Statement by RULAAC on International Day in Support of Victims of Torture 2020

Violence and torture are intrinsic to the way the Nigeria Police Force conducts its work. They are active at every point of contact with the Police – at routine checks, through arrest, interrogation and detention. This “gratuitous violence’ – as Access to Justice describes it in Breaking Point – a 2005 report- ‘has the effect of intimidating the suspect and weakening or, in some cases, even breaking whatever spirit he has even before the proper interrogation process”, thus making the detainee more than likely to comply with the bidding of the Police.

The Report: Criminal Force: Torture, Abuse, and Extrajudicial Killings by the Nigeria Police Force (2010) found that most violations associated with Police operations in Nigeria depend on this need to break the spirit of the suspect or detainee. An elaborate system of torture exists to serve this goal. Every major Police station, for instance, has a torture chamber and an officer known as “O/C (officer in charge) Torture” with a workshop or torture chamber entirely of his own, who has at his disposal an interminable number of options for dispensing suffering and eliciting the confessions that are the principal means of Police investigation in Nigeria.

Until 2017 when Nigeria enacted the Anti-Torture Act, Nigerian law did not define or criminalise torture but only prohibited the admission in evidence of any confessional statements obtained by means of torture or similar coercion.

The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, in Chapter IV (Fundamental Rights), sections 33, 34, 35 prohibits torture and guarantees the right to life and the right to respect for dignity of the person including the right not to be subjected to torture. It provides for, inter alia, rights to life, dignity, personal liberty, a fair hearing, private and family life, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of expression and the press, peaceful assembly and association, freedom of movement and freedom from discrimination.

Section 34 (1) (a): no person shall be subject to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment.

Nigeria ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) on 29 October 1993, the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment (Torture Convention) on 28 June 2001, and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights in 1983. All of which prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by law enforcement and state agents.

In July 2009, the Nigerian Government ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OP-CAT) . However, the government is yet to domesticate it. Although it established the National Committee on Torture as a National Preventive Mechanism to monitor Nigeria’s compliance with its obligations under the Convention this committee, like other institutions responsible for investigations into allegations of torture and/or ill-treatment lack the political and financial suport to function independently and effectively.

The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, in Section 12 requires that international treaties must be specifically adopted into domestic law in order to be directly enforceable within the country. Neither the ICCPR nor the Torture Convention has been specifically adopted into domestic law in Nigeria.

The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which is part of Nigeria’s domestic law, in Article 5, similarly prohibits torture. Nigeria adopted the Charter into its domestic law through the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, Chapter 10, laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990. Nigeria indicates its acceptance of this principle by firmly prohibiting torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment in Section 34(1) (a) of its 1999 Constitution.

While Nigeria’s ratification of both Convention against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights does not automatically make either legal instrument domestically applicable in Nigeria, it is nevertheless significant in defining the scope of legal norms that Nigeria desires to be associated with internationally.

Impunity among those in the security forces is one of the biggest single obstacles to the reduction of torture and other serious abuses by police in Nigeria. Deeply engrained societal attitudes that accept police torture and other abuses as legitimate tools to combat crime help sustain this impunity. For many Nigerians who have experienced decades of oppression and brutality by military rulers, the use of violence by the institutions of the state is accepted, even seen as normal. One female detainee who had been brutally beaten in Lagos told Human Rights Watch in Lagos, March 9, 2005: “Of course the police will torture, that is their work. If they see suspects, they must torture.” Even when they know the police action was wrong, indeed illegal, those interviewed often described feeling utterly powerless to seek redress. The fact that in all but a handful of cases, there was no accountability for violations committed by the individual police officer no doubt emboldened the perpetrators and has perpetuated the culture of violence in the Nigerian Police Force.

The right not to be tortured or subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment are fundamental to human dignity, as well as to democracy and the rule of law. Torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment are prohibited in international law.

RULAAC considers torture to be an abhorrent violation of human rights and human dignity, and consistently and unreservedly condemns the practice.

On this day of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture RULAAC joins the global human rights community in commemorating this day and to affirm its stance in solidarity with victims and survivors of torture.

We renew our commitment to contribute to national and international efforts to prevent torture

We call for greater adherence by Nigerian government and law enforcement agencies to domestic and international human rights standards in criminal justice systems.

We call on Nigerian government to commit to ensuring that legal frameworks to prevent and prohibit torture not only exist but are enforced, with particular focus on pre-trial detention or the police.

We call for increased political will and capacity to prevent and prohibit torture, including the domestication and implementation of CAT and OPCAT.

We call for support for civil society efforts to hold states to account, including by providing the training needed by organisations on the ground, to enhance their expertise to prevent torture.

Okechukwu Nwanguma
Executive Director

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