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Tosin Nguher: Torture Still Happens in Nigeria



“On 17 September 2013, about 5 policemen came to my house to arrest me. They did not tell me the reason for my arrest. The first place they took me to is SOS (Swift Operation Squad, a special police unit). They ask me what I do for a living. I tell them I work in a timber business…. Then they took me to temple (a special room for torture in the station). The temple is where they torture people. They took me to the temple on the same day at 11pm.

They handcuffed my legs and tie it with rope. They now carry a big rod and cross through my leg and hands. One person lifts one side of the rod: the other person lifts the other rod. They hang me up leaving the weight of the rod on me. They now use machete, (and) one pipe iron to torture me. They tortured me in my chest, head, stomach, leg and every part of my body. By the time they torture (d) me, torture (d) me, torture (d) me, there was a lot of blood. They tortured me on my heart, my face, my waist. There are wounds on my back. My mouth was full of blood. I wanted to say help me but all that came out was blood.”

They tortured me until I lose control, until I collapse. I fainted totally. I lost control of my body. Later I woke up and found myself lying in my pool of blood. When they saw that I am awake, they ordered me to pack (pick) up my blood and eat it. The blood was mixed with sand but they told me to eat it. I ate everything. It’s smelly. I do it.

They gave me a paper and told me to sign. I wanted to know the content of the paper but they used their gun to hit my head. I could not read what they wrote inside the paper. I just signed.”∗

This is a true account of a victim of torture and ill treatment by the Nigeria Police. Stories like the one above are surprisingly still quite common in Nigeria, even till date, when we are meant to be enjoying the benefits of being a democratic society.

This is also in spite of the fact that Nigeria is signatory to the United Nations Convention against Torture (CAT) and its Protocols. A country is truly democratic when basic human rights are respected. The account above clearly shows a violation of the fundamental right of that person to be heard and freedom from torture, cruel and other inhuman or degrading treatment. The latter right is so fundamental and is a universally accepted right, which should not be set aside regardless of circumstances, be it war, insecurity or for any other reason, known as a jus cogens norm.

In a democracy, one of the benefits all citizens should expect is legal protection: an inherent respect for human rights and its established rules, which ensures that all accused persons are tried fairly and also given an opportunity to defend themselves. Another right that should be protected in a democratic society is a guarantee that a convicted person and/or accused will not be subjected to torture or ill treatment or punishment.

It is sad that we still hear accounts of torture and ill treatment by the police, military and Para-military, against innocent citizens, in their fight against crime and insecurity in the country. We find out that a lot of innocent people have fallen victims of those who are supposed to protect and preserve their dignity and lives.

Some of us may ask: what if a person is actually guilty of a crime, is he not meant to suffer or get punished for that crime? The answer to that question is: “Yes, he should be punished”. However, punishment must come after all laid down laws, policies and measures, created to prosecute and ensure guilt of a criminal and give the right punishment for the crime(s) committed, have been duly followed. Regardless of the crime, which a person has committed, he or she is entitled to the fundamental right to be heard. Such a person must be found guilty beyond all reasonable doubt by a competent court first. A wise man once said: “Better that ten guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer” (Sir William Blackstone, Blackstone’s ratio- 1765). In Nigeria, unfortunately, the opposite is practiced; it is better for 10 (or hundred) innocent persons to suffer than for one guilty person to escape. This means that the need to find any person guilty in order to close a case far outweighs the need to apprehend the real perpetrator of a crime.

This is an unfortunate situation for our society and country as a whole, for the following reasons: i) the innocent continue to suffer for crimes of the guilty ii) the guilty walks free and continues to commit those crimes, knowing that someone else is suffering for his/her crime(s), iii) citizens live in fear, suspicion and distrust for security institutions, which are products of government, in other words, there is no trust for the government which is a product of the society. Now do we see a cycle forming?

It is no surprise that due to this, our society continues to experience stagnation in development. Lack of development causes poverty, poverty causes crimes to be committed- crimes that hardly gets solved, due to the competence or lack of it, lack of capacity and inability of our security agencies to carry out intensive forensic investigation into crimes, in ways that do not involve torture and/or ill treatment to get information or evidence.

Although research has shown that there is no perfect democracy anywhere in the world, there are still best practices of “imperfect democracies” that Nigeria should follow, from other developed nations. These are societies that have put in place, implemented and continue to implement measures, policies, and laws, which make democracy more enjoyable for their ordinary citizens. Nigeria has resources, if channeled to the right places, instead of being used to fatten some people’s pockets, to ensure that lives of all its citizens and dignity of their persons, regardless of their status in the society, are protected. I mean, what does it take to invest in forensic apparatus to ensure that a case is fully investigated, the real suspect apprehended, prosecuted and convicted for his/her crime?

Doing this builds confidence not only in the security agents, knowing that a painstaking/full proof process has taken place to apprehend a real criminal, but also the society (especially the less powerful/influential), knowing that they would not one day be captured, tortured and forced to confess to crimes that they have not committed.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Alexandr Stepanov

Tosin Nguher is a lawyer who specializes in international human rights law, she blogs occasionally on her blog She believes that when humans are given equal opportunities in life, there is a better chance of achieving real development. She works with a human rights organisation and is currently based in Abuja.


  1. deb

    November 10, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    I am a lawyer and. I HATE the police. You need to see the way I fight them when I go to Panti. I’m a young woman, short& with a BIG Mouth, whenthey try to talk like riff raffs I hit the nail on the head and tell them to f**k off while I settle my deal…

  2. The Copywriter

    November 10, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    Few years back as a corper, I worked close to a police barrack. It was there and then I realized the problem with our police force was a foundational one. Young ones joined the force not because they had the passion but because it was easy. Their dads were cops, and mum probably sold a thing or two close by, to them that was comfort. After secondary school they just take the force papers and fiam free accomodation, free utility service.
    So, please let’s forget democracy here, These people don’t even have the right sense of service, how much more something as fundamental as democracy. Let’s talk about fixing the foundation then about democarcy later.

  3. Taiwo

    November 10, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    I had the opportunity to work with the police during my service year and it was an experience!!
    Uncouth, nasty lot!! They botch up investigations and cannot even understand the laws they are meant to enforce.

  4. Ada Nnewi

    November 10, 2014 at 5:10 pm

    I let them have it when they cross me or anyone i know….

  5. modupe

    November 10, 2014 at 6:33 pm

    Nigerian Police or Nigerian Lawless Criminals? It was Nigerian police that killed my mother many years ago because they stopped the public transport she was in and asked the driver for 20 naira ( can you imagine). The stupid and long throat policemen didnot see an upcoming trailer that had no lights! That was how the accident happened. Everyone was killed including the policemen who were asking for 20 naira. Ever since then, I lost all respect and regard for Nigeria police men. I lost my precious mother at the age of 10 and I was the eldest. My brothers and sisters had to face a very difficult life and we are still facing it just because of crazy Nigeria police! As I am typing this I am really crying, those crazy people have destroyed the lives of many innocent Nigerians and I fear for the lives of these policemen’s family because of the repercussion of the evils they do in the lives of their families. This is a very very true story and it is not made up for sympathy. I lost my precious mother because of the Nigerian police and will keep saying this until I breathe my last breath!

    • unadite

      November 10, 2014 at 7:08 pm

      May the good Lord console you and your family. I honestly do not know when most of these uncouth, uneducated goons would be replaced by passionate, young, educated people. I am seriously waiting for when I would be pulled over by a policeman and would be more than willing to cooperate…I’m still waiting…

    • Tess

      November 10, 2014 at 7:53 pm

      Modupe, I am sorry for your loss.

      Without trying to be insensitive, if everyone died in the accident, how do you know what led to the accident when there were no survivors to tell the story? I am just curious.

    • modupe

      November 10, 2014 at 9:11 pm

      The people who were around the venue of the accident were the ones who narrated what happened. People who were behind the cars and who were regularly stopped by the police at that place for money told us what happened. Like I said it I told my story not to garner any sentiments or for people to feel sorry for me ( what use will it be? Will it bring back my mother after so many years?) I just told my story for people to know that the Nigerian police have caused many people serious heartaches that cannot be wiped off their minds just like the writer of this article stated. Look at the pain I have suffered because of a senseless act of one of these police men?

    • tosne

      November 11, 2014 at 9:12 am

      That is so sad. May your mother’s soul continue to rest in peace, Amen. I really pray that change comes to our law enforcement agencies very soon.

  6. 9ja Cynic

    November 10, 2014 at 8:25 pm


    The fact that you felt compelled to add that the story is not made up is in fact all we need to know about the veracity of your half baked sob story (*rolls eyes*)…

    • modupe

      November 10, 2014 at 9:17 pm

      I pray you or your children will not experience what I have gone through before you know if my story is real or not. Why would I want to make up such a very sad and traumatic story? Did I ask for donations or money? Did I ask you to feel sorry for me? So what will be the intention of putting my story out there? I did this to make people to know the truth that the Nigeria police have caused and are still causing many people untold pain and heartache just like the writer of this article stated. I don’t need your sympathy, of what use will it be for me? I already stated that.

    • Colour Purple

      November 11, 2014 at 7:16 am

      I had to re-read your comment because I couldn’t believe any right thinking person would write that. How could you? Have you no empathy or even common sense? In your own best interest please learn that sometimes you should hold your peace instead of vomiting whatever thoughts that enter your brain.

    • nwanyi na aga aga

      November 11, 2014 at 9:21 am

      The fact that you ran your mouth before you even thought about it shows how terrible your heart is. Did Modupe ask you for money? I saw nothing half baked about the story. The person that also asked the question of if everybody died who told the story, as in she stated that they were on a road, how is a typical naija road that police people stand on to collect 20naira? its clearly an inter city road? If you have nothing to add just walk away. Don’t come add to someone’s pain by adding useless sentiments because your parents are probably one of the lousy police lots.
      Modupe May God wipe your tears. May He bring comfort to you and heal you of your pains.
      As for Nigerian Police they are worst than the devil himself, please since the author of this article is a human rights activist, I pray them to move down to Anambra state and visit all the SARS prisons there especially the ones at Awkuzu and Onitsha. Innocent souls are being ‘sent to abuja’ there. (sent to abuja is a slang they use to infer that the person has been killed and thrown away). Recently a friends brother-in-law was incarcerated there and was nearly killed just because an alleged thief is his customer. They tortured the young man till he nearly died. If not that his family were a bit connected that would have been the end of the life of a hard working young man. Currently he can barely use his left foot. Torture is still going on big time in Nigeria. No Law, No justice especially against the poor people. That is why the quest to be rich by whatever means is real cos rich thieves are rarely tortured. They move around with even police security!

    • MO'

      November 11, 2014 at 1:16 pm

      @9ja Cynic: Like seriously, all you could do was criticize modupe’s story… You are part of the people that ain’t objective about the everyday happens in Nigeria.
      Ignorance is not an excuse, If you like learn from the moral of the story, if not continue to judge people’s real life situation with your foolishness…. Some day you shall understand when you have to pay with your own MUMUish act.

      Back to the matter of the day, NIGERIAN police are only about what their instant benefit is when handling a case , We the Nigerian citizen need to redeem our self justice by not given in to bribe or their stupid act.

      Stay informed .. Information is power and know your right that is why you can always ask google ..

    • biggz

      November 12, 2014 at 3:15 pm

      You’re seriously mentally deluded; what a horrible way of thinking you’ve got there. I don’t know why many nigerians are so heartless and cannot show any form of remorse whatsoever! I hope you don’t get to experience this sort of thing so you can learn to show compassion! What a horrible person you are!

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