Anti-Torture Act as a Panacea to police brutality in Nigeria. By Alkasim Abubakar

Police is a constitutionally established body saddled with the power to enforce law, maintain peace and order, protect lives and properties of all persons in Nigeria through investigation, comprehending and arresting those who act against the law. The importance of police can’t be over emphasized in a constitutionally democratic state like ours, because enforcement of law is very sacrosanct for the safety of people lives and properties.

In recent years, we have been witnessing Police brutality, torture and other inhumane  treatment to some innocent Nigerians majorly by the just disbanded SPECIAL ANTI-ROBBERY SQUAD (SARS) which has consequently led to the nationwide ENDSARS protest. Police brutality, torture and any acts of inhumane treatment to any alleged suspect is not justifiable and could never be justified in any democratic state like Nigeria. It is necessary in any purported democratic setting, that the protection of citizens’ lives, rights and their dignity as human beings is upheld 

Being an uncompromised constitutional provision, the presumption of innocence until and unless otherwise is declared by a court of competent jurisdiction should be respected.  The fact remains that the police officers have only powers of investigation of crimes and not imposing punishment on suspects otherwise they have ultimately accrued themselves the exclusive power of a court of law. 

On this background, the present article described ANTI-TORTURE ACT 2017(as the Act after now) as one of the unused solution we have towards the nationwide police brutality and  made certain recommendations for the full enforcement of the act, And it also suggested that if good laws such as the Act have been enforced in their full force to really address the problem they were meant to address, we might have not witnessed the deteriorated ENDSARS PROTEST which have consequently led to loss of lives and destruction of properties of many innocent citizens.

The Act has in luminous  terms let no ball unturned in incorporating any act of inhumane and degrading treatment in its comprehensive definition of torture as prescribed under section 2 of the Act to mean any act by which pain and suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person in order to;
(a) Obtain information or confession from him or a third person;
(b) Punish him for an act he or a third person has committed or suspected of having committed; or
(c) Intimidate or coerce him or third person for any reason based on discrimination of any kind.

Subsection 2 of the section 2 moves further to explain torture in the context of the Act  which includes, to mention a few; 

Systematic beatings, punching, kicking, food deprivation or forcible feeding with spoiled food, electric shocks, being tied or forced to assume fixed and stressful bodily position, harmful exposure to the elements such as sunlight and extreme cold, the use of psychoactive drugs to change the perception, memory, alertness or will of the person; such as administration of drugs to induce confession or reduce mental competency, threatening a person or such persons related or known to him with bodily harm, execution or other wrongful acts, among others. See section 2(2) of the Act for more details.

It is obvious that the drafters of the act have intended to comprise all acts of inhumane  treatments and brutality as the example of torture upon which the punishment provided by the act applies once it occur.
Furthermore, the Act gives no room for justification of torture including in unrest situations such as a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability like protest or any other public emergency; there cannot be any  justification for torture. See section 3 of the Act.

The learned drafters of the act in their commendable proactive sense, seemed to have appreciated the fact that most police officers are torturing suspect in order to obtain confession or other information in their investigation. Hence,  the drafters make any confession, admission or statement obtained as a result of torture inadmissible as evidence in any proceeding, except against the officer accused of torture as evidence that the confession, admission or statement was made. This is in tandem with our long time  established principle of law as established in the locus classicos case of R V. SKYES (1913)8 C.A.R. P233 and also under section 29(2) of the Evidence Act 2011.

The act has clearly put liability of torture on both the person who actually participates in the infliction of torture and who is present during the commission of the act, and also a senior law enforcement officer who issues an order to lower ranking officer to torture a victim for whatever purpose. See section 7 of the Act.

The said section 7 has further made a superior order as no justification for torture, therefore both the superior that gave the order and the junior that acted on the order will be held liable as principals in commission of the act, defense of superior order is thus not a defense for torture under the Act.

The Act imposes up to 25 years imprisonment as a punishment of any officer convicted under the Act where the torture did not result to the death of the victim. But where the victim died,  the officer torture him will be charge for the murder of the victim under relevant law. See section 8 of the Act.

In addition to criminalizing the act of torture, the Act doesn’t restrain the victim from claiming damages and compensation available to him under relevant laws. See section 8(3) of the Act.


After a holistic overview of the act, one may opine that the act was well intended to end police and other security agencies brutality in Nigeria. Moreover, the act intended to give no escape route or justification to any culprit officer.  The provisions of the act are obviously proactive as they should.  However,  one must ask- why even after the commencement of the act in 29th December 2017, Nigeria do not record any decrement in police torture and brutality?        
The question is what the problem is? Since we have laws such as the Anti torture Act that criminalized the act of brutality and put personal liability on the culprit.

The major problem lies in the enforcement of those laws, a kin observer could say that Nigeria has the laws that could cure half, if not most of its problems, such as corruption, insecurity, election rigging, kidnapping among others; such acts have never been legal in Nigeria. If we are enforcing our laws we will have a better nation. Subsequently, if the Act has obtained the full enforcement it deserves, the problem of police brutality could have been drastically reduced if  not totally eliminated and becomes history in Nigeria.

However, the Act is not free of all lapses and loopholes. As the Act doesn’t provides any provision for mandatory superior officers supervision on the junior officer who are the major machinery of the torture. The Act should have provided for compulsory time to time report of torture by the head of all security units to the Attorney General; this will be very helpful in the enforcement of the provisions of the Act. The Act should have provided sufficient damages for the tortured victim instead of allowing him to seek the damages else where. The Act ought to have put all the medical expenses on the security officer in case any injury is sustained during the act of torture. The act also lacks the provision for mandatory complaint by any other officer who witnessed or got to know about the torture after it has been done. The liability under the Act should also be imposed on any civilian who instigated or paid any officer to torture someone for his personal interest.

It is therefore humbly recommended that the above lacunae should be filled through amendment, and we finally call for the domestication of the Act in all the 36 states of the federation, for the provision of the Act to be enforced on other security agencies which are not federal Governments agencies such as police and Army. This is sacrosanct for protection of the fundamental rights of Nigerians, It’s very unfortunate that the body established and equipped to protect citizen’s  lives and properties turn to become the greatest threat to the lives and properties they were meant to protect.

ALKASIM ABUBAKAR  Is a  law student of AHMADU BELLO UNIVERSITY Zaria. He is a paralegal, political analyst and critic, an educationist, a season and inspirational poet,  an avid reader and a prolific writer, he has written numerous articles on various areas of law and contemporary issues and he is widely published.

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