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SPECIAL REPORT: Welcome To Hell Fire: Amnesty International’s Damning Report On Torture In Nigeria



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By Samuel Malik, Abuja

The report of Amnesty International, the global human rights watchdog group released in Abuja on Thursday, “Welcome to hell fire” which details cases of torture and other ill-treatment in the country, has put Nigeria in the spotlight once again.

The damning report accuses police and military personnel of carrying out torture and other forms of ill treatment against persons suspected of committing crimes and notes that these “are routine in criminal investigations across Nigeria.’

The report has chapters dealing with “Torture by the military”, “Torture by the police”, “Conditions of detention” and “Impunity and lack of reparation” and also highlights issues of children in detention, holding suspects incommunicado in detention and the failure of the authorities to investigate allegations of torture.

The report also makes specific recommendations to particular agencies of state including the Nigerian government, police, military, the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, the international community and the African Commission of Human and Peoples Rights.

Said to be the product of extensive research and interviews across the country from 2007 to 2014, the country report reveals the excruciating pains and inhuman treatments suspects are subjected to by both the military and the police. It also reveals the existence of the long suspected but often denied torture camps and methods of illegally extracting information, which over the years have seen hundreds “wasted.”

The report indicted the Nigerian authorities for failing to prevent these acts of human right abuse which it observes are prohibited by international human rights laws including the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, ICCPR, and the Convention against Torture, CAT, both to which Nigeria is a signatory.

“Torture and other ill treatment by Nigeria’s military is pervasive: routine and common throughout the country, in particular in the north. Hundreds of women, men and children in police and military custody across the country are being subjected to a range of physical and psychological torture or other ill treatment,” the report alleged, adding that “a large number have already died in detention.”

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It alleged further that suspects in police and military custody across the country are subjected to torture as punishment or to extract confessions as a shortcut to thorough investigation of cases, particularly armed robbery and murder.

Particularly alarming, the report said, the controversial Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, and Criminal Investigation Division, CID, have torture chambers and specially designated rooms where suspects are tortured while being interrogated. These torture chambers are known by different names, such as “temple” or the “theatre”, which are sometimes under the care of an “O/C Torture” (Officer in Charge of Torture).

The report discovered that the police usually arrests people in large numbers, especially at beer parlours and other such places under the pretext of maintaining the law to extort money from the victims. Those who are not able to come up with the money are sometimes charged with crimes ranging from loitering to robbery and are subjected to different kinds of torture.

“They also risk being labelled as an “armed robber” and are then at further risk of being tortured to extract a “confession”, the report says.
As evidence of its allegations, the human right group provided examples of victims of cases of torture in different locations across police formations.

“Ayo’s case is typical. He told Amnesty International that he was arrested in November 2012 in Lagos when the police were investigating a street fight between two gangs earlier that day. “The police were raiding the neighbourhood and arresting any youth in sight. The police arrested me and about eight other people. It was around 8pm at night. We were taken to the Lion Building police station, near Obalende, Lagos. The police accused me of robbery, but I told them I was not a robber, just a hustler. The Investigation Police Officer demanded N800, 000 [approx. US$5,000] for my release, which I cannot afford.”

His failure to pay meant that Ayo was punished by the officer: “I was pushed inside a cell. We were about 30 inmates in a single cell. We hardly had any food to eat. I was constantly tortured while I was in detention. I was never given medical help despite my injuries and pain,” he narrated.

The report observes that “Ayo is one of eight people charged with armed robbery in the same case. He is currently in Ikoyi Prison, Lagos, awaiting trial on a capital charge with no legal representation.”

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Amnesty International also said that following the security situation in the north-east, which led to imposition of a state of emergency in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, there are growing reports of massive abuses carried out by the military on suspects.

However, state of emergency notwithstanding, watchdog group believes the serial violations of human rights in the north-east are unwarranted and not to be condoned.

“Although some parts of Nigeria are in a declared state of emergency the prohibition against torture or other ill-treatment is non-derogable, i.e. it cannot be ignored or relaxed even in times of emergency. Section 2(2) of the CAT (Convention Against Torture) clarifies, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” Furthermore, “cruel treatment and torture” and “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment” are also specifically prohibited by international humanitarian law (IHL)” it notes.

But these declarations have not prevented the military or other security agencies from employing various and sometimes very crude methods of dealing with suspects. Such methods, as revealed by interviews with “500 victims, relatives of victims, human rights defenders, lawyers and several detainees, government officials, former detainees in police and military detention centres across Nigeria, as well as documents relating to court cases, medical records, photographic evidence and policy reports”, include beatings, rape and sexual violence, shootings, nail and tooth extractions, suspension by the feet, starvation, sitting on sharp objects, electric shocks, choking and water torture.

According to the report, “a vast majority of former detainees have stated that they were beaten or whipped by objects including gun butts, machetes, batons, sticks, rods and cables. Beatings can last for hours. Before being beaten, detainees are often stripped, either naked or above the waist, and their hands are restricted and heads covered: a form of torture known as ‘ashasha.”

Amnesty International also said that it had received consistent reports of women being raped or sexually abused by the police.

“While such violations take place even in public locations, they are most common during transfer of women to police stations, during their detention or in the police station when women visit male detainees in police custody. Rape and other forms of sexual violence, including inserting bottles and other objects into a woman’s vagina, are also used by the police to extract confessions and other information,” the report alleged.

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It said further that number of interviewees including former and current detainees “reported being shot in the leg, foot or hand during interrogations”, adding that many said “they were left to bleed for hours without medical care or treatment.”

The report also detailed other peculiar forms of torture such as suspending detainees from a pipe.

“Former detainees have also described being made to lie face down, with their knees bent and ankles tied, and with their arms raised and wrists tied. A pipe or rod, attached to a rope hanging from the ceiling, is then passed between their legs and arms, and the detainee is hoisted upwards and suspended in the air,” it stated.

The report equally alleges that many former detainees it interviewed said that were hardly fed while in detention. “Some reported receiving food only once a day with sub-standard food, as much as would fit in their cupped palms.”

It also said that some former detainees “reported being forced to sit on a board covered with protruding nails, spikes and other sharp objects. This usually occurred after detainees had been beaten and were barely able to stand.

According to Amnesty International, the military’s operation against Boko Haram has also seen an increase in “reports of torture and other ill-treatment in the north-east”, with an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 people believed to have been detained since 2009, most of who are accused of “having links with Boko Haram” and look “to have been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment.” Another thing is that they are held in very terrible conditions.

“Some former detainees have also described other forms of abuse that may violate the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment, including experiencing mock executions and being forced to watch other people being extra judicially executed. As a result of increased scrutiny by human rights non- governmental groups, Nigerian human rights organizations have reported new methods of torture aimed at hiding visible marks on the body of victims. These include covering the ropes used in tying up suspects with cloth to avoid any mark on the body; and tying the upper arm of suspects with rubber to choke the flow of blood and covering detainees with plastic and placing them in the sun until they die.”

Giwa military barracks in Maiduguri, Borno state, and Sector Alpha military facility, (known locally as “Guantanamo”), in Damaturu, Yobe State, Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) detention centre in Abuja (a police facility also known as “the abattoir”), are three of the most famous torture camps uncovered by the report.

Abu Bakr, a former detainee in Giwa Barracks told Amnesty International that he had been forced to share a confined area with up to 400 other people. Another detainee, Mustafa , aged 30, was arrested in Maiduguri on 29 May 2013 and detained at Giwa barracks.

He told Amnesty International:  “I was with another about 100 persons in a room of approximately 30 x 40 feet. We were kept like that in the room for three days….They barely gave us food (grain) to eat in our hands – just barely enough. They gave us water only once a day – one sachet of water for three persons. There were no toilet facilities – we had to ask the guards to let us all out. I know that some people even fell sick with cholera in the room… There were no windows in the room, but a long line of ventilator slits on the top of the wall. The room had nothing in it – we were all just squeezed on the floor. There were lots of mosquitoes. It was hot and there was a lot of odour in the room.”

Another suspect, Ahmed, who was arrested in Yobe, narrated his experience at the hands of the military at ‘Guantanamo’ for his alleged suspect of Boko Haram:

“After the early morning prayers on 12 February 2013, as we were coming out of the mosques, soldiers came and told all of us to lie down on the ground in the street. Some people were trying to arrange their kaftans, the soldiers shot and killed some of them on the spot, some were shot on the legs, and the soldiers began to beat some of us on the head with iron rods, others were beaten with wood. We were then loaded into a Hilux van and taken to Damaturu ‘Guantanamo.”

“The soldiers threw us in the vehicle one on top of the other ten to twenty people per Hilux car. Because some were on top of the others some died before reaching Damaturu. On reaching Damaturu we were thrown off the vehicle and then they started beating us again. We were kept tied for three days. We were untied after spending three days in ‘Guantanamo’. In ‘Guantanamo’ we were given a handful of food daily, and one polythene bag of 50CL of water per two persons per a whole day.”

“Many of my colleagues did not make it [died in detention]. The beating, the torture was just too much for us. They do all types of things to you, the soldiers. They will tie your hands behind your back, with the elbows touching and then one of them will walk on your tied hands with their boots. Your hands will remain tied and then they’ll pour salt water on your wounds. You can’t rub it, even if it goes into your eyes. My eyes got swollen as a result of that. I thought I was going to be blind. I have never experienced such brutality in my life.”

A 40-year old school teacher from Potiskum, Yobe State, Baba, was detained in 2012 at “Guantanamo” without his family’s knowledge until he was released.

He told Amnesty International:  “We were kept in shops. The room was about 20 x 20 feet. There were 15 people already there along with the 54 of us who were put in it – so about 69 in all sleeping in the room. There was nothing on the floor – everyone slept on the floor. There were no toilets. Every day they took us to a small bush area outside the camp for toilet. We got two meals a day – very small quantities [he demonstrated food fitting into his palm] – rice and tuwo [rice meal]. Throughout the time I was in detention, my family had no knowledge about where I was. They went to the ‘rest house’ in Potiskum but the authorities there told them that I was dead.”

SARS is, according to Amnesty International, the most dreaded torture centre nationwide and when the detention centre in Abuja was visited in 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 report said.

A suspect, Chinwe, who was detained at SARS Awkuzu, Anambra state, in 2013, narrated his ordeal: “I was thrown inside a cell. I noticed the written sign on the wall of the cell ‘Welcome to hell fire’ – I quickly told myself that we are in for the worst.

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 ceiling tops, bags of sand elevated on 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, calling on their dead parents for help. I saw buckets of water on standby in case anybody faints or opts to die before appending signature to already written statements.”

It was also reported that military representatives, when asked about the poor conditions of detention, conceded that “there’s a huge infrastructural deficiency, which is why we get the problem we have with the detention facilities.”

Neither the Nigerian government , the police or the military has reacted to the latest Amnesty International reports but Nigerian officials in both the security and criminal justice sectors have always denied or countered allegations of torture or any intentional ill-treatment.

Police authorities deny accusations that torture in police detention centres was routine or common. The report even noted that “The Deputy Inspector- General of Police, in 2013, stated, “We’re guided by international ethics and standards. We don’t tolerate the use of torture or undue force on detainees in our custody. Any police officer found guilty of these allegations will be subjected to disciplinary measures,” the report said.

In its recommendations, Amnesty International asked the Nigerian government to demonstrate “total opposition to torture and other ill – treatment and publicly condemn such practices unreservedly whenever they occur.

It also urged the government to take steps to enact laws that will criminalise torture and ensure that it incorporates the main elements of the United Nations Convention against Torture.

The international watchdog group also want the Nigerian government commits itself to investigating all allegations of torture and other inhuman treatments of prisoners or detainees and the results made public.

It also urged that those found guilty of torture and other ill treatment, “including persons with command responsibility are brought to justice in accordance with international standards for a fair trial without recourse to death penalty.”

Download the full report here

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