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Breaking The Cycle: Prioritizing Rehabilitation & Justice for Victims of Torture in Nigeria

Breaking The Cycle: Prioritizing Rehabilitation & Justice for Victims of Torture in Nigeria

Ruth Soronnadi

Today, we commemorate the International Day in Support of Torture Victims. In the words of the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, ‘Torturers must never be allowed to get away with their crimes and systems that enable torture should be dismantled or transformed’.

The International community through the United Nations has vehemently condemned torture as one of the vilest acts perpetrated by a human being against another. In all relevant instruments, torture is absolutely prohibited and there can be no justification for it.  The absolute prohibition forms part of the customary international law meaning that regardless of whether a State has ratified the international treaty in which torture is expressly prohibited it is binding on every member of the international community.

On 12 December 1997, by resolution 52/149, the UN General Assembly proclaimed 26 June the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture with a view to the total eradication of torture and the effective functioning of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT)

According to UNCAT Art 1, para 1, ‘The term ‘torture’ means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in, or incidental to lawful sanctions.” 

The endpoint of torture is to destroy the victim’s personality, denying the victim his/her right to dignity as a human being. The consequence of this transcends the act on the individual and can be transmitted through generations creating a cycle of violence. Its effects are both physical and psychological. The psychological effects are more severe and cause more long-term damage than the physical effects. Physical effects include scars, headaches, musculoskeletal pains, foot pains, hearing loss, dental pain, visual problems, abdominal pains, cardiovascular/respiratory problems, sexual difficulties, neurological damage, etc. Psychological effects include post-traumatic stress disorders, low self-esteem, nightmares, insomnia, memory loss, difficulty in concentrating, fatigue, anxiety, and depression. 

The incidence of torture though widespread in Nigeria is one that in my opinion has not received enough attention particularly as regards rehabilitation and support for victims of torture. Amongst Nigeria’s security operatives especially, torture is seen to be routine and institutionalized as a means of extracting ‘confessions’ and well as administering ‘deserving’ punishments to detainees. The means and methods of the use of torture in policing are infinite with some security officials building a career around it as Officer in Charge of Torture (O/C Torture). The prevalence of cases of torture was so rampant and documented that it led to a national uprising in October 2020 with the nomenclature #EndSARS.

One would wonder what national legislations have to say about this issue. The 1999 Constitution in Section 34, The Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) (VAPP) Act of 2015, Article 5 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights which is law in Nigeria, and the Anti-Torture Act of 2017 prohibits Torture. However, before the Anti-Torture Act, no local legislation defined torture neither was it a crime in Nigeria. This was sadly so even when torturing animals was a crime as seen in S.394 (1) (a) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State 2011.

The Anti-Torture Act in 2017, a ratification of the UNCAT in Nigeria was a welcome development and as a federal legislation enacted by the National Assembly, its application extends to all states of Nigeria and does not require any further act(s) by the state to make it applicable in their respective jurisdictions for the purpose of enforcement.  Disappointingly, upon close analysis of the Act, it was discovered that there was no provision for the rehabilitation of torture victims, which is as important as the prohibition and criminalization of torture. This is despite the fact the UNCAT in Article 14 clearly stated that ‘Each State party shall ensure in its legal system that the victim of an act of torture obtains redress and has an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation, including the means for as full rehabilitation as possible. In the event of the death of the victim because of an act of torture, his dependants shall be entitled to compensation.

Being a Nigerian commemorating International Day in Support of Torture Victims in 2023, I cannot but look within to examine how far as a nation we have gone with respect to the issue of torture and especially support for the victims and their families.  Following the #ENDSARS protests in 2020, with the directive by the National Economic Council (NEC) panels of enquiry were set up in 28 states to look into numerous allegations of torture. Even though financial compensation is the least in the process of rehabilitation of torture victims only Lagos, Ekiti, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory Abuja actually paid monetary compensation to some victims. As the initial hullabaloo surrounding the #ENDSARS protest and panels of enquiry died so have any further steps to both prosecute the perpetrators and support the victims.

Against the backdrop of numerous and almost unquestionable evidence of torture perpetrated by some security officials, there has been no known prosecution of torture by the Attorney General of the Federal, Abubakar Malami (SAN) to date. In an event organized by the Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption (RoLAC) and Lawyers without Borders (ASF) France as a build-up to the International Day in support of victims of Torture 2022, Prof Chidi Odinakalu, the former chairman of the governing council of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) said that Nigeria as a country condones torture and is doing nothing to condone it. One year after, with the statuesque sadly still being maintained, I lend my voice in full credence to his statement.

It is good to make laws but better to implement them. One can only imagine the pain that families who lost their loved ones to torturous acts or victims of torture maimed for life, physically, sexually, and psychologically abused are still going through especially as their perpetrators still strut the streets untouched. Justice is said to be done when it is such that is manifestly seen to be done.

My recommendations on this issue remain that the Anti-Torture Act of 2017 which is the primary legislation on Torture in Nigeria should first be amended to include clear provisions on rehabilitation for torture victims in line with international best practices. As a short-term measure, the government can include rehabilitation in the standard operating guideline for the implementation of the existing law on torture.

Secondly, the government should work with her institutions like the courts, the National Human Rights Commission, Legal Aid Council as well as International and local NGOs to see that justice is served to perpetrators of torture and set up rehabilitation centers with professionals who will see to the physical, psychological and emotional well-being of torture victims and their families in every State of the Federation. Beyond setting up rehabilitation centers, systems should be put in place to monitor their effectiveness with progress reports containing clear statistics of impact.

Ruth Soronnadi is a Lawyer, Chartered Mediator, YALI Fellow and Administrator. She has an LLM with Distinction in International Law and Human Rights. She is interested in public speaking & advocacy, policy making and analysis, strategic planning, human resource management for the government and international organizations.

Other articles by the same author can be found here and here

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1 Comment
Ozioma Mercy

Brilliant write up. An interesting read.
I do hope the relevant authorities can take the recommendations mentioned and act fast on it. Humans should be treated with dignity and torture in any form or manner is not dignifying in anyway.

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