Criminal Law

Rest In Pieces? The Law Against Torture

It is no more news that the autopsy of the young graduate of Architecture from the University of Uyo has revealed visible bruises on the body which is indicative of torture. This outcome has resulted in the clamour for justice, with the public imploring the criminal justice system to look into the root of the matter.

English dictionary defines torture as an intentional act of inflicting severe pain or suffering on a person. This is regarded as an inhumane and dehumanizing act, whether physical, emotional or mental. The saying that lawlessness results in anarchy is a true and correct statement. How about a society where laws abound but carry little or no weight? Is that not as good as a state of lawlessness?

Prohibition against torture and other forms of ill-treatment has its root in the Geneva Conventions of 1949, their 1977 Additional Protocols, Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of 1984, Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and other international human rights instruments.

The term ‘torture’, under the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law (IHRL) is compartmentalized into three categories which are the act itself, that the act must be planned and deliberate and the desired results occasioning from such planned act. All these factors are not mutually exclusive as they are all considered to arrive at the meaning of torture.

In the same vein, section 2 of the Anti-torture Act of 2017 defines torture as physical or mental acts of pain or suffering inflicted on an individual to these ends;btain information or confession from the tortured or a third party.

Punish the tortured for an act committed by him or a third party or an act that either of the two is suspected of having committed.

Intimidate or coerce the tortured or a third party for any reason based on discrimination of any kind.

Similarly, the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), in its thirty fourth section upholds the right to dignity of every person and frowns against any form of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, slavery or servitude or any form of forced or compulsory labour. But any punishment, labour or service that is in compliance with lawful sanctions will not be regarded as torturous or inhumane. Section 34(2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).

Prior to the enactment of the Anti-torture Act in 2017, emergency powers or ‘orders from above’ were justifications that were relied on as basis of using torture to extract information from a person. However, there is now no such justification in the Act.

Research has shown that lack of proper criminal investigation methods have been responsible for reliance of law enforcement personnel on inflicting pain and suffering to obtain confessions or statements. Many wonder why the first defence raised in the court when statements of defendants are tendered is to the voluntariness or otherwise of those statements.

This lends credence to the provision of the Anti-torture Act that renders inadmissible such evidence obtained as a result of torture unless the evidence is against the person accused of inflicting the pain. In such instance, the presiding judge is made to conduct another trial within the trial to ascertain whether the statement of the defendant was taken willingly or obtained by any form of coercion.

A survey taken some few years ago on prison inmates in a south-western state in the country, comprising of both males and females within the age range of 18-60, spanning accross the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria, revealed that more than an average percentage of these ex-detainees have been abused, beaten, injured, threatened and sexually assaulted by the police through the use of clubs, baton, knife, horse whip, electric iron or boiling ring and have sustained severe injuries of the body and mind with some resulting to lasting physical scars.

The recent EndSars campaign is a proof that little or no adherence has been given to these laws as the rule of law is being blatantly disregarded. It is not the case that there are no penalties for default.

The Act makes liable any individual or official convicted for torture to a maximum term of imprisonment of 25 years and where such act results in the death of the victim, it is regarded as murder and the offender is to be laible under the relevant laws of the land. Apart from the above penalty, the victim is not precluded from claiming other legal remedies available. Section 9 of the Anti-torture Act, 2017.


As earlier noted, there is a need to encourage professionalism among law enforcement agents which in turn produces creative and improved technique of conducting investigation other than the crude and dehumanizing method of torture.

Since the government has been saddled with the responsibility of ensuring that there is respect for individual rights at all times, it is imperative that regulatory agencies are not only established but are also readily accessible to the public to see to the implementation of the provisions of this Act.

As at the time of writing this article, there has been no update on the investigation of the cause of death of Kubiat Isaac. Though the force has declared to punish any of its officers found erring, no news has been heard yet on this. This, It is not enough to engage in educational campaigns and trainings prohibiting torture, rather, it is suggested that defaulting personnels be brought to book to serve as deterrence to others.

That the law may truly be no respecter of any person.


About Favour Fasanya

The author is a lover of creative writing and legal literature. Her interests span into the world of art and literature. She sees writing as a strong tool of expression and is willing to wield it well. As a budding legal practitioner, she believes strongly that she has a unique contribution to make in her own sphere. Her love for literature is not limited to the legal world. She is receptive to learning