Horrific tales from Nigeria's torture chambers

2014-09-19
THE NATION Newspaper- Olukorede Yishau


When the young man identified as Chinwe appeared at the news conference in Abuja where Amnesty International presented a report entitled “Welcome to hell fire”: Torture and other ill-treatment in Nigeria, she had no good news to tell. The report details how people are often detained in large dragnet operations and tortured as punishment, to extort money or to extract “confessions” as a shortcut to “solve” cases.

The report was compiled from hundreds of testimonies and evidence gathered over 10 years. It exposes the use of police torture chambers and laments the absence legislation outlawing the violation.

Chinwe’s experience was particularly instructive and sad. Police arrested him at the hotel where he works on July 31, last year. The reason for the invasion of the hotel was the discovery of two guns and a human skull. He was taken away and stripped him. Eleven other employees of the hotel were also taken. They were given the beating of their lives and placed them in an unventilated police van and left it in direct sunlight for five hours.

The next day, they were moved to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad’s centre in Awkuzu, Anambra state.

In Chinwe’s words: “I was thrown inside a cell. I noticed a written sign on the wall “Welcome to hell fire”… 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 the ceiling tops, bags of sand elevated on the 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… I saw buckets of water on standby in case anybody faints or opts to die before appending (their) signature to already written statements.”

He was questioned by four officers who tied his hands and legs, passed a rod between them and elevated him from a perimeter wall. They poured water on him whenever he passed out from the pain.

Chinwe was charged with murder and remanded in custody. He has since been freed on bail and is awaiting trial.

The report also documented the case of a vendor identified as Musa. The Yobe State-born man, according to Amnesty International, was arrested on October 7, 2012 by the Joint Task Force (JTF), who stormed his village in search of Boko Haram members. Over 180 other people were arrested.

Musa, according to Amnesty International, and the others were taken to a detention centre in Potiskum. The centre is known as the ‘rest house’. He said soldiers forced him and six other men into a deep hole in the ground.

Amnesty said: “The bottom of the hole was littered with broken glass and Musa and the others had to stand barefoot on the glass.

“Musa said he spent three days in the hole. He discovered one of the other men had already been there for three days. The man’s hands were tied behind his back and his skin was peeling off because the cable his hands were tied with had been doused in acid. His body was covered in blood. According to Musa, the soldiers would also periodically pour cold water or hot melted plastic on them while they were in the hole.

“Afterwards Musa was transferred to Damaturu camp, known as ‘Guantanamo’, where he was left for three days without food or drink. Musa says soldiers walked on detainees in their boots, beat them in the morning, and kept them in unventilated cells all day. He estimated that one or two people died in the camp every day as a result of the treatment.

“Musa was eventually released from the camp without charge, but had to flee his home for fear that he would be picked up and tortured again.”

The report quoted a former soldier who served at Damaturu as confirming how torture was used at the ‘rest house’.

The soldier was quoted as saying: “…An electrified baton is used on a person to make them talk. People have also been tied up([outdoors) for long periods, their limbs tied to the wire around the basketball court. They tie people with their hands stretched behind their arms (Tabay)… people kept like that for six or seven hours lose their hands, people kept like that much longer can even die. The interrogators also shot many people in the knees, or use sticks to beat them…”

Whata 24-year old woman, Abosede, saw after she was arrested by police in Lagos last November 18 is not only pathetic but mind-blowing. She lost five months on suspicion of theft. She told Amnesty she was repeatedly sexually assaulted in custody. She and other women there were branded ‘prostitutes’ and ‘robbers’.

Tear gas was sprayed into her vagina, according to the report. The torture made her bleed severally, but she was never taken to the hospital. She was eventually charged with theft and remanded in custody at Kirikiri prison. She is still awaiting trial now, ten months after her arrest.

In Abosede’s words: “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 still feel pain in my womb.”

Mahmood, 15 from Yobe State, was arrested by soldiers. About 50 other boys, between 13 and 19, were seized with him. They were held for three weeks, beaten and made to walk and roll over broken bottles. He added that he was forced to watch other detainees being executed extra-judicially. He was released in April last year.

Amnesty International said the police and military routinely torture women, men, and children using beatings, shootings and rape.

Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director Netsanet Belay said: “This goes far beyond the appalling torture and killing of suspected Boko Haram members. Across the country, the scope and severity of torture inflicted on Nigeria’s women, men and children by the authorities supposed to protect them is shocking to even the most hardened human rights observer.

“Torture is not even a criminal offence in Nigeria. The country’s parliament must immediately take this long overdue step and pass a law criminalising torture. There is no excuse for further delay.”

Belay went on: “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.

“Torture happens on this scale partly because no one, including in the chain of command, is being held accountable. Nigeria needs a radical change of approach, to suspend all officers against whom there are credible allegations of torture, to thoroughly investigate those allegations and to ensure that suspected torturers are brought to justice.”

“Our message to the Nigerian authorities today is clear – criminalise torture, end incommunicado detention and fully investigate allegations of abuse.

“That would mark an important first step towards ending this abhorrent practice. It’s high time the Nigerian authorities show they can be taken seriously on this issue.”

The group said torture has become an integral part of policing in many police stations, with an informal “Officer in Charge of Torture” or O/C Torture who are experts in nail or tooth extractions, choking, electric shocks and sexual violence.

Significantly, police have always denied such allegations, but no matter their denial, victims still come out to tell their stories.

In a statement yesterday, Force spokesman, Emmanuel Ojukwu said the report contained blatant falsehoods and innuendoes.

“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.

“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 said.

The statement clarified that torture or ill-treatment is not an official policy of the Nigeria Police, adding that the Code of Conduct for police personnel prohibits torture.

“We are versed with international best practices, and the dictates of the Nigerian Constitution as regards human rights. So the Police do not routinely torture suspects.

“It is not systemic or endemic. Whenever instances of human rights abuses are brought to the notice of superintending officers, the offending personnel are promptly sanctioned in line with the laws and regulations.

“For the avoidance of doubt, Nigeria Police Force has a zero tolerance for corruption and abuse of power. There is no immunity for impunity in Nigeria Police Force.

“Besides, the Nigeria Police is women-friendly. We do 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”.

With this kind of denial, it is doubtful if the security agencies will treat suspects as not guilty until proven otherwise.

 

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