beating, (including with whips, gun butts, machetes, batons, sticks, rods and cables); Rape and sexual assault (including inserting bottles and other objects into woman’s vagina); Shooting people in the leg, foot or hand during investigation; Extracting nails, teeth, fingerprints and toenails with pliers; Suspending detainees upside down by their feet for hours.
Other methods are tying detainees to a rod by their knees and elbows and suspending them as on a roasting spit; Starvation; Forcing people to sit, lie or roll on sharp objects, such as glass or 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 them; and ‘Water Torture’ – when hot and cold water are poured on naked bodies.
The report says by allowing torture to go unchecked, the Nigerian government is breaking its agreement under the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights; United Nation Convention Against Torture and the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture.
It said the abuses also violate the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance; The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women; Convention on the Rights of the Child and The Geneva Convention – common Article 3 and the Second Additional Protocol.
Torture by the military
AI said there has been a marked increase in reports of human rights violations by the security forces including torture and other ill-treatment, since the emergency rule was first announced in the three North Eastern States of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa.
It added that new regulations under the state emergency empowered the Joint Task Force, JTF, and military to arrest anyone suspected of terrorist related offence.
“Thousand of people – estimates ranges between 5,000 and 10,000 – suspected of association with Boko Haram have been detained. A large number of appear to have been subjected to torture, while virtually all are held in extremely poor conditions of detention that amount to ill-treatment,” it said.
“Of the thousand arrested and detained, few are eventually released. Some were extra-judicially executed. Other died from a combination of lack of medical care for injuries, starvation and/or inadequate food, and overcrowding and other poor detention conditions. An unknown number still remain in detention.”
AI said most of those it interviewed were detained by the JTF and the military in Giwa barracks in Maiduguri in Borno State and Sector Alpha military facility (known locally as Guatanamo) in Damaturu, Yobe State.
It said it also interviewed several people who were detained at the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, and a detention centre in Abuja (a police facility known as ‘the abattoir’).
The organisation stated that most of those arrested and detained are held incommunicado – denied access to the outside world, including lawyers, families and courts, and are held outside the protection of the law – in conditions that may amount to amount to enforce disappearance.
It added, “Detainees are usually not informed of why they have been arrested, and their families are not told of their fate or where they are going to be held,” it said
Torture by Police
AI said in researching the report, it visited police stations throughout Nigeria over many years and documented hundreds of allegations of torture or other ill-treatment in police custody.
It stated that most victims are poor and from vulnerable groups, and are tortured either to extract information and “confessions” or as punishment for their alleged offences.
According to the organisation, “Amnesty International found that torture is such a routine and systemic part of policing that many police sections in various states, including the SARS and CID, use designated ‘torture chambers’: special interrogation rooms commonly used for torturing suspects.
“These are often known by different names such as “the temple” or “the theatre”, and are in some cases under the charge of an officer known informally as “O/C Torture” (Officer in Charge of torture).
“Although reports of torture emanate from most police stations, several human rights defenders, lawyers and police officers told Amnesty International that torture is particularly common in the SARS police stations across Nigeria. Amnesty International was able to visit the SARS detention centre in the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja – known as the abattoir – in July 2009. Suspects were held in a disused warehouse located outside the city.
“Amnesty International delegates saw at least 30 empty bullet cases on the floor and chains hanging on the wall. There were visible signs of blood in the gutter. The situation was similar during a second visit in October 2012.”
The organisation said it received report about children under 18 being tortured in police custody.
It said, “Nigeria has three three juvenile offender institutions and several state remand homes, but in most police stations and prisons, children are held in cells together with adults.
AI said apart from carrying out extensive investigation, it also interviewed victims of torture, some of whose harrowing experiences were published in the report.
The organisation said for over 10 years, it documented more than 500 cases of allegations of torture and other ill-treatment by the Nigerian security forces against suspects held in their custody.
In a statement by its spokesperson, Emmanuel Ojukwu, the police said while it would not question the freedom of Amnesty International to earn its relevance and bread, the force takes serious exceptions to some “blatant falsehoods” and innuendoes contained in that report.
“For one, it smacks of indecency and intemperate language to liken our dear nation Nigeria, to hell fire. That cannot be true. We believe that Nigeria is a growing nation, green and largely peaceful,” it said.
“While the Nigeria Police and other operators in the criminal justice sector are undergoing systematic reforms, and aligning themselves with the demands of democracy, there is no gain saying the fact that the Nigeria Police Force has since improved its operational efficiency and effectiveness.
“Since the dawn of democracy in 1999, the Nigeria Police Force has significantly improved on its human rights records, owing largely to training and re-training, community policing, attitudinal change and structural transformation.”
The police faulted AI’s claim that it visited police formations during which it interviewed some family member of suspects.
It said, “At no time in its report, did Amnesty speak or interface with the Police authorities. This obviously shows their disdain and apparent lack of character where the democratic tenets of fair hearing are concerned.
“The report covered a seven year period of 2007-2014. I dare say that some of the issues raised have since been dispensed with and settled.
The police said torture is not an official policy of the force and that whenever such complaints arise, culpable officials are promptly sanctioned.
The police also explained that contrary to AI’s claim, it is women-friendly and that it does not target sex workers, nor routinely adopt rape as a weapon.
“Instead, the Police has established a family and human trafficking unit to protect the rights of women, children and the vulnerable members of our society,” it said.
The force however said it “shall meticulously scan through the document, and investigate any current human rights abuses linked to any officer or formation. Any identified and established case of malfeasance or misconduct shall be treated in line with the laws and regulations.”