The Bill to further define acts of torture failed at NASS and we know why

Senate votes against defining acts that constitute torture and degrading treatment.

Yes – 76

No – 9

Abstain – 1

Total votes – 86

Total registered votes – 92

The bill has failed.

We followed the voting on Constitutional amendment on Premium Times and this one caught our attention. We also saw the tweet on the House of Assembly’s handle.

The Bill failed at the Senate too.

It was not an opportunity to say ‘we’re finished, they don’t care about us’. It was a time to review what is in the 1999 Constitution as per ‘torture, inhuman or degrading treatment’.

The Nigerian Constitution guarantees the right to life and the right to respect for the dignity of the person including the right not to be subjected to torture.

International conventions ratified by Nigeria, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the United Nations (U.N.) Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, also prohibit the use of torture.

The U.N. Convention says 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 is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or 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.”

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Section 34 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria adopted in 1999, and amended in 2010, includes the following provisions: 

(1) Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person, and accordingly –
(a) no person shall be subject to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment;
(b) no person shall be held in slavery or servitude; and
(c) no person shall be required to perform forced of compulsory labour.

Though, the Constitution did not explicitly state that freedom from torture, cruel and inhuman treatment is a non-derogable right.

The Anti-Torture Act 2017, passed by the 8th National Assembly and signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari on December 29, 2017, fills the existing legislative gaps by explicitly making the right to freedom from torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment a non-derogable right, criminalising torture and protecting victims and witnesses of torture.

The Anti-torture Act 2017 was praised by many quarters, as the National Assembly dealt a serious blow to the practice of torture.

Section 7 of the Act:

“a person” who participates in the infliction of torture or who is present during the commission of the act is liable as the principal; a superior military police or law enforcement officer or senior government official who issues an order to a lower ranking personnel to torture a victim for whatever purpose is equally liable as the principal the immediate commanding officer of the unit concerned of the security or law enforcement agencies is held liable as an accessory to the crime for any act or omission or negligence on his part that may have led to the commission of torture by his subordinates.

The only challenge, however, has been enforcement.

In a 2014 report, Amnesty International showed concerns about the increasing use of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in Nigeria. Their research indicated that police and military personnel routinely use torture and other ill-treatment to extract information and “confessions” and to punish and exhaust detainees. In contravention of national and international law, information extracted by torture and ill-treatment is routinely accepted as evidence in court.

Before then, in 2005, Human Rights Watch’s research shows a clear pattern of widespread torture of suspects in police custody, sometimes resulting in the victim’s death. The 2017 Anti-Torture Act was, therefore, overdue.

But, the situation has hardly changed, and even stories from the #EndSARS protests narrates this better.

In 2021, The Rule of Law And Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC) says Nigeria has failed to fulfil its voluntarily undertaken obligations under regional and international human rights and humanitarian laws prohibiting torture. The group also called to enforce the Anti-Torture Law of Nigeria (2017), a law that prohibits torture, cruel treatment of individuals.

Okechukwu Nwanguma, Executive Director of RULAAC, in a statement commemorating the 2021 International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, said,

“The Nigerian Constitution prohibits torture. The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act prohibits and criminalises torture.

“The Anti-Torture Act was passed and signed into law in 2017. The Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), which repealed and replaced the colonial Criminal Act and Criminal Code, was passed in 2015 after Lagos had passed the Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL) in 2007 and revised it in 2011. Many other states have followed suit by adapting and passing versions of the ACJL in their various states.

“The violence against persons (Prohibition) Act was passed in 2015. The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was passed in 1981; Nigeria ratified it without reservation in 1985, signed the Optional Protocol in 2000 and ratified it in 2004. Nigeria has also domesticated the Child Rights Act

“The new Police Act passed and signed into law in 2020 also criminalises and expressly prohibits the use of torture by the police. The framework of legal standards on policing in Nigeria also includes international laws and treaties and laws accepted by or applicable to Nigeria as a member of the international community.

“Despite these enactments, commitments, reforms and ‘revolutionary changes’ in criminal justice laws and legislation, the practice of torture remains widespread in law enforcement practices in Nigeria just as lawlessness and violence remain the defining features of national life in Nigeria.”

He said the culture of torture was inherited from colonial police and has not been eliminated from the books.

“Many police officers still believe that torture is a legitimate means of interrogation. Many citizens also leave with the wrong notion that torture is a standard and legitimate way to extract the truth.”

The Bill for an Act to alter the provisions on torture, inhuman or degrading treatment would strengthen the current provisions and force ‘torturers’ and ‘enablers’ to do better, but it has been thrown out.

The argument may just be that any law that gives that kind of power to question acts of torture or degrading treatment is anti-despotic. Remember that Nigerians like to say/act ‘do you know who I am?’.

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