Nigeria’s torture chambers exposed in new report

Nigeria’s police and military routinely torture women, men, and children – some as young as 12 – using a wide range of methods including beatings, shootings and rape, Amnesty International said in a new report published today.

“Welcome to hell fire”: Torture and other ill-treatment in Nigeria 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.

“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,” said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director.

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

Compiled from hundreds of testimonies and evidence gathered over 10 years, the report exposes the institutionalized use of police torture chambers and routine abuses by the military in a country that prohibits torture in its constitution but has yet to pass legislation outlawing the violation.

The report also reveals how most of those detained are held incommunicado – denied access to the outside world, including lawyers, families and courts.

Torture has become such an integral part of policing in Nigeria that many police stations have an informal “Officer in Charge of Torture” or O/C Torture. They use an alarming array of techniques, including nail or tooth extractions, choking, electric shocks and sexual violence.

In one illustrative incident Abosede, aged 24, told Amnesty International how sickening police abuse left her with a permanent injury:

“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.”

Nigeria’s military is committing similar human rights violations, detaining thousands as they search for Boko Haram members.

Mahmood, a 15 year old boy from Yobe state, was arrested by soldiers with around 50 other people, mainly boys between 13 and 19 years old. He told Amnesty International that the military held him for three weeks, beat him repeatedly with their gun butts, batons and machetes, poured melting plastic on his back, made him walk and roll over broken bottles and forced him to watch other detainees being extra-judicially executed. He was eventually released in April 2013.

Military in Yobe state even arrested and beat a 12 year old boy, poured alcohol on him, forced him to clean vomit with his bare hands and trod on him.

“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,” said Netsanet Belay.

“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.”

In most of the torture allegations against Nigerian state security forces documented by Amnesty International, no proper investigations were carried out and no measures were taken to bring suspected perpetrators to justice.

When internal investigations within the police or the military do take place, the findings are not made public and the recommendations rarely implemented. Of the hundreds of cases researched by Amnesty International, not one victim of torture or other ill-treatment was compensated or received other reparation from the Nigerian government.

The Nigerian government is aware of the problem and has set up at least five Presidential Committees and working groups over the last decade on reforming the criminal justice system and eradicating torture. However, the implementation of these recommendations has been painfully slow.

“Our message to the Nigerian authorities today is clear – criminalize torture, end incommunicado detention and fully investigate allegations of abuse,” Netsanet Belay said.

“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.”