The Position of Torture in Nigerian Criminal System


For centuries, torture has been used by different people in positions of power or authority for different reasons; punishment for crimes committed, in order to acquire information or for other selfish reasons or interest.

The Anti-Torture Act

The Anti-Torture Act was signed into law in 2017. It has attained the flagship status of being the first Nigerian piece of Legislation to specifically target torture and the receipt of confession through coercion and the infliction of grievous bodily harm.  The purpose of this Act is to penalize the acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and prescribe penalties for such acts; and for related matters.

Features of the Anti-Torture Act

One of the features of this Act is the fact that it has a concise nature with only 13 sections. While that does not affect the efficacy of the Act in tackling the torture of suspects to elicit confessions, it is worthy of note.

The very first section of the Act places a duty on government to see that everybody, including suspects, detainees and prisoners are treated with respect at all times and that nobody who is the subject of an investigation or in custody shall be made subject to torture of any kind, be it physical or mental.

Torture under the Act

“torture is deemed committed when an act by which pain and suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person to –

(a) obtain information or confession from him or a third person;

(b) punish him for an act he or a third person has committed or suspected of having committed ;or

 (c) intimidate or coerce him or third person for any reason based on discrimination of any kind.”

What this means is that suspects who are arrested, in custody or who are the subject of an investigation cannot be tortured in any way, thus underlining the intolerance of the Nigerian Criminal system for torture.

Section 2 (2) (a)(i-xiv) gives a list of different instances where the performance of Torture can be said to have occurred including sexual abuse, food depravation, force feeding spoilt food, head banging, striking with rifle butts, jumping on stomach, being tied or forced to assume stressful bodily postion, electric shocks etc.

Sub section (b) of the same section includes mental and psychological torture which include; blindfolding, maltreating a member of the person’s family, denial of sleep or rest etc.

Penalties for Torture under the Act

Section 9 of the Anti-Torture Act states: –

“(1).A person who contravenes section 2 of this Act commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 25 years.
(2) Torture resulting in the loss of life of a person is considered as murder and shall be tried and punished under the relevant laws.
(3) The penalties specified under this section shall be without prejudice to the prosecution of other crimes and other legal remedies available to the victim under other existing laws, including the right to claim for compensation.

This section simply means that a person who has been tried and convicted of performing acts of torture on a person shall be imprisoned for a term not more than 25 years and if death results as a consequence, such a person will be charged and tried for murder. It also allows for civil action to be taken by the victim in the form of compensation in respect of such inhumane act done against him/her.

No Exception

Section 3 provides that there shall be no justification for the act of torture on any person irrespective of the situation in the Country be it war or threat of war or internal political instability. There shall be no justification for the use of torture.

Consequences of Using Torture to Obtain Evidence

Section 4 of the Anti-Torture Act, 2017 provides for situations where torture is used to obtain evidence. In such situation, where evidence is produced at trial, it shall be discountenanced (i.e. refuse to approve), and where it is a subject of contention between the parties, a trial-within-trial shall be convened to ascertain the validity and admissibility of such evidence.

As has been made clear in the previous heading, there is zero tolerance for the torture of people who have been arrested by the Police, or anyone else empowered to do so under the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.

Dignity of Person

The Constitution protects the arrested individual against inhuman and undignified treatment especially torture, providing the bedrock for the repudiation of torture.

The Administration of Criminal Justice Act goes one step further to provide for the conditions upon which a confessional statement shall be recorded and received thus:

“Where a suspect who is arrested with or without a warrant volunteers to make a confessional statement, the police officer shall ensure that the making and taking of the statement shall be in writing and may be recorded electronically on a retrievable video compact disc or such other audio visual means.”

This situation makes it possible for the process of making and recording the confession to be subjected to supervision and checks. The audiovisual recording of the confession makes it easy for anyone to ascertain the condition of the suspect at the time of the confession, thus making it hard for law enforcement to force a confession out of a suspect.


 The Anti Torture Act is the final piece of the puzzle. It criminalizes torture, making sure that it is outlawed and that anyone who indulges in it would be punished as inscribed in the body of Nigerian Law. In such situations where a person has subject to torture, such person is advised to contact a lawyer who will guide him/ her on the proper procedure to follow. Always keep in mind that time is of the essence and to keep whatever document, picture etc. which will serve as evidence to strengthen his/ her case.

Written by Chuks

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