Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Fed Govt’s Denial Of Amnesty International Report On Use Of Torture By Nigeria Police

(pix: nairaland) 

By Okechukwu Nwanguma
Reports in several Nigerian newspapers of September 23, 2014 quoted Dr. S. S. Ameh, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and the Chairman of the National Committee Against Torture (NCAT), as having dismissed the recent report by Amnesty International (AI) entitled ‘Welcometo Hell-Torture and other ill-treatment in Nigeria’.

The AI’s report which documented the widespread use of torture by Nigerian Police Force, based on factual and credible evidence gathered over a period of ten years, was released on September 18, 2014.

The report stated inter alia, that “Nigeria's police and military routinely torture women, men, and children – some as young as 12 ... Across the country, the scope and severity of torture inflicted on Nigeria's women, men and children by the authorities [that are] supposed to protect them is shocking to even the most hardened human rights observer.”

It further, rightly observed that “Torture is not even a criminal offence in Nigeria’’ and urged that ‘The country’s parliament must immediately take this long overdue step and pass a law criminalizing torture. There is no excuse for further delay.”

Suleiman Abba, Nigeria's Inspector-General of Police

One of the news reports, following a press conference addressed by Dr. S.S. Ameh in  response to the Amnesty report, quoted him as having described the AI’s report as ‘mischievous’ and a “campaign of calumny”. Another news report quoted him as having said that “the report was deliberately negative.”

Prior to Dr. Ameh, the Nigeria Police, through the Force PRO, Mr. Emmanuel Ojukwu, in reaction to the same AI report, had also dismissed it as “blatant falsehood and innuendoes.”

According to Mr. Ojukwu: “While we do not question the freedom of Amnesty International to earn its relevance and bread, the Nigeria Police 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…  We do not target sex workers nor routinely adopt rape as a weapon…”

While the earlier denial by the Nigeria police authorities could be understood as falling in line with a familiar pattern of denial by the police authorities, instead of admitting and tackling obvious problems, the denial by Dr. Ameh is not only shocking, but makes a mockery of both his personality, his committee and the Nigerian government which he purports to defend but which has previously acknowledged these problems and promised to address them. But as the report by AI and previous reports by local and other international organisations demonstrate, the government has allowed the abuses to continue, and there is virtually no accountability for them.

Okechukwu Nwanguma (pix:TheNiche)

Dr. Ameh’s was therefore a fruitless and self-ridiculing effort to defend the indefensible. It is a denial that flies in the face of the obvious and overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Dr. Ameh is Chairman of the National Committee Against Torture, an interagency committee set up by the Federal Ministry of Justice in 2009 to monitor Nigeria’s compliance with its obligations under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against torture.

Between June 2010 and August 2011, Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN), in collaboration with National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and National Committee Against Torture (NCAT) traversed the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria and convened Public Hearings on Police Abuses in Nigeria.
At the Public Tribunal on Police Abuse in Nigeria organised by  NOPRIN in collaboration with NHRC and NCAT held at Merit House, Maitama, Abuja from Thursday 10th to Friday 11th June, 2010, members of the panel were:

1. Dr. S. S. Ameh SAN (Chairman)
Chairman, National Committee Against Torture (NCAT)

2. Mrs.  Dupe Atoki
Commissioner and Nigerian Representative at the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights

3. Mr.  Z. O. Senbanjo
Director of Legal Services and Protection, National Human Rights Commission, NHRC

4. Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin
President, Campaign for Democracy, (CD)


A total of thirteen (13) victims of police abuse or their representatives attended the hearing and testified. Nine (9) were victims of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; while four (4) were victims of extra- judicial killings.

At the end of the hearing, Dr. Ameh, Chairman of the panel, read out the communique which said in part: “It was agreed that:

1. The Public Tribunal  has been  most useful and  should be done on a regular basis;

2. That the proceedings should be made available to the highest authorities, namely the Hon. Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, the Hon. Minister of Police Affairs, the Chairman Police Service Commission, and the Inspector General of Police for further action.

3. That the courts be strengthened by way of obedience to court orders

4. That the Chairman of the Panel (who is also the Chairman of the National Committee Against Torture) should follow up on the recommendations of the Panel with all the appropriate government agencies.

One of the Panel's recommendations in respect of one of the cases of torture that was heard at that tribunal read thus:
“…physical and psychological torture of the victim by the police in Makurdi has made him to lose touch with reality; he is now a shadow of himself; he can neither now articulate nor reason properly, even hardly eats…” – Abuja Public Tribunal for the North Central Zone, 2010, Panel Finding on Moses Ver Aku, 25 years old victim of torture, who was present at the tribunal but represented by his brother, Pastor Triumph Aku

Another recommendation at the same hearing read thus:

“SARS in Abuja and other parts of Nigeria have gained embarrassing notoriety tainting the image of the Nigerian Police locally and internationally, and should either be scrapped or comprehensively reformed to conform to modern standards of policing or human rights- compliant policing.” – Abuja Tribunal, 2010: Panel Recommendation after several testimonies implicating police personnel at SARS, Abattoir, Abuja in incidences of torture and killings.

At the end of the Tribunal in Owerri for the Southeast Zone where a representative of NCAT was also at the Panel, the Communiqué read thus, in part:

“The IGP should as a matter of urgency reorganise SARS and the entire anti-robbery operations of the Nigeria police, so as to insulate them from abuse of office as in this case. The police in SARS, Enugu and many other places in the south east are being used by politicians and other influential persons to victimise their opponents or to settle disputes that are purely civil or communal.”— Owerri Public Tribunal for the Southeast Zone 2010, Panel Recommendation on several allegations of torture against police personnel at SARS Enugu, particularly, the notorious O/C SARS Jude Agbanajelo.

We, therefore, find it perplexing that Dr. Ameh could, after all the foregoing efforts and findings which he has been part of, come out boldly to deny that the Nigeria police commit torture and that Amnesty’s report is mischievous and a campaign of calumny.

Considering that Dr. Ameh as Chairman of the NCAT did not follow up on any of the cases that came to his attention at the various public hearings between 2010 and 2011 (besides several other previous and recent cases of police abuse reported daily in the newspapers), but now prefers to do public relations and image laundry for the Nigeria police and government, it is not therefore, difficult to conclude that the so-called National Committee Against Torture is moribund and has never functioned well. It was clearly meant to launder the government's image.

There is no evidence that Dr. Ameh’s committee has undertaken any independent inquiry into torture despite widespread reports, or visited any place of detention, or issued any report on torture in Nigeria. From the beginning, the Federal ministry of justice has not supported the committee. To our knowledge, the committee last met in 2010.  So what's the factual basis for the chairman to say openly that the Nigeria police do not use torture in criminal investigations?

We are aware that several Nigerian civil society groups have entirely endorsed the AI report and have indicated that they will soon commence series of litigation to seek judicial redress for those survivors identified in the report.

NOPRIN and its 47 member-organisations spread across Nigeria also endorse the AI report in its entirety.

The fact that members of the Nigeria police use torture as their primary means of investigation is one that every police officer in Nigeria admits in all NOPRIN’s interactions with low rank police officers. They only tend to rationalise or justify their resort to torture on the grounds that they know no other means of investigating crime. A good number of Nigerian police officers do not even know that torture is prohibited by Nigeria's Constitution and that it is a crime under regional and international instruments that Nigeria subscribes to. This is a clear indication of a serious gap in police training and doctrine.

In its report “Criminal Force: Torture, Abuse, and Extrajudicial Killings by the Nigeria Police Force,” published in 2010, following its national survey on the patterns and prevalence of police abuse in Nigeria, NOPRIN had stated that “Police in Nigeria commit extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, and extortion with relative impunity. Nigeria Police Force (NPF) personnel routinely carry out summary executions of persons accused or suspected of crime; rely on torture as a principal means of investigation; commit rape of both sexes, with a particular focus on sex workers; and engage in extortion at nearly every opportunity.

The report further found that “Lacking the capacity to conduct proper criminal investigations, the NPF relies instead on torture to elicit ‘confessions.’ This practice is so common that many police stations have a person on staff who oversees the torture of detainees and a room set aside for the practice; NPF personnel even have their own slang for various methods of torture. The police use many forms of brutality, including sexual violence against detainees and suspects.”

The Presidential Committee on Police Reform set up in 2006 by then President Obasanjo, in its main Report, Vol II, 31 also emphasised the fact that without the infrastructure and skills to support criminal investigation, the NPF is institutionally unable to respect the presumption of innocence nor maintain credible crime records. Instead, “they now resort to parading suspects in handcuffs and others killed by them extra-judicially, such as armed robbers to impress the general public that they are working, when, at this stage, the innocence of the suspects should be presumed and their human rights protected by the Police.” The effect of this is a tradition of compromised investigations and unsuccessful prosecutions, which the Nigerian Supreme Court (in Joseph Idowu v. The State [2000] 12 Nigerian Weekly Law Report (part 680) 48 at 82) has noted, results “in acquittal of criminals who should have been convicted.”

Many former detainees who were lucky to escape death from torture or outright execution at the Special Anti Robbery Squad, Awkuzu, Anambra State told NOPRIN that on entering Cell 5, known in SARS as ‘Condemned Cell’, you are first confronted with a bold inscription on the wall ‘Welcome to hell’. It is therefore not the opinion of AI that many Nigeria police stations have torture chambers which by evidence available at those stations, are 'hell'.

Since the police also denied that they use rape as a weapon, we challenge them to make public the outcome of their investigation into the case of alleged rape of a female detainee by the former DPO of Onikan Police station, Lagos Mr. Adekunle Awe on April 14, 2014.

Okechukwu Nwanguma
National Coordinator

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