Chinelo Obogo and Molly Kilete, Abuja
Illegal tactics used by Nigeria’s security agencies to toture and kill detainees have been uncovered in an investigative documentary by the BBC Africa Eye.
In the 17-minute clip titled “The Torture Virus” and posted on its YouTube channel on Monday, February 10, the documentary showed how victims are illegally tortured through a technique called ‘Tabay’ and sometimes buried alive and killed by men of the Nigerian Army, Nigeria Police and the Special Anti-Robbery Squard (SARS).
The documentary begins by showing the tourture of two young men, Abba Bashir and Abubakar Mala, by members of the government-backed Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF). The young men, who were accused of stealing $80, were tied by their elbows to their backs and hung from a log of wood while one of the CJTF members asked if they preferred to be shot or tortured.
The young men told BBC that though the torture took place in 2019, the injuries that were inflicted on them hadn’t completely healed.
The police arrested the CJTF official who was responsible for their torture and prosecuted along with four others. But the BBC noted that, if they had been charged under the Anti-torture Act, they would have faced up to 25 years in jail, instead they faced a minor charge of causing hurt without provocation and were sentenced to three months in prison.
Throughout the documentary, gory images of Nigerians, mostly young men, were seen being tortured by officers of the police, SARS and the army using Tabay torture tactics. Tabay was one of the methods used by Nigerian soldiers in Sierra Leone in which the arms and feet are tied back at the elbows, cutting off circulation of blood and demobilising the victim. A heavy block or stone is usually placed on the victim’s back to intensify the pain and in, some of the videos, the victims are tied to a log and hung above a fire. The most brutal is, while this is happening, the victim is usually given electric shocks and most of them die as a result.
The documentary also revealed that a SARS officer was the leader of the team of police officers found guilty of torturing two young men, Awolu and Hassan, in Kano in 2014, which led to the death of one of them.
The BBC revealed that a civil case was brought against the police and evidence was presented in court to show that the SARS officer, Yusuf Kolo, was in charge of the operation in which Hassan was tortured and killed.
According to the investigations, the judge ruled that the torture Hassan suffered in the hands of Kolo and his men was “unlawful, barbaric and illegal” and that “the Inspector-General of Police should do something about it.”
However, the young men’s lawyer, Bulama Burkarti, told BBC that, till date, nothing has been done to Kolo, rather, he was promoted by the IGP.BBC confirmed that, after the death of Hassan and the conviction of the court, Kolo was promoted twice, first as the head of SARS in Abuja, and presently as the commander of the Special Tactical Squad of the IGP.
Acting Director, Defence Information, Brigadier-General Onyema Nwachuku, said he was yet to see the BBC documentary but promised that the army authorities would investigate the issue.
“It is an indisputable fact that Boko Haram Terrorists (BHTs) have over a period of time embarked on series of propaganda to bring the Armed Forces of Nigeria into disrepute. On many occasions BHTs have carried out their nefarious activities wearing Nigerian military uniforms, either to deceive unsuspecting members of the public or to carry out certain actions to cast aspersion on the Armed Forces of Nigeria. We have instances of BHTs and kidnappers dressed in military uniform carrying out executions of civilians and video recording these dastardly acts, which they release into the public domain to portray the military in bad light and whip up negative public sentiment against our troops. A recent incident was an abduction that took place along Yobe/Maiduguri road by BHTs dressed in military uniform.
“Though this headquarters has not been availed of the said videos mentioned in your letter, we, however, assure that they will be subjected to critical examination to ascertain their veracity and, where it is confirm that our troops are involved in such unprofessional conducts, appropriate disciplinary measures and sanctions will be applied, in conformity with extant laws.
“Additionally, efforts have been intensified in the area of pre-deployment induction training given to troops before they are launched into operational areas, where refresher training on rules of engagement, law of armed conflicts and other humanitarian laws are inculcated into them.
“Furthermore, the Armed Forces of Nigeria has also established human rights desks across the three services (Army, Navy and Air Force) and Defence Headquarters where cases of human rights abuses are thoroughly investigated and those found culpable are sanctioned, in accordance with the law. We also deploy legal officers to the theatre of operations, where troops are constantly sensitised on global best practices in armed conflicts situation and protection of civilians in conflict.”
“The AFN does not condone unprofessional conduct by its troops in the ongoing military operations in the North East and other parts of the country. Court martials are instituted in the theatre of operations where troops involved in unprofessional conduct have been tried and punished according to extant laws.
“While thanking you for your letter, it is expedient to use this opportunity to call on members of the public to endeavour to provide evidence regarding unprofessional conduct of troops to the AFN and be assured that such evidence will be treated within the ambit of the law”.