Members of the Presidential Panel on the Reform of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police have deplored the continued use of torture as a tool of interrogation by security agents in the country.
The panel, led by the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Tony Ojukwu, expressed this opinion shortly after its on-the-spot visit to SARS’ main detention centre in Guzampe, Abuja on January 18 this year.
Speaking on the panel’s findings, Ojukwu said members of the panel encountered detainees with scares and serious injuries, “which they (the detainees) made us understand were as a result of torture.”
He said, in view of this finding, the panel has summoned the investigation police officers (IPOs) handling cases involving suspects with such injuries, and some other senior supervising police officers to appear at its on-going sitting in Abuja.
Ojukwu called for the adoption of intelligence-led policing and scientific investigation methods as against the reliance on torture by investigator. He argued that the deployment of force by the police and other investigating agencies always result in the destruction of vital clues and intelligence that would have aided in crime prevention and detection.
He said the condition of facilities in the detention centre requires urgent improvement, because not only are the facilities inadequate, detainees were kept in over-crowded and smelly cells, with inadequate access to food, medicine and healthcare.
Ojukwu added: “We found that some of them are sick and have not been taken to hospital. We were told that nurses visit them on a daily basis. But, some of them (detainees) complained that they pay for the drugs that they need to get well. It is important that the medical facilities here are kept up to date so that we don’t have cases of death in detention.”
Ojukwu, who said his panel also found that minors and policemen were also detained in the facility with adult criminal suspects, faulted the practice were erring policemen, trained to apprehend criminals, were detained in the same cell with such criminal suspects.
He suggested the practice where minors and erring security personnel were kept in separate facilities to prevent the many unintended consequences that often result from such cases.
Ojukwu identified practices like the involvement of SARS in cases of minor offences, indiscriminate arrest and detention, and the delay in the criminal justice system as factors responsible for the over-crowing of detention facilities.
He said his panel also found that some of the detainees have not been taken to court for over a year.
Ojukwu urged police authorities and the Judiciary to work on ways to decongest such detention facilities, including ensuring that detainees were allowed prompt access to court to enable them establish their innocence or guilt within the time provided by the Constitution.