Whether targeting a Boko Haram suspect, an alleged criminal, a sex worker, or simply part of a minority group, a new Amnesty International report highlights how torture is endemic in Nigeria as the police and military routinely use it to extract confessions, extort money and to break the will of detainees.
The report, entitled ‘Welcome to Hell Fire’, claims torture has become widespread in the police and military hunt for members of Boko Haram – a militant Islamic group, branded as a terrorist organisation by the US, responsible for a string of attacks and death since 2009 including the Chibok Kidnapping on 276 schoolgirls in April 2014.
The report shows that the pursuit of Boko Haram has led to the torture of many suspects who have no ties to the group at all. Because of this campaign, torture has become routine. The report claims that, as a minimum, 5,000 people have been detained since 2009 when military operations began against Boko Haram. While the level of torture victims from this group cannot be fully determined, Amnesty spoke to 500 detainees, their relatives and human rights defenders, all confirming either they had been tortured or they know a detainee who has.
Consequently detainees and ordinary criminal suspects experience torture “as the main interrogation tactic… despite assurances from the Nigerian government to prevent the use of torture.” Torture practices include beatings, rape and other sexual violence, shooting to legs and arms and periods of time laid on beds of nails.
Torture in Nigeria has long been known by the IRCT, the effects of which continue to be addressed by Nigerian IRCT member Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA).
To illustrate the prevalence of torture, the effects of torture and the journey through rehabilitation necessary in just one case, we turn to the story of Leo – a 27-year-old concert-goer who, after happening to stumble across the scene of an earlier robbery in the city of Nsukka, experienced four-months of suffering as the police tortured him repeatedly for a crime which he was not even part of.
Leo’s story: “I do not know now why I was tortured”
Leo, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, was travelling to the city of Nsukka, in south-eastern Nigeria, hoping for a relaxing evening with friends at a music event.
On his way to the venue, Leo was approached by four security officials who claimed to recognise him from a robbery that occurred just prior to Leo’s arrival.
“The security forces were looking for a group of hoodlums who had just fled the scene next to the concert venue, and I was accused of being part of the gang,” says Leo. “I tried to explain that I had only just arrived in town, but the explanations fell on deaf ears.
“It was then that the four security guards turned on me and began to beat me,” explains Leo, who still has painful memories of his torture.
Leo’s beating escalated from punches and kicks to being hit with sticks, a shovel and even an iron. The torture continued over a period of a few hours.
“They beat me with whatever they could find nearby,” says Leo. “I had injuries all over my body. I was cut, bleeding and bruised. The pain was unbearable. I could not walk for days afterwards.”
After the beating, an unconscious Leo was taken to the local police station where he was detained, charged with robbery offences and transferred to nearby Nsukka prison, where he spent four months awaiting trial.
Leo does not recall torture while in detention and was released in May 2012 after police could not establish enough evidence against him.
“I do not know now why I was tortured,” says Leo. “I was not part of the crime scene at all and still feel shocked about the attack now, even though it was so brief.”
While in custody, Leo was approached by the team from IRCT member PRAWA, who offered counselling as a way for Leo to talk about the attack.
“The people from PRAWA helped me talk about my experience while I was in prison,” says Leo. “They understood what had happened and encouraged me to talk. They also helped to treat me for my injuries while I was in prison and offered me counselling during my time in prison and when I was released.
“My attackers are wicked people, but counselling has helped come to terms with the attack. I still see the PRAWA psychologist today to talk about any issues I have related to the attack. The attack left me feeling confused, hurt and scared. PRAWA have helped to restore my pride, and my trust in others.”
Now a labourer on a building site, Leo is thankful for his rehabilitation.
“I still feel some pains in my legs due to my injuries and my sexual life has not been the same since due to the injuries I received in the beating,” says Leo.
“But I would say that I am much better than before I met the team at PRAWA. It is good that centres like this exist, and that some people care about helping those who have been tortured regain their lives. I only hope more groups exist to fight torture in society and to provide treatments for victims like me.”