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Army must end torture now

By News Express on 04/11/2017

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Nigeria’s new-found democracy is approximately 20 years old. But, the same issues that afflicted the polity when the political process was hijacked by the military dictators for many years are still very much around.

One of those disturbing social ills that afflicted the society in times past when such dictators held powers in the 1980’s is the widespread use of torture as the method of interrogation by operatives of the armed security forces in Nigeria. The use of torture by operatives and officers of the armed security forces in Nigeria has gained global notoriety, leading to several reports by internationally respected bodies; including, but not limited to, Amnesty International of the United Kingdom; Human Rights Watch of New York, United States of America and office of the Special Rapporteur on Torture to the United Nations. 

These reports of widespread use of torture are extensively damaging. Therefore, observers expect Generals heading the various divisions of the military to see the need to eradicate torture as a legacy they must bequeath to their successors. 

This task must be done clinically, given that all the current hierarchies of the military are reputable officers, who are said to be top military professionals.

Sadly, even with the leadership of these reportedly excellent military professionals, the Nigeria Army has been singled out as a notorious user of this grotesque, illegal and inhuman/inhumane method of interrogation of civilians allegedly in conflict with the law. Besides, torture is still being widely used by the Nigeria Police Force all over the federation, as once documented by a Special Rapporteur on Torture to the United Nations Secretary-General who toured some police detention facilities across Nigeria, some few years back.

The Nigerian Army has come under the search-light of many local and international groups who raised serious concern on how the security institution has handled protests by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), prior to its controversial proscription through an exparte order of a Federal High Court. The Nigeria Army has equally faced criticisms for the use of torture against members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria or Shiites: a group that reportedly lost hundreds of members through alleged extra-legal executions by the Army, few months back in Zaria, Kaduna State. 

The Department of State Service (DSS) has been accused too, for the use of torture against detainees who are kept in some underground cells for many months before being brought for prosecution. 

Phenomenally, the Nigerian Army has come under fresh rounds of criticisms over the conducts of some of its personnel during the just-ended Operation Python Dance II in South-east Nigeria. It is sad that the officials have yet to come to terms with the historical needs to realistically investigate these allegations, with a view to apportioning appropriate sanctions on their men and operatives caught on the wrong side of global human rights laws. 

The undeniable fact is that lots of civilians were subjected to cocktails of physical, emotional and psychological torture by the Army – a fact which even the usually conservative Abia State Governor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, was compelled to issue a public rebuke of these misconducts by the military during the Operation Python Dance II. Unfortunately, the hierarchy of the Nigerian Army does not seem to be predisposed towards eradication of the widespread use of torture by their operatives during internal military operations. These military officials are unfortunately living in denials, even when these disgraceful tendencies of their misbehaving troops have already been recorded and are being circulated globally. 

This is because the media centre of the military have often engaged in the use of propaganda to say that the use of torture does not constitute a major setback. But this is a fallacy, because the more the public relations' directorate of the various segments of the armed forces and police are denying the existence of these issues, the more photographic evidences are circulated, courtesy of the new inventions in the social media. For instance, there are several recorded evidences of the widespread use of torture by the Nigerian Army during the just-ended Operation Python Dance II.

It is imperative for the Army’s hierarchy to make up their mind to tackle the challenge posed by widespread use of torture by their operatives. They should also deploy legal mechanisms to sanction indicted operatives. These cases of torture must not be swept under the carpets of impunity. 

The Army must of necessity end the use of torture if it must make the claim that it is a professional institution. As a human rights advocacy group that has consistently supported the military whenever visible efforts are made to advance respect for the human rights of Nigerians, this platform will not hesitate to use this medium to inform the military chiefs that there is the urgency now to do the needful, by weeding off all undesirable elements and brutes who are tarnishing the professional image of the military institutions by the use of torture. Torture is evil and it must not be associated with the military institutions created by law. 

In the book The Soldier and the State, published in 1970 by the Harvard University press, Huntington S made the far-reaching claims about the military as a professional body. He said: “The military profession like other professions has the major characteristics of expertise, responsibility and corporateness.”

Janowits M, in his book entitled The Professional Soldier: A Social and Political Portrait stated that: “The military has the responsibility to ensure compliance to prescribed ethics and standards of discipline which members of that profession must maintain and prescribed sanctions for their breach.”

The late Maj-Gen TEC Chiefe (PhD), one of the finest legal minds to have adorned the Nigerian Army's uniform, also affirmed that every nation usually prescribes a code of conduct for its military, which in totality constitutes military law for members of the armed forces of that nation. 

This refined gentleman who at the time he authored his classical law book was the Army's Director of Legal Services was quick to add that all military laws in operation in Nigeria must comply with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of 1999 (as amended).

Besides, Aycock, William B and Wartel Seymon W, in their book entitled: Military Law Under the Uniform Code of Milital Justice, stated that: “Military law as of necessity is to promote good order, high morale and discipline in the military for the accomplishment of the military mission.”

A meticulous examination of the extant rules of engagement for the Nigerian military during internal security operations tells you that the use of torture is not tolerated in compliance to section 34 (1) (a) of the Nigerian Constitution, which provides that: “No person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment.”

It is noteworthy that the four Geneva Conventions and the two additional Protocols of 1977 have been formally given effect in Nigeria by the enactment of Federation of Nigeria 2004. 

“In sum, the Conventions and Protocols which are now an Act of the National Assembly, elaborately spell out the laws of armed conflicts on the use of force and the legal implication of disregarding rules regulating the means and methods of warfare, among other things. Specifically, section 3 of the Act provides for trial and punishment for breach of the Geneva Conventions as follows: (a) In case of grave breach involving willful killing of a person protected by the Convention, sentence of death. (b) In any other such grave breach, imprisonment for 14 years,” (Military law in Nigeria- Under Democratic Rule, by Maj-Gen Chiefe.

As far back as June 1987, the United Nations Convention Against Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment came into force. Nigeria is a signatory to it. 

In part one, Article 1 of the convention, torture was defined thus: “For the purposes of this Convention, 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 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.”

Interestingly, Article 4 of this convention states: “Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law. The same shall apply to an attempt to commit torture and to an act by any person which constitutes complicity or participation in torture. 2. Each State Party shall make these offences punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account their grave nature.”

The question that comes to mind is why the Nigerian Criminal or Penal code or, indeed, the 2015 Administration of Criminal Justice Act, do not seem to have sufficient and unambiguous provisions on this very disturbing social phenomenon of torture, even when the Constitution absolutely criminalises it.

Since it is a notorious reality that torture is widely applied by members of the armed security forces on civilians, why then is there no national commitment on the part of administrators of criminal justice to sanction indicted abusers of this anti-torture international law?

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) did a research on torture and made far-reaching findings, including arriving at concrete response on why torture is wrong.

The reasons why torture is wrong can be divided into reasons of pure principle and reasons based on the bad consequences of torture. Both are valid. Torture treats the victim as a means to an end and not an end in themselves. It treats the victim as a ‘thing’, not as a person with all the value that we associated with persons. Torturers often explicitly dehumanise their victims to make it easier to torture them. It uses the physical body of the victim not as a component part of a person of value, but as a tool to achieve the aims of the torturer (torture) dehumanises people by treating them as pawns to be manipulated through their pain.

Kenneth Roth’s Getting Away with Torture, Global Governance, found out the following: Torture is sometimes used to destroy the autonomy of the victim. Some societies have used torture to suppress independent thought and convert people to ‘right-thinking’. The individual is tortured until they abandon their own views and beliefs and adopt those of the torturers. The victim ceases to be an ‘end in themselves,’ but becomes just another means to support the regime of the torturer. Torture violates the rights and human dignity of the victim, including the legal right to remain silent when questioned. Consequentially, torture is a slippery slope – each act of torture makes it easier to accept the use of torture in the future; torture is an ineffective interrogation tool. It may well produce false information because under torture a prisoner will eventually say anything to stop the pain, regardless of whether it is true. Because of this, the interrogator can never be ‘sure’ that they are getting the truth and will never know when to stop. More effective methods of interrogation that don’t involve torture are available. If a suspect is tortured, it may be impossible to prosecute them successfully: British common law excludes involuntary statements or confessions on the ground that such evidence is inherently unreliable. Torture damages the human dignity. Those who carry out torture are likely to become brutalised by their acts, and desensitised to humanity. The more acts of torture a person carries out, the more likely they are to carry out torture. Torture damages the institution that carries it out. It damages the reputation and moral authority of the institution. Its use is likely to produce internal dissent and so damage the integrity of the institution. Using torture provides ‘the enemy’ with something they can exploit for propaganda.

 History, according to those who should know, offers no modern examples of the strategic effectiveness of harsh interrogation techniques, but it is replete with examples of the negative strategic effects such techniques have on the counter-insurgency force. Lord Hoffmann, British judge, said: “When the state itself beats and exhorts, it can no longer be said to rest on foundations of morality and justice, but rather on force.” For Mordecai Kremnitzer, quoted in Marcy Strauss, Torture, New York Law School (Law Review, 2004): “While the rest of the world is expected to abide by the UN Convention against Torture, for example, the Americans evaluate international law on the basis of whether it serves their interest.

It bears no repeating to call on the Chief of Defence Staff, the Chief of Army Staff, and all other military chiefs to make hay while the sun shines, by introducing effective study modules to educate their troops on global best practices that absolutely make the use of torture unacceptable and unlawful. 

RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA). He can be reached via 08033327672 (sms only) or via

Source News Express

Posted 04/11/2017 8:07:32 PM


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