JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Nigeria's police and military routinely torture women, men and children as young as 12 with beatings, shootings, rape, electric shocks and pliers used to pull out teeth and nails, Amnesty International charged Thursday.
Most of those detained are denied access to the outside world and even to visits from family or lawyers, said the new report collated from hundreds of testimonies over 10 years.
Amnesty says torture has become so institutionalized in Nigeria that many police stations have an informal OC Torture, meaning "officer in charge of torture."
The indiscriminate and frequent roundups of hundreds of suspects who are tortured in "screening" to find Islamic extremists is more like a "medieval witch hunt," said Amnesty's Africa director Netsanet Belay.
"Across the country, the scope and severity of torture inflicted on Nigeria's women, men and children by the authorities supposed to protect them is shocking to even the most hardened human rights observer," he said.
Nigeria's police force Thursday night denied the charges and complained that Amnesty had not presented it with its findings. The police statement said that since Nigeria came out of decades of military dictatorship in 1994, "the police force has significantly improved on its human rights records, owing largely to training and re-training, community policing, attitudinal change and structural transformation."
The police statement said that the force will investigate Amnesty's allegations.
The report is called "Welcome to Hellfire" — the sign one torture victim saw scrawled on the wall of a police torture chamber.
Torture victim Justin Ogochukwu described to The Associated Press a "torture hall" of primitive instruments "full of clubs and rusty metal rods, buckets of water, ropes." He was arrested in August 2013 and trussed to a beam while officers strangled him for three hours in a bid to force a confession that he was involved in a ritual killing, he said.
When he passed out from pain, his torturers threw buckets of water to revive him.
For three months he was kept in a dark cell and fed only water and stale bread that inmates would fight over.
Finally, he got a court hearing and a judge let him out on bail.
But life for the 30-year-old may never be the same. "Before, I was a successful hotel manager and lived alone. Now, I have no job, my health is ruined and I've been forced to move home to my parents, and everyone is suspicious of me because they think I'm a ritualist," he said.
Ogochukwu said he suffers from internal bleeding, digestion problems and a throat infection that won't go away as a result of the torture.
And he doesn't have the money to pursue the PhD for which he was studying.
The Amnesty report described other forms of torture: people forced to stand on broken glass for days; pouring melting plastic on people's backs; women raped with foreign objects; people shot in the knee or hand; pulling out teeth, fingernails and toenails with pliers.
It said Nigeria's constitution bans torture but the country has no law making it illegal or punishable.
The government is aware of the problem because it has set up at least five presidential committees and working groups over the past 10 years to reform the criminal justice system and eradicate torture. But nothing else has been done, said the report.
AP writer Bashir Adigun contributed to this report from Abuja, Nigeria.