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VIII. Abusive Conditions of Detention and Denial of Medical Treatment

In addition to being subjected to physical violence, suspects held in police custody are forced to endure appalling conditions that violate international standards for the treatment of detainees and may amount to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. Detainees described being routinely packed into small, poorly-ventilated cells with up to thirty or forty other suspects. Many sleep on the floor without mattresses or bedding and in some cases were forced to lie over each other to sleep in shifts. A fifty-nine-year-old man, detained at the state police command at Panti, Lagos, in January 200,5 told Human Rights Watch: “It was jammed, we were packed like sardines, lying head to tail. We couldn’t move. We slept on the floor, just like that”.118

Sanitation and hygiene facilities are limited; in some stations there is only one toilet per cell and little or no water for washing. Lack of resources, corruption and overcrowding means it is rare for suspects to be given adequate food rations. Many detainees said they were forced to buy their own food from hawkers at the police station or rely on relatives to provide it for them. In other cases the denial of food and water for several days or weeks appeared to be a deliberate policy to further punish suspects. When Human Rights Watch raised the matter with the Kano State command, the police spokesperson refuted this; he told researchers that all suspects are fed three times a day.119

This combination of poor hygiene, nutrition and overcrowding has led in some cases to illness and disease.  Skin rashes and stomach infections are common. Basic medical facilities are often not available and detainees are forced to buy medicines such as painkillers to treat themselves. Many victims, who suffered serious injuries as a result of torture and ill-treatment, described being denied medical treatment. Bullet wounds and lacerations were left untreated, resulting in infection. For example, four detainees interviewed in Ikoyi Prison, Lagos, had been shot with a gun in one or both feet whilst in police detention. None received medical attention at the police station and when researchers met them, all had difficulty walking. Their feet were swollen and scarred or had developed infections. A nineteen-year-old trader, detained at Ogudu police station in November 2004, told Human Rights Watch: “They took me outside and shot me in the right foot. There was so much blood as the bullet had cut through a vein. It was bleeding for three weeks […] I got no medical attention at the police station.”120

Similarly, the conditions of detention described by a thirty-year-old farmer held at the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) state command in Kano in early 2005 violate minimum standards as set out in international human rights instruments and constitute cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.121 According to the man’s account account, the cell was very poorly ventilated and extremely congested, with approximately fifty men packed into each of the three cells. He was detained for a total of thirty-nine days during which time he was not allowed out of the cell. There was a lack of water and food was severely inadequate. He described how he and the other detainees were fed just one cup of garri (dried cassava) with tinned milk each day. It is not clear whether this was due to general lack of resources, corruption or a deliberate policy to withhold food from suspects.

[118] Human Rights Watch interview, Lagos, March 10, 2005.

[119] Human Rights Watch interview with Baba Mohammed, Kano State Police Public Relations Officer, Kano, March 14, 2005.

[120] Human Rights Watch interview, Ikoyi Prison, Lagos, March 10, 2004.

[121] United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (known as the Standard Minimum Rules), adopted by the U.N. Economic and Social Council in 1957 and the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons Under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, 1988.

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