Torture In Nigeria: Life In The Hellfire


With arms forced back and tied at the elbows and feet tied back at the knees, suffering detainees are bound into a triangle. Sometimes perpetrators put heavy blocks like wood or concrete on the backs of hanging detainees to intensity their burden and pain. After cutting the blood circulation to the four limbs, victims then are then in agony. It is not an exaggerated scene in horror stories. It is something called “tabay” happening in northern Nigeria currently. According to the investigations of BBC Africa Eye, dozens of images and videos work as clear evidence to show the illegal torture in Nigeria.

Abuse by Nigerian police and armed force could be a long-lasting problem in Nigeria. At first, such tortures were applied to the rebels during the interrogation, or criminals as a punishment. Then, it spread rampantly even to local Islamic schools. In September 2019, nearly 500 men and boys were rescued from a Kaduna school; the youngest among them was only five. “When they were doing this to me, I wished I was dead.” One boy who just escaped from the “torture house” described his suffering experience as, “living in hellfire.” Justus Ijeoma, a human rights lawyer, strongly condemned the outrage and emphasized: “There is no circumstance that permits the use of torture under our laws. There is no exception. ”

The Nigerian government has already set an Anti-torture Act in 2017, to penalize acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Even human rights desks were established to respond to violations. However, in November 2019, there were still short clips illustrating captives dragged by men in military uniform. Why do such misconducts keep occurring? Why do laws descend to a mere scrap of paper? Why is it so rare perpetrators are held to account?

The Nigerian judicial system shows its inefficiency and incapability to deal with regional military power. Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), an advocacy group widely accused of human rights abuses in Nigeria, could be the recidivist of impunity. The director of Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, acknowledged that “Despite an existing law against the use of torture, no police officer has been charged under the act. What’s worse, since Order 237, a security directive allowing police to shoot at fleeing subjects had not been changed, there could even be extrajudicial killings.”

There are other controversial arguments for these illegal punishments. Towards extremely vicious individuals, like kidnappers and rapists, some may consider torture as an acceptable action. “I hope he didn’t die but if he was a thief or a killer. He deserves to be barbecued.” One anonymous netizen said. This could be a typical misapprehension of hidden dangers of tortures: any illegal punishment is an obstacle towards judicial legitimacy. An independent abuse could spread like wildfire, and then fast triggers more violence in the future. As an ineffective interrogation tool, it violates human-rights by taking the detainee as an object rather than a person with rights. As a result, a vicious circle could take place: the more acts of torture a person carries out, the more likely they are to carry out torture. Even the Nigerian government has already awarded the problem. There still needs to be more attention and efforts, otherwise, the “torture virus” might develop into a  “severe illness” threatening a legal and secure society.

Yuexin Li
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