New Telegraph

Our journey into hell in police cells (2) –Victims

This is the concluding part of the horrible tales of torture and inhumanity by victims, who have been to various police cells in the country, as reported by ISIOMA MADIKE

“The Police is your friend,” that is the message on poster inscriptions displayed on the walls of many police stations in Nigeria. But, what follows, however, for many who go through a police interrogation procedure negates every promise of that inscription. There is a disturbing portrait of what many experience at Nigeria’s police stations, which they describe as inhuman.

The mode of arrest with gratuitous aggression by the police has the effect of intimidating the suspect and weakening or, in some cases, even breaking whatever spirit the suspect had before the proper interrogation process. The purpose, according to police sources, is to cajole suspects to tailor their statements, recorded in “Form D19” of the Police witness statement sheet.

It is also done to coerce suspects to confess to the crime they are alleged to have committed or to incriminate other persons, who might, in fact, have no connection with the case. In many of such cases, the Investigating Police Officer (IPO) draws up the statement, often self-incriminating for the suspect, and only asks the already nervous victim to sign it as his own statement.

That was what happened in Uchenna’s case. His IPO wrote the statement and compelled him to sign it as his own. He was arrested on October 14, 2018, on allegation of Advanced Fee Fraud, popularly known as “419”. Led by a woman, the police went to his residence in Jabi, Abuja, in the Federal Capital Territory to arrest him but did not meet him at home.

They reportedly turned on his wife, beating and manhandling her to make her reveal her husband’s whereabouts. Uchenna returned home at this point. The Police was said to have pounced on him and beat him up thoroughly, stripping him naked in the process.

They bundled him into their vehicle in that state and took him to their station. He had to be hospitalised at a private clinic in Jabi. Sani was also a victim of similar pre-investigation violence at the point of arrest. He said: “I was arrested by force early in the morning and taken to Garki Police Station about 7 a.m. They brought us out and started beating us.

I was slapped so many times for about two hours before being formally arrested.” The case of Audu, arrested along with three others in connection with an armed robbery case, is another. Those that arrested Audu were said to have beaten him up at the scene of the arrest and at the Police station, even before they asked him any question. They reportedly kicked Audu with their boots, applied their batons to his ankles and knees, then asked him to confess that he and others killed one Sallah, and stole 48 cows, an allegation that he denied. The Audu case occurred at the Maitama Police Station, Abuja, as did that of Lawal.

The Police took Lawal to court but he could not walk into the courtroom. He dragged himself in on his buttocks because the Police allegedly broke his two legs while beating him at the point of arrest in Kaduna on October 8, 2018. Just like Audu, the Police, it was claimed, battered Lawal’s knees and ankles with their batons, rendering him unable to use them in the process. The attitude of police officers in the presumption of suspects’ guilt during arrest appears to them as a powerful element. It provides one of the sources of the interrogation process.

Since the Police presume the suspects guilty, the aim in the interrogation process is to secure a voluntary or, if necessary, forced admission of guilt from the suspect, as well as information concerning his accomplices, assistance and sponsors. The officer considers the suspect uncooperative until he makes such an admission and provides such information.

Imbued with the same attitude, the superior police officer in charge of investigation similarly considers interrogation as slack or ineffective as long as the suspect has not made a confessional statement or of statements affirming the Police officers’ pre-conceived notion of the truth of the case.

They, therefore, insist on keeping suspects in police custody and use interrogative torture until he makes confession to the alleged crime, dies or rescued by his lawyers or relatives. Interrogation has become a process of forceful extraction of statements from suspects by deliberate application of excruciating force to suspects’ physical bodies.

A Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP) with the state Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in Panti, Lagos, once denied bail to Nnamdi (not real name), a 60-year-old suspect for fear that his superiors would consider his work shoddy if he released him before securing an incriminating confessional statement. Another high-ranking police officer, Assistant Commissioner (AC) was also said to have refused granting Salim (not real name) bail because he was unwilling to confess to complicity in the automobile theft alleged against him. Nnamdi spent 33 days and Salim seven months in police custody without bail.

Regina, 23 and Salome, 22, were both sales girls and were arrested by police from Adeniji Adele Police Station in Lagos on a charge of stealing their master’s property. The police officers allegedly stripped them naked and left them in that state for more than five hours, after which they purportedly infused gaseous substance into their privates. “As soon as I entered the Police station, one policeman, who was passing-by saw us and asked if we (two of us) were for ‘washing face’, meaning interrogative torture. His colleagues said yes.

He then asked me to pump my mouth (to fill my mouth with air until my cheeks bulged) and he gave me a slap. “I thought I was going to be deaf. For many weeks, I felt the effect of that slap. I went to see a doctor after I was released, who diagnosed some serious damage to my dental cavity,” Salome said. Meanwhile, a retired Commissioner of Police, Emmanuel Ojukwu, who served as the police image maker at the Force headquarters, Abuja, under five Inspectors-General of Police, has said that arrest, like every other police duties, has standard procedure that is acceptable also in other civilised worlds.

One of such standards, he said, is that arrest must be for an offence known to law. The second, according to him, is that when you identify somebody to be arrested, you must touch that person, restrain him but let him know why you are arresting him, and bring him to an appropriate authority.

He added: The problem is that Nigerians, like every other citizen of the world, do not like their freedom restrained. Everybody wants to be free. And that is why some people do everything to resist arrest. But arrest is a legal instrument approved by law, the constitution and by the Police Act and all other Acts that I know, which the Police or even the civilians use to stop somebody from doing harm to the society and to bring somebody to justice known in law. “In the process of it, however, somebody may engage in misconduct and overreach himself and do what he ought not to do, usually in brutality and all that.

If the Policeman is brutal in effecting an arrest, the victim has liberty under the law to file a complaint to the nearest police station and to get a redress even in a court of law. “So, policemen as well as civilians have the right to effect an arrest but that must be done within the confines of the law and with the standard approved procedure.” Ojukwu, who defines torture as an unapproved method of obtaining information from suspects, also noted that suspects in police custody have the right to keep quiet under the law and not to answer any question.

“That is what the constitution guarantees, even the Police Acts say so. So, if a policeman or any person for that matter uses third degree method and begin to torture a Nigerian citizen or any human being for that matter for him to say what he doesn’t want to say, that torture application is forbidden by the Nigerian constitution.

“There is an Act, which deals with torture and the bureau of conduct for police officers that say no, no and no to torture. It is not accepted in Nigeria, it is not accepted in any part of the world as a means of criminal investigation. And where someone is subjected to torture, that person should make a complaint to an appropriate quarter or to a higher authority in line with what I earlier mentioned. “Such a person can also go to court to seek redress by suing the very policeman who violated his rights.

Torture is an infringement of fundamental human right and the Police are duty bound to promote this right, protect it, and not to abuse it,” he said. Custodial conditions in police stations are, indeed, dehumanising. The cells are dark, poorly ventilated, and often overcrowded.

Detained suspects live amid unbearable smell from bad breath, sour perspiration, toilet water and have little choice but to walk barefooted. They also lay bare-bodied and sometimes on wet, slippery floors. Fed once a day or even less frequently in some stations, the detainees have to provide their own food; they have to eat with bare, contaminated fingers. There is no arrangement for baths, and many detainees go without washing themselves for days, and in some cases, weeks. The cell toilet is usually within, only shielded by a stretch of clothing, and a bucket beneath a hole over which the detainees squat to ease themselves.

Flies from toilets and other insects naturally infect cells and the effusions from the toilet make the air unhealthy and unbreathable. The toilets measure not more than the size of half of a room. The Police also created special cells within the normal cells known as “German” cells, with high rates of congestion.

These cells are usually extremely narrow and have a ventilation hole that can only accommodate a bird no bigger than a pigeon and allows in a thin stream of light. They stuff the narrow enclosure with so many suspect that they only barely have enough room to stand. Faecal and urinary matter often litters the floor and smears the wall, making toileting quite disgusting for those under irresistible bowel or bladder pressure. Maggots and cockroaches, which parade the cell rooms, also act as disease vectors.

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