Years back in the 80’s, growing up in a multi-ethnic, multi- religious community of Kafanchan in Kaduna state, North West of Nigeria was indeed great fun.
Kaduna state’s co-education system of those days was structured in such a way that sporting events and/or physical and health education were integral parts of the academic calendar even for newly enrolled students in their early teenage years.
In this vein, the strong emphasis given to physical and health education helped to expose so many of those students even as the need to participate in inter-school sporting tournaments meant that travelling around the big state became inevitable even up to the metropolitan city of Kaduna.
The metropolitan city of Kaduna is a well-known area whereby many military institutions are located, one of which is the Nigeria Defence Academy.
The centrality of the location of the premier tertiary academic institution for the Nigeria military in Kaduna city Centre meant that visitors to Kaduna stand the greater chance of bumping into many smartly dressed soldiers.
These regular encounters with the men in military uniforms endeared the profession to many of us who as children then started nursing the ambitions to enroll into the career of soldiering.
The interest to join the military was further reinforced by the widespread knowledge in circulation then that soldiers are some of the most well groomed and professionally disciplined set of people.
It was rare to see two uniformed soldiers brawling publicly or seen behaving the way persons heavily drenched in alcohol do.
This deeply ingrained knowledge about the professionalism of the Nigeria military indeed became the immediate motivation for many of us to actually attempt to enroll into the Nigeria Defence Academy just as many of us succeeded whilst those of us who never succeeded still went on with the enduring impressions that members of the Armed forces are noble and highly disciplined.
However, as adults, there are few infractions that changed this childhood perception of the Nigerian military as the bastion of professionalism and discipline and these are the involvement of some officers in the violent overthrow of properly constituted civil authority and the involvement of soldiers in some criminal acts of corruption.
Military overthrow of power is strongly frowned at by all decent and civilised persons around the World. The involvement of military officers in politics exposed them to the temptations of pilfering from the natipnal treasury just as these tendencies increasingly diminished the professionalism of that institution.
It is on record that the military administrations were characterized by widespread corruption and manifestations of financial recklessness.
The then General Sani Abacha’s military junta has entered the history books as one of the most corrupt governments in all of Africa almost synonymous to the global notoriety made by the then General Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire who nearly stole his homeland blind.
Corruption and economic crime amongst military officers were also exposed by the current president Muhammadu Buhari in several ongoing investigations.
Many of the security chiefs undergoing criminal investigations currently were alleged to have soiled their hands by outrightly emptying the finances of their various military departments into their private local and offshore accounts.
Many of these retired and serving military Generals have also been fingered for involvement in sophisticated financial crimes.
But amidst all these inglorious manifestations of collapse of ethical foundations of the military institutions in Nigeria, the revelations of widespread use of torture by the military on civilians stands out as some of the worst crimes against humanity even much more disturbing than economic theft of public fund.
The use of torture on suspects by the military diminishes their professionalism and makes the soldiers appear to look like rogues even internationally.
Locally, the use of torture completely obliterates the high level of public trust and confidence on the institution of the military.
A military which is deficient in local admiration and acclaim is not credible because basically, the people who are the owners of the sovereignty of Nigeria are also the rightful donors of legitimacy and authority to all those who wield political powers including the President and Commander-in-chief of the Armed forces of Nigeria.
Under international jurisprudence, the infliction of torture either physically or psychologically is classified as the worst crime against humanity because it robs the victims of the dignity of their human persons.
Also, the use of torture by soldiers in any jurisdiction at all is viewed as grave.
In June 2015, an American columnist for The Guardian made a very strong point which goes to show the gravity of the offence of the use of torture and also the imperative of countries such as Nigeria to not only criminalize and punish offenders, but to root out torture completely as a form of interrogation. The use of torture is a clear manifestation of the dearth of professionalism.
Trevor Timm who aithored an authoritive review of the parliamentary efforts of the United States Congress also is of the impression that successive federal administrations in the USA failed in their legal obligations by not enforcing laws against the use of torture and proceeded to punish indicted military operatives
He wrote that: “the Senate commendably passed an amendment “outlawing” torture by a wide margin… but given that torture is already against the law – both through existing US statute and by international treaty – what does that really mean?”
“The bill, a response by lawmakers to last year’s devastating CIA torture report that exposed the agency’s rampant illegal conduct and subsequent cover-up in the years after 9/11, would force all US agencies – including the CIA, finally – to comply with the Pentagon’s rulebook on interrogations”.
The legislstive amendments to existing laws criminalizing torture he argued, would also forbid any of the Pentagon’s interrogation rules from being secret and give the Red Cross access to all detainees held by the US, no matter where.
He further affirmed: “One would’ve thought pre-9/11 that it would be hard to write the current law prohibiting torture any more clearly”.
He came down heavily on past US administration by saying that nothing should have allowed the Bush administration to get away with secretly interpreting laws out of existence or given the CIA authority to act with impunity.
For him, the only reason a host of current and former CIA officials aren’t already in jail is because of cowardice on the Obama administration, which refused to prosecute Bush administration officials who authorized the torture program, those who destroyed evidence of it after the fact or even those who went beyond the brutal torture techniques that the administration shamefully did authorize.
The use of torture by American soldiers has also brought the American society so much shame.
The US may have committed war crimes of torture, cruel treatment and rape, when it interrogated dozens of people in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2004, the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor was recently quoted as saying.
The International Criminal Court’s preliminary probe into the activities of the US armed forces and the CIA in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2004 shows there to be a “reasonable basis to believe that, in the course of interrogating these detainees members of the US armed forces and the US Central Intelligence Agency resorted to techniques amounting to the commission of the war crimes of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and rape,” Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said, as cited by AFP.
She discovered that most of the alleged abuses took place between 2003 and 2004, but did not cease in the following years.
She also pointed out that the abuses appear to have been “approved interrogation techniques,” utilized deliberately in “an attempt to extract ‘actionable intelligence’ from detainees,” as the report states.
“These alleged crimes were not the abuses of a few isolated individuals.”
The report stated that the US Army soldiers subjected at least 61 detainees to torture practices, and CIA officers did so to at least 27 detainees, mostly between May, 2003 and December, 2004.
These issues have reinforced the advocacy for the United States of America to subscribe to the Rome Treaty which created the International Criminal Court in The Hague Netherlands.
The numerous cases of torture in the United States have become scars in the global image of the World’s strongest nation.
Asides the USA the use of torture has global opprobrium because it diminishes respect for the respect of the human person.
Torture, according to the Black law dictionary is the infliction of violent bodily pain upon a person, by means of the rack, wheel, or other engine, under judicial sanction and superintendance in connection with the interrogation or examination of the person as a means of extorting a confession of guilt or compelling him to disclose his accomplices.
The Duhaime’s law dictionary has this to say about torture: “the international infliction of pain or suffering on an animal or a person and as for the latter, even if for the purpose of obtaining information such as a confession or the names of accomplices, or as a punishment for crime”.
Several legal jurisprudence and authorities strongly rejects torture.
Justice Bingham of the English House of Lords wrote: “ from its very earliest days, the common law of England sets its face firmly against the use of torture…one of the first acts of the long parliament in 1640 was, accordingly, to abolish the court of star chamber, where torture evidence had been received and in that year the last torture warrant in our history was issued”.
The Lord justice Bingham recalled also that: “ in rejecting the use of torture, whether applied to potential defendants or potential witnesses, the common law was moved by the cruelty of the practice as applied to those not convicted of crime by the inherent unreliability of confessions or evidence so procured and by the belief that it degraded all those who lent themselves to the practice”.
“This rejection was contrasted with the practice prevalent in the states of continental Europe who seeking to discharge the strict standards of proof required by the Roman Canon models they had adopted, came routinely to rely on confessions procured by the infliction of torture”.
Nigerian laws borrowed extensively from the common law of England.
Nigeria is a signatory to many international human rights laws absolutely prohibiting the use of torture such as the universal declarations of human rights and the international covenant on civil and political rights. The African Human and Peoples Rights Law also in solidarity with extant global laws bans torture.
The Nigerian constitution in section 31(1) (a) absolutely bans the use of torture.
But the operatives of supposed law enforcement agencies are often found wanting in this aspect of the use of torture.
The Nigerian police and the military have failed to stop the widespread use of torture. Detention centers administered by these agencies have become torture chambers.
The media also has helped to shape public opinion to offer conditional support for torture by aiding and abetting these agencies who torture suspects in their detention facilities and parade them before the media looking heavily bruised and even passed on in the media as criminals even before any forms of prosecution. The media as the conscience of the nation as provided for under section 22 of the Constitution of Nigeria must sensitize the Nigerian people to reject torture.
The chief of Army Staff lieutenant General Tukur Buratai must activate professional mechanisms and remodel the methods of interrogation in such a civilised and decent was as to ban the use of torture.
The supervisory powers that he as the head of the Army will inevitably expose him to charges of crime against humanity if he fails to rein in this highly unprofessional bunch of soldiers using torture.
The reprehensible conducts of soldiers in the South East at the moment being perpetrated against unarmed members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and innocent civilians through physical torture, must be checked and offenders punished.
If torture is allowed to remain part of the Nigeria military then whatever little professionalism left with the military institution would be eroded.
History beckons on the military chiefs to match their expressions of strong condemnations against the use of torture with action to save themselves from being pulled aside in airports of civilized climes and dragged to courts in Europe and America as suspects who carried out torture.
Already international organisations such as Amnesty International has incredible amounts of evidence of use of torture by Nigerian military and police. We must sanitize the military institutions.
A stitch in time saves nine.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko is head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.