Rebuilding lives: Strategies to help victims of Torture
Torture appeared due to the need to find a victim in the name of society and God. Such justifications function as suppression or prevention of the feeling of injustice in society and cause the thought of punishment among all members of society. In this respect, it has always been easy to justify all kinds of vandalism, and for centuries, most violent investigations and torments have been defended and put into practice (Gökdağ, 2016).
Over time, harmful means to extract information from suspected culprits have existed despite such measures being dehumanizing and barbaric. These harmful practices are rampant, notwithstanding different human rights policies and declarations. Nigeria is not exempted from this situation; the security operatives are known to deploy torturous means to make suspects confess. The Nigerian police, the notorious SARS squad, the military, and other security operatives deploy inhuman approaches like punching, extraction of nails, starvation, clubbing of soles of the feet and ankles, banging of victims’ heads against the wall, burning of victims with cigarettes, hot irons or flames, Rape and sexual violence, “Tabay” etc. (Ruth Soronnadi, 2022; Amnesty International, 2014). The recent #End SARS protest in 2020 hinged on police brutality and the infamous SARS squad due to the atrocities committed in and outside the stations.
The dehumanization and subjugation of citizens by law enforcement in the name of torture to obtain information have caused many to lose their lives in this dubious process. At the same time, some have given false confessions to get relief from the accompanying pains (Obi). Those who survived experienced trauma that may haunt them for their lives or have different scars that keep reminding them of those horrors.
Another situation where victims are dehumanized, abused, killed, and left in worse-than-death conditions is the labeling of elderly citizens “Witches.” The torturing and various forms of violence against older women accused of witchcraft without evidence against them are major infringements of their fundamental Human Rights as enshrined in Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which stipulates that no one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment but this has protected these victims from abuse (Eboiyehi, 2017). Witchcraft is arguably attributed to declining education standards, and a high degree of religious indoctrination increases the belief in this superstition; there is always a spiritual interpretation given to unfortunate happenings (Eboiyehi, 2017). Violence is common when allegations of witchcraft arise, both in obtaining confessions and in terms of punishment. In rural areas, these allegations are borne out of personal jealousy and hatred by family members, neighbors, or community members. Others are based on deeply rooted cultural beliefs and gender, and age-based discrimination. The consequences of these treatments on victims are physical and psychological damages, such as relationship problems or lack of self-confidence. The punishment meted out to them includes:
1. Inflicting pain such as burning, stoning, and chaining to objects like chairs or beds. In some cases, they get killed in the process.
2. Isolation, abandonment, labeling the older woman a witch.
3. Neglect, depriving her of meals or clothes. It will not be surprising that the older women accused of witchcraft suffer malnutrition and emotional distress (Eboiyehi, 2017).
Most accused of witchcraft have migrated to urban areas to avoid ill-treatment. This situation can further cause them role strain, depression, and even severe mental health problems to cope with the parallel worlds of tradition and modernity.
This work seeks to give an overview of the use of torture by the insurgents and the security operatives in their counter-terrorism activities in northern Nigeria. Amnesty International states, “Operations by Nigerian security forces against the Islamist armed group Boko Haram in northern Nigeria have led to increased use of various forms of torture or other ill-treatment against detainees. Thousands of people accused of having links to Boko Haram have been detained by the Joint Task Force, military, police, and the Department of State Security Services (SSS) and tortured. In 2013, over 1,000 people were arrested and detained at Giwa military barracks in Maiduguri Borno state, Sector Alpha (Guantanamo) in Damaturu, Yobe state, as well as the Special Antirobbery Squad (SARS) detention center, Abuja (the abattoir). Most detainees have never been brought to court and often do not have access to lawyers or families” (Amnesty International, 2014).
The Nigerian military detained thousands of boys and girls during the conflict, most for months or years in its fight against Boko Haram. The UN documented more than 3,600 detentions of children. Most such arrests are unlawful. Children were never charged, much less prosecuted, denied rights to seek counsel, etc. When children flee Boko Haram-controlled areas, they, like everyone else, are put through “screening” by the Nigerian military and Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), often in informal front-line detention facilities like Bama Prison and barracks in Monguno and Damboa and during interrogations at “screening,” security operatives subjected many boys and young men, even alleged Boko Haram “wives,” to beatings and other forms of physical torture to get “confessions” of involvement with Boko Haram. Most victims had to confess to stopping the suffering when most had no links to the insurgents (Amnesty International, 2020). These children were subjected to inhumane conditions that led to the death of some. Even the elderly ones had a share in the state of terror. The Amnesty International submission to the UN Committee against Torture states, “These operations are ostensibly against Boko Haram, but soldiers rarely make an effort, as provided by international law, to distinguish combatants from civilians— or to determine if fighters are even present. Many older people with limited mobility cannot flee and have been shot, killed, or seriously injured when soldiers spray bullets through houses. Others had burned to death inside their homes when the military torched villages perceived to support Boko Haram” (Amnesty International, 2020; Amnesty International, 2021).
The Boko Haram insurgents also dealt the people a heavy blow. They kidnapped, killed people, destroyed properties, abused people, etc. According to Amnesty International, the insurgents threatened older people about taking their lives, beat them up in some cases, kill younger ones taking care of them out of spite because the elderly would die without taking care of them. In some cases, they have labeled old women witches and faced abuse; livestock, harvest from the farm, and even money were taken forcefully from people with actual harm afflicted on them or killing them or threatening to kill them. Many faced starvation and died; as a result, others who could not take the harsh conditions fled despite the penalty of torture or death if caught by Boko Haram boys (Amnesty International, 2020).
Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) estimates that approximately 600 women and girls have been abducted from their schools. Some reported forced conversion to Islam by Boko Haram as a precursor to forced “marriage and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). Others reported being held in prison-like conditions, where they were repeatedly raped, sometimes at gunpoint. Those who refused to convert to Islam or “marry” a fighter also reported being forced to work long hours for the wives and families of insurgents and being threatened and beaten when they were too exhausted to continue. (Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, 2018)
According to a United Nations report released in June, Boko Haram affiliated groups and splinter factions, including ISWAP, abducted at least 211 children and recruited at least 63 children, including 54 girls, between January and December 2021. At least 88 children were killed or maimed by parties to the conflict, and 53 girls were raped or subjected to sexual violence, including forced marriage (Humans Right Watch: World Report). Due to their expertise, many returned victims continue to face stigma and experience continued trauma. The torture inflicted on someone, whether physical or mental, affects the psychological wellbeing of the victims, and this can leave some persons scarred for life. Torture on whatever grounds is inhumane and should be frowned upon greatly.
The research on assessing the use of torture to extract information from terrorists by Obi and Ezeogu; recommends that Nigeria should criminalize Torture but with a caveat that interrogational torture may be used in the ‘ticking bomb scenario’ where there is clear evidence (for instance,, a CCT Camera footage or a reliable witness) that the torture victim holds the information that will lead to saving innocent lives but refuses to do so; therefore, interrogational torture may be used as a last resort considering the limited time available. This is because, at that level, the tortured possess fewer rights and dignity than the innocent lives in danger. This situation is dicey as the person may be innocent and divulge false information. In cases where the victim is innocent, the officer should be punished according to the tenets of the law (Ezeogu, 2017).
The government should address the police brutality that birthed the #EndSARS movement. There is a need to address the systemic abuse of civil and political rights by the police and other government agencies. There is a need for intensive human rights training for all law enforcement officers, and appraisals should be carried out regularly on their human rights compliance and erring officers prosecuted. There should be prosecution of public officials alleged to have engaged in torture and any other dehumanizing act, as this can serve as deterrence to others. The government must treat reports of violence, suffering, and extrajudicial killings with the importance they deserve, and victims should be adequately compensated. The government must strictly champion the right to a fair trial and initiate reforms to ensure suspects are not detained without trial. There should be a register of all persons placed under arrest and a comprehensive database of all places of detention, including their location, number of persons detained, their compliance with international human rights, and every other relevant information with systems for periodic updates as this would help to ascertain a victim. Harassment in the name of checking by security operatives, an avenue for extortion that has led to unnecessary loss of lives, should be curbed (Uwazurike, 2020; Ruth Soronnadi, 2022).
To curb the excess of security operatives in their counter-terrorism measures, the federal government should promote and protect the rights of old citizens and children in detention by ensuring they are treated humanely and kept in a healthy environment. Efforts should be made to entrench accountability, reparation, and non-repetition of violence by punishing Boko Haram suspects found guilty as well security officials guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious human rights violations with evidence that such actions were carried with reasonable justification (Amnesty International, 2020). This will give a sense of justice to the victims.
For victims of torture, government, local, and foreign humanitarian organizations should work together extensively to provide robust psychosocial support and mental health care; legal assistance should also be provided to those in need.
Amnesty International. (2014). Nigeria: Torture, cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees by Nigerian security forces. Amnesty International’s written statement.
Amnesty International. (2014). Stop the torture in Nigeria.
Amnesty International. (2020). My heart is in pain: Older peoples experience conflict, displacement, and detention in Northeast Nigeria. Amnesty International Ltd.
Amnesty International. (2021). Nigeria: SUBMISSION TO THE UN COMMITTEE AGAINST TORTURE 72nd session. 8 November- 3 December.
Eboiyehi, F. A. (2017). Convicted without Evidence: Elderly Women and Witchcraft Accusations in Contemporary Nigeria. Journal of International Women's Studies, 247-265.
Ezeogu, C. O. (2017). Interrogational torture as an abuse of human rights in the fight against terrorism in Nigeria: An ethical evaluation. Ogirisi: a new journal of African studies, Vol 13, 132-145. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.4314/og.v13i 1.7
Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack. (2018). “I Will Never Go Back to School”: The Impact of Attacks on Education.
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Humans Right Watch World Report. (n.d.). Nigeria events of 2022. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2023/country-chapters/nigeria#:
Obi, C. (n.d.). Curbing Insecurity in Nigeria and the Anti-Torture Act: A moral revisiting.
Ruth Soronnadi. (2022). Legal Framework on Torture Prevention in Nigeria: The Way Forward. Law and Social Justice Review (LASJURE), 135-144.
Uwazurike, A. (2020). #EndSARS: The Movement Against Police Brutality in Nigeria. Harvard Human Rights Journal. Retrieved from http://clok.uclan.ac.uk/35527/