The special UN Rapporteur on Torture – Manfred Nowak – said recently that Nigerian police routinely tortures suspects to extract confessions about a crime. Nowak, who recently returned from a weeklong visit to Nigeria, said police frequently shoots suspects in the foot, flogs or threatens them with death. He described conditions in Nigerian police jails as demonstrating a total disrespect for human life and dignity.
Haz Iwendi is commissioner of police and first public relations officer for the Nigerian national police. He said the Nigerian police welcome Mr. Nowak’s comments, but that torture is not an official Nigerian police policy.
“We want to say that it is not an official policy of the government, neither is it an official policy of the police administration. We will not rule out the fact that there may be one or two cases of torture. But that may be before democracy came on board, and most of the suspects took advantage of the privacy which Mr. Manfred Nowak was given to obviously exaggerate some of the issues,” he said.
Commissioner Iwendi was reminded that democracy came to Nigeria nearly eight years ago, and that Mr. Nowak’s comments were based on his most recent visit to Nigeria.
“Yes, like we say, he was given this blank check to interview privately all those who are in the cells. So they could have said anything. But that is not to say that it is not possible that we could have had one or two cases. But be that as it may, we are quite happy with the report, and that it shows that we are open. If we can bear our chest to an external body like the UN Rapporteur, it means that we are ready to ensure a better police force,” Iwendi said.
On Nowak’s claims that Nigerian police frequently shoots suspects in the foot, flogs or threatens them with death, Iwendi reiterated that those methods were used by police prior to the onset of democracy in Nigeria.
“Like I said, these were methods that were used prior to democracy. We have so many lawyers in Nigeria, very vibrant lawyers, and if it had been used, those lawyers would have definitely raised those issues,” he said.
In his recommendation, the UN Rapporteur on Torture said Nigerian police should make torture a crime and step up the fight against impunity. Iwendi said Nigerian police are not getting away with impunity.
“I want to say that if a man is tortured and he fails to make a complaint to all the agencies in Nigeria, I don’t believe the story is true. So I still want to believe that the Nigerian police force still has the best quality control mechanism in this country in terms of the discipline of its officers, and no complaint ever goes untreated,” he said.
Nowak also recommended stepping up the fight against corruption in the Nigerian police force. Iwendi said corruption is an international phenomenon that is not limited to Nigerian police alone. But he said the police have been fighting corruption for some time.
“The fight against corruption is an ongoing process. It’s one of the cardinal points of the 10-point agenda of Sunday Ehindero, the inspector general of police. We have an integrity squad that goes around, and we keep doing the best we have to ensure that we serve and protect with integrity, which is the motto of the inspector general of police and Nigerian police as of now,” Iwendi said.