IDEAS Radio 14 February 2020

Accountability for the Use of Torture by Security Agencies

Aghogho Oboh: Great afternoon to everyone in the Public Square.  I’m Aghogho Oboh with Rotimi Sankore, and on IDEAS with Ayo Obe. And we are together again.  It is a great afternoon. It depends on where you are actually. If you are – like we say back in the day – slapping your way through the Island because of the non-availability of transport to commute, happy are you today!  But otherwise, strap the seatbelts and let’s get ready to go. We have drama like you haven’t seen it in a while, going on right now in Bayelsa State where you have Daniel – Douye Diri – escaping from the lion’s den … in dramatic circumstances as the …

Rotimi Sankore: That’s an interesting way to put it.

AgO: … as the Governor-Elect of Bayelsa State, so on the one hand …

RS: While the lion is wondering what happened.

AgO: He should be swearing in … he should have been sworn in today, instead it is his opponent.  But that’s only half the matter we have discussing today, as a report’s been released by … Special Investigative Report done by the BBC also too.  We will look into that. But let’s welcome everyone. Welcome. Welcome Ayo.

Ayo Obe: Good Afternoon Aghogho.  And good afternoon listeners.

AgO: Alright.  Rotimi, we’re waiting for you …

RS: Alright.  Yes. Thankyou.  So, before we go into the drama in Bayelsa, we also have a very very important topic to discuss, and that topic is torture.  Torture by Police and security agencies and Army, and we’re going to be asking some important questions around it. We hope the technology will work, so that we have Mayeni Jones of the BBC and Osai Ojigo of Amnesty International, but if the technology fails, it so happens that Ayo Obe has played an important role with the Police Service Commission, and therefore is a bit in the know of police procedure and processes, so welcome Ayo.

AO: Good afternoon.  I mean, you’re not welcoming me.  I’m intending to put questions to Mayeni and to Osai.

RS: Yes, are we connected?

AgO: In a short while.

AO: I mean, I think Rotimi that … basically for those who … I don’t know if you’ve already previewed this, but the BBC Report …

AgO: Alright.  Just go ahead, let’s just welcome her…

AO: The BBC report is about a particular form of torture used by the security agencies in Nigeria called ‘Tabeh’.  But it … it speaks to … they focused on a particular form, but it actually speaks to the wider issue of Accountability, and that’s why IDEAS, which as you know is about Integrity, Democracy, Ethics and Accountability, that’s why IDEAS is asking this question: Who is being held Accountable where the security agencies breach the laws against torture?

AgO: Hmm.  Alright, so we have Mayeni Johnson now, of the BBC, she’s …

RS & AO: Jones.

AgO: Oh, Mayeni Jones, where did I get Johnson from?  Hello Mayeni!

Mayeni Jones: Hi, hi Aghogho.

AgO: Ok.  I don’t know what time it is where you are, but it’s a fine afternoon here.

MJ: Yeah, it’s still … we’re only one hour behind.

AO: So their weekend is a little bit further away than our own weekend.

RS: Hi Mayeni, Ayo has some questions for you.

MJ: Hi Rotimi, good to hear from you.

AO: Well, I mean, at the end of the day, Mayeni has done the report, and I should say that probably the questions are not for Mayeni, but for the authorities whose conduct was exposed.  And I guess that the first question is that, during … in the video, your report was that the Nigeria Police had not only responded and … to … had not only NOT responded to your questions, even though in one case where murder had been committed, the judge expressed his outrage and also went on to say that the Inspector-General must do something about this, must look into this.  It would have been one thing if it had stopped at that; but the officer who was identified and named in the … in connection with those deaths from torture, has actually been promoted. So it’s not just that the Police kept silent, it was almost like saying: Yeah, we’ve seen it. And this is our response.  Has there been any further response from the Nigeria Police, or from any of the security agencies, particularly those which claimed: We’re looking into this?

MJ: Mmmm.  Yes, unfortunately we’ve …  since the publication of the report, we were expecting some sort of response from the authorities, but they’ve kept very quiet about it, which, you know, in and of itself, is quite interesting.  It’s hard to make any deductions based on their silence. We know that they are aware of the investigation, because as you said, we reached out to them when we were doing it. But they haven’t come out to deny our claims, and there’s been no further statements made by the Police or any other armed forces the investigation has covered.  This is despite the fact that it currently has about 3.8 million views on Facebook and it’s also performing very well on Twitter and Instagram. So the documentary is getting shown, but we haven’t had a response from the authorities yet.

AO: Now, can I also ask Mayeni, because the fact is, that under the Prevention of Torture Act that was passed in 2017 and signed by the President (the current President) torture is not permissible under any circumstances.  Because I did notice that some of the response was: Well, if these people are terrorists, then, you know … But the point is that whether they are terrorists or whether they’re accused of stealing; what is it that the authorities themselves think that they are going to achieve by this torture, or is it just a generalised campaign of brutalisation and maltreatment that everybody who falls into their hands should be subjected to, rather than their looking for any specific information?

MJ: You know, during … in the course of this investigation, we definitely found that it was some members of the public that actually support the idea of torture,  particularly in, as you say, the case of trying to crack down on the general insecurity in Nigeria, particularly insecurity coming from Islamist insurgents in north-eastern Nigeria.  Many people think that that because the crimes these insurgents have committed are so horrific, that … only by violent means will we be able to gather intelligence to try and find them.  So there are those who would defend the use of torture by the authorities because they see it as a necessary …

AO: But is that what the authorities say that they are torturing the people for?  Are they actually torturing them to get information? Or is it …

MJ: So they never … the authorities don’t admit to torture, but what we found is evidence, you know, from gathering the social media videos, some of which appear to have been filmed by members of the Armed Forces themselves, but the authorities don’t come out officially to say: We support torture.  So all we can do is deduct from their supporters online and who we’ve spoken to, what some of their motives might be, and the motive being used is cracking down on terrorism. Now the issue that we have, we’ve spoken to many people who were not accused of terrorism … they were accused of petty theft, who it had been proven that the allegations levelled against them were not even true, and then they are taken into a police station and brutalised using Tabeh, and that was just …

AO: Is that to make them confess, or what is the objective?  

MJ: Yeah, I think in the hope that they will confess in some way, but then I, as you say, according to the law, that information shouldn’t be admissible in court.  Anybody who confesses because they’ve been coerced into doing so, through means of torture, shouldn’t be admissible in a court of law, and the fact that these methods are still being used I think shows that there is something that needs to be addressed there when it comes to the judicial system in Nigeria, and the use of any confessional evidence that’s been procured from torture.

AO: I was noting that … it’s quite interesting that the …  as you say, that many of these videos that are shown in your investigative report, were actually, and indeed must have been, taken by members of the security agencies themselves, and posted.  And I wonder, because it came up into my mind, when the Nigeria Police was reported to have instructed that a Closed Circuit Television Cameras should be taken down in connection with the anticipated funeral of the father of the Independent Peoples of Biafra leader, Nnamdi Kanu.  And I, let me confess that I’m a secret watcher of the television programme ‘Operation Repo’, and they always say in that programme, they always … when the owner of the car comes out and says: What are the cameras doing there? And the Repo people always say: They are there for our protection and for yours.”  And the point is that to say that, to prevent us from doing something illegal, and also to be a witness to anything that is done.  So one would have … one would be a bit surprised at the idea that the Police would not want their conduct to be recorded and, particularly given that practically everybody else, every second person with a mobile phone can do some recording.  But what do you think about the … this contradiction between those who are almost proud to say: This is what we did, and those who are recognising that: We need to keep what we are planning to do secret, in case … and the suspicion always of course, is that because brutality, violence and breaches of the law are going to be perpetrated.

MJ: I think … there’s a real tension between the official line of the authorities, which is to very much not address these types of allegation or to deny that they are taking place; and the reality on the ground.  A lot of the time, as you say these videos appear to have been filmed by members of the Armed Forces. Some of the people in the film do appear to be very young, there’s perhaps a certain measure of immaturity there, where they have become desensitized to some of the violence that is meted out or some of the violence that they carried out.  Actually you can hear in the videos for example, them mocking people that are being brutalised, or giving details about themselves that would identify them quite easily. And I think that that maybe, is reflective to a certain sense of immaturity from the people who are carrying out these acts of violence and like you said, a miscalculated sense of pride: This is what we can do, we’re going to film this, we are going to share it on social media or we’re going to send it to certain people.  And also, one thing that it reflects, is the issue that we talk about in our documentary, which is the issue of impunity. If you feel that something is going to be done to you as a result of these images being exposed, the last thing you’d want to do is to film them and send them to somebody else. But I think that the fact that some members of the Armed Forces feel emboldened to film that and then share them among themselves, shows that they don’t feel that there’s going to be any repercussions for them as a result of doing this.

AO: Well, but even where there had been repercussions after a public outcry, in the case of the two young men with whom the report started, the repercussions were … amounted to very little more than a slap on the wrist, in fact barely a slap on the wrist.

RS: Is it indeed a combination of …

AO: I should say by the way that one of the … this was a case of two young men accused of theft and they were tortured by the Joint Task Force, but the person who was identified was eventually charged – not under the Prevention of Torture Act where he could have had 25 years – but under Causing Bodily Pain, I think, and was given a three months’ sentence.  That’s what I mean by giving him a “slap on the wrist”.

RS: I think we should also highlight that it may not just be impunity.  It could just reflect serious lack of human rights training.  

MJ: Mmmm

RS: Did you find out anything of that sort?

MJ: You know there’s definitely been an effort on the part of the authorities – they would say – to sensitize some of their troops on issues of human rights.  I don’t know how widespread that training has been, and whether it’s truly ingrained in the mentality of everybody that works in the Nigerian Armed Forces. The fact that we’re  still seeing a torture technique that is so brutal, that has existed for so … for such a long period of time, and that seems to have spread … from wherever it’s come from (we think it may have come from Libya, or even Mesopotamia or ancient Egypt), that it’s spread so far across the continent, I think, goes to show that we still have a very long way to go before everybody understands that this isn’t the most effective way of tackling even the crime of terrorism, which nobody is saying that terrorism should be given any leniency, but we are saying that … this is illegal according to Nigerian law, but it’s still …

RS: Not just illegal, but lots of experts have pointed out that information obtained under torture is often seriously unreliable.

MJ: Mmm, exactly.  It seems counter-productive, a counter-productive way of gathering intelligence and trying to resolve the very serious problem of insecurity that exists across Nigeria.

AO: I think there’s also a problem, I mean … some of these people who are accused of being Boko Haram members were arrested, even before President Buhari came to power, and they had been in prison without trial for many years.  And it’s a question why governments arrest people and don’t charge them. But the belief of Nigerians now, particularly now that some of them are being … some of them have been tried, and those against whom no evidence can be found, have gone through a rehabilitation process and are being released.  And the reaction of many Nigerians, which is, I found quite a contrast to our behaviour when people who are like us, human rights advocates and so on, are detained by the authorities without trial, the reaction of many Nigerians has been somehow to imagine that there should be some law under which they should continue to be held in detention without trial.  And so to step up to: They should be tortured despite the guarantees in the Nigerian Constitution, seems to be something, that even though we all call for the rule of law, that government must obey the Constitution; we don’t quite seem to make the connection.

MJ: I think it’s a problem that you see all over the world actually to a certain extent.  If you look even to the US and the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ … during the 80s and 90s, many people felt that that was using extremely punitive measures that ended up disproportionately affecting people of colour and also ended up putting many people who had committed minor offences such as carrying small amounts of marijuana,   getting them into the prison system in such a way that made it very difficult for them to not become repeat offenders. So we often find that when you have a problem of insecurity in the country, the reaction from people is that we need to crack down on this crime …

AO: And in fact, the whole, if I can call it the ‘Jack Bauer’ syndrome, this idea that the terrorist has information and you can torture it out of them.  It seems to have taken hold …

MJ: The BBC has reported … on these types of human rights abuses right around the world carried out by different … from the Middle East to America.  Torture has been used around the world by different Armed Forces to try and extract confessions, or to try and convert people. We recently reported on Chinese … abuse in Chinese detention camps in Xinjiang, against the Muslim population there.  So this is by no means unique to Nigeria, but in all of those cases, it’s definitely been shown to be counter-productive and to also target people who have done nothing wrong.  

AO: Well, I want to thank you very much Mayeni, for joining us to discuss this issue.  As Rotimi says, that the amount of training on torture, I mean, definitely the Armed Forces know that torture is wrong, but they need to understand, that the things that they … because the Anti Torture Act is specific about what constitutes torture.  A lot of times, people feel that: As long as we don’t mark, or permanently disfigure, then what we are doing does not amount to torture. And I think that the important thing about the Anti Torture Act of 2017, is that it shows that: Look, some of this behaviour that you think is normal, it is not normal, it is in fact torture and it is illegal.  So that training is definitely to be called for.

RS: Ok, thank you so much Mayeni.

MJ: Thanks for having me guys, have a good afternoon.

AgO:  Alright.  Ok, so Mayeni Jones of the BBC.  Fantastic investigative work they have done on that report.  And of course, throwing the ball open, the court … the ball into the court for the conversation to continue as a rolling conversation.  Alright, so Public Square continues, so please do not go anywhere.