By Henry Ojelu
As part of efforts to stern the use of torture, especially by law enforcement agencies, stakeholders in the Criminal Justice Sector last week, converged in Lagos at a two-day capacity building workshop to promote awareness of the Anti-Torture Act 2017, the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act as well as the review of the draft rules for the implementation of the Anti-Torture Act.
The platform was also used to carry out a review of the Lagos State law on Domestic Violence and Sexual Offences signed into Law in 2007. The training workshop is part of Access to Justice’ on-going project which is aimed at improving civic awareness of and implementation of the Anti-Torture Act 2017 (“ATA Act”) and improving the Criminal Justice System in Nigeria.
Project Director, Access to Justice, Deji Ajare described the Violence Against Person Prevention (VAPP) Act 2015 and reforms it introduced into Nigeria’s legal landscape as interesting innovation.
Ajare who led participants at the workshop to evaluate the Act remarked that there was a time it was not possible to debate rape but the emergence of the act has made it possible to do that today.
He observed that unlike in the past, anal rape is now an offence under the act. He said a man who fails to provide means of sustenance for his wife and children will be committing an offence under the VAPP Act. He said the Act has criminalized ejection of a spouse from the house while it put an end to spouse battery.
Ajare said any law inconsistent with the provisions of the VAPP Act is null and void. He also pointed out it is an offence where any person attempts to frustrate the investigation of an offence.
He noted that the law provides for the creation of a sexual offenders register where anybody that has been convicted will have his details recorded in it to shame such a person. The Director, Vision Spring Initiative, Dr (Mrs) Ngozi Nwosu-Juba led the review of the Domestic Violence Act of Lagos State 2007.
For the act to be effective, participants agreed on the need to review the marital laws of Lagos State.
A mandatory reporter, Abdulwasiu Esuola suggested the need for the creation of a special police team dedicated as response team to Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT) instead of the present arrangement of issuing letters to the Divisional Police Officers (DPO) of the nearest station where the offence was committed, who sometimes, on behalf of the suspect may be seeking settlement between suspect and victim.
Participants also suggested a review of the law to provide sanction for a police officer who refused to take appropriate action when rape cases are reported but chose to molest victim; a form of compensation for victims of rape under restorative justice system and punishment for suspects; counselling therapy for rape victims; sanction for those who engage in the second victimization of the victim.
They complained that punishment under the law is not severe enough to mitigate rape and suggested more severe punishment like life imprisonment. More importantly, the creation of more awareness of the activities of the DSVRT laws to educate the public through radio jingles produced in different languages.
Mr Nathaniel Ngwu, a Director of the Criminal Justice Network of Nigeria (CJNN) who spoke on “Implementing Rules and Regulations of Anti-Torture Act 2017 (IRR) blamed lawyers for not using the act to seek justice for torture victims in spite of various provisions which made it an offence for security agencies to torture suspects. Ngwu regretted that lawyers were always in a rush to file fundamental rights suits when such suits should have come under the Anti-Torture Act.
He said once established that a suspect has been tortured, the member of the security agency involve is liable under the law once convicted by the court.
He said in any suit filed under the Anti-Torture Act, the preamble, which stated, “An Act to penalize the acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and prescribe penalties for such acts; and for related matters”, is very fundamental for such suites and should always be cited.
He said that under the law, there is no justification for any member of the security agencies to inflict any form of torture on any suspect or subject a suspect to any form of degradation including, “beating, kicking, they are what we see law enforcement officers do every day on the streets and police stations”.
Ngwu stated for instance that Section 2 of the act listed the responsibilities of government, and section 4 defines and listed what constitutes torture while section 6 guaranteed freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.
He said that a state of war or threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency is no justification for torture under the Act. Ngwu noted that while confession or admission obtained from a suspect by means of torture is inadmissible as evidence against that person, such information, confession or admission may be admitted against such person accused of torture.
He listed those who can file complaints in court to include victims, an interested party on behalf of the victim or the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
Ngwu said section 7 on criminal liability, for instance, provides that any person who commits torture, shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment to a maximum of about 25years as a principal like DPOs, IGP, superior military, police or any law enforcement officer or senior government official who used his position to inflict torture on a person or procure any security official to torture a person among others.
Olusegun Sojirin of NBA Ikorodu also cited a suspected that almost died as a result of torture meted to him at Ikorodu Police station, but for his intervention by calling the attention of the DPO to what his officers were doing without his knowledge. He said the suspected was arrested in Ibadan, brought to Ikorodu and detained for eight days without any offence being brought against him.
On how to ensure effective implementation of the Anti-Torture Act and VAPP, participants made various suggestions to perfect the Act. For instance, they agreed that the words “severe torture” in the act be amended to read simply “torture” to remove all ambiguity.
On what constitutes acts of torture, participants agreed that Section 4 (a) (5) be amended and to remove the words. “… until the brink of suffocation.”; that the word, “… essential..” be removed from Section 4 (a) (8) as they considered every part of the body as essential part; that Section 4 (a) (12) be amended to delete the words “…point of asphyxiation”.
They also agreed on Section 5 of the act that the words: “…refers to a deliberate and aggravated treatment or punishment…” be amended to read “…refers to an aggravated treatment or punishment…” among other suggestion made to ensure its usefulness and effectiveness.
Most importantly, participants agreed on the need for the National Human Rights Commission to oversee the implementation of the Anti-Torture Act and for the Committee that drew it to monitor and ensure compliance with the provisions of the Act.