For decades now, torture has remained a subject of foremost concern in Nigeria. Till date, torture remains a tool commonly utilised by security and law enforcement agencies for the interrogation, coercion, intimidation and punishment of crime suspects and detainees.
Torture is the intentional infliction of severe mental and physical pains or suffering, by or with the approval of state agents. Torture breaks people’s bodies and minds, rips apart communities and destroys democratic institutions and the rule of law. Torture manifests in different ways – beatings, electric shocks, deprivation of food/water while in custody, sticking of objects – like needles – in genitals, sexual assaults and rape, denial of life-saving medical treatment among a host of others. Most of these acts are committed against persons who are in some form of custody.
Nigeria is a signatory to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman Punishments. However, in spite of this commitment, the use of torture persisted within our national systems, and still does. And the problem was that, until recently, although the use of torture was prohibited under the Constitution, torture was not a criminal offence in Nigeria. This meant that torture could hardly be prosecuted.
In December 2017, the ground shifted, and Nigeria substantiated her commitment under the UN Convention against Torture. On that day, President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the Anti-Torture Act (ATA) of 2017.
Today, as Nigeria battles a host of deadly crimes – insurgency, terrorism, banditry, kidnappings etc. -, public anxiety and the desire for retribution or deterrence may instigate harsh and brutal actions against those perceived as enemies of the State or criminals. But that temptation must be vigorously resisted. Torture is never, and will never be okay. That is the message the world is passing today. Torture punishes innocence! It is often used against the weak. The right not to be tortured or mistreated is not expendable even in difficult times, but is worth defending by every society.
Today, we use the occasion of the International Day for Support to Victims of Torture to applaud President Buhari’s government for taking the bold step of domesticating the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment. However, given how entrenched the use of torture has become in our country, and how in fact, its use is justified as “proper and needful” to fight crime and insecurity by many members of our law enforcement and security units, the struggle to end torture in Nigeria has only just begun.
We realize the anti-torture struggle will be long and arduous, but we must collectively, resolve to win it no matter how daunting it is. That is why we need the partnership of all Nigerians, particularly the media, civil society, the heads of law enforcement and security forces, faith communities, national and international humanitarian organizations to join us in this campaign. Some of the messages we have developed to enlighten Nigerian people about the Anti Torture Act 2017 and the Violence against Persons 2015 will be shared with you. Kindly spread these messages widely so that by enlightening people about these new tools for confronting impunity, we can educate those who still continue to degrade human life, and wean them off that culture of violence; so that we move our society beyond the atrocities of the past and present, to a new future; a future that respects the dignity of all human life.
Also, the preventive mechanisms set out in the Anti-Torture Act such as regular monitoring of detention facilities, effective oversight and speedy justice delivery have not been fully deployed to facilitate the prevention of torture. It is imperative that those who are saddled with the responsibility to enforce the provisions of the Act should work assiduously towards ensuring its full and comprehensive implementation.
- We call on the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to accelerate the process for the approval of the Implementing Rules and Regulations for the Anti-Torture Act in line with Section 12 of the Act. The Rules and Regulations we hope, will boost the fight against torture, and give teeth to the substantive law.
- There is a real risk that law enforcement and security agencies will not willingly handover their operatives who commit acts of torture over for prosecution. We urge the Attorney General of the Federation to establish in the Rules and Regulations the duty of every agency to handover anyone against whom allegations of torture have been made, to an investigative body – such as the National Human Rights Commission – for effective investigation, and where the allegations are established, to appropriate institutions for prosecution.
We call on all heads of law enforcement and investigative agencies to establish special departments in their agencies to:
- conduct training for members of their respective organizations on the Act
- monitor their members’ compliance with the Anti-Torture Act;
- investigate alleged contraventions of the provisions Act,
- refer cases to the appropriate institutions for prosecution.
4 We urge the Federal Government to provide the resources that will enable the National Committee against Torture (NCAT) to function effectively. We regret that NCAT has not been able to discharge its functions as well as it ought to.
- The National Human Rights Commission and Civil Society Organizations must continue to identify and increase interventions in cases of torture and sustain the campaign to end torture in Nigeria.
- We call on the Nigerian Judiciary to do more to eradicate the use of torture in the judicial system, and to hold accountable those who perpetrate it. The limited role the Judiciary has played so far has contributed significantly to Nigeria’s weak protection of the rights to be free from torture. Where law enforcement officials are proved to have engaged in torture, the Judiciary should refer such persons to appropriate authorities, for further investigation and trial.
- Government at all levels, Civil Society Organizations and the Media must carry out proactive campaigns to popularize and sensitize members of the general public on the Anti-Torture Act.
Finally, we offer solidarity and support to victims of torture worldwide. Today, the world remembers the injustices suffered by them, and the trauma many of them live with. We also offer solidarity to relatives of victims of torture who died following the ordeals they were subjected to. We believe their deaths have shown to the world why torture ought to be eradicated completely. It is to all victims of torture that the world dedicates this day.
- Access to Justice
- Avocats Sans Frontières France /Lawyers Without Borders
- National Committee Against Torture
- Prisoners’ Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA)
- Sterling Centre for Law & Development
- Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre
- Center for Liberty
- Adopt A Goal for Development Initiative
- Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution
- Carmelite Prisoners’ Interest Organization (CAPIO)
- Lasisi Abdulhadi
- Human Right Advocacy and Monitoring Group. (HURAMG)
- Global Rights
- Nneka Egbuna
- Let’s Help Humanitarian Foundation
- Centre for Impact Advocacy
- Silverchip Fox
- Concerned Nigerians
- Education as a Vaccine
- Raising New Voices Initiative
- International Peace and Civic Responsibility Centre (IPCRC)
- Centre for Liberty
- Centre Against Injustice & Domestic Violence
- Public Enlightenment Projects
- Human Rights Social Development and Environmental Foundation
- EiE Nigeria
- Community Outreach for Development and Welfare Advocacy
- Foundation for Environmental Rights, Advocacy & Development (FENRAD Nigeria)