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Photo of ‘tortured’ National Youth Service Corps member the work of a makeup artist

A photo of a man’s back, criss-crossed with bloody wounds, is being shared widely online in Nigeria. But is the photo really of someone who was tortured?

The picture also appeared on Africa Check’s Nigeria Whatsapp group.

According to the text posted with the photo, it shows the back of a Nigerian National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) member named Michael (no surname given) after he was beaten and flogged. 

(Note: The NYSC is a scheme set up by the Nigerian federal government which requires university and polytechnic graduates to do one year of national service.) 

The text says: “Michael – serving in Nasara Standard Academy, perceived as the shining light in a tottering secondary education system in Kaura Namoda – was today brutalised, manhandled and reduced to nothingness by a brainless team comprising of the ‘richest’ man in Kaura Namoda and his equally wanton boys. What was his crime?” 

Kaura Namoda is a town in Zamfara state in northwestern Nigeria. 

It adds “Michael” punished a student who was the “ward” of the “richest man in Kaura Namoda” and was then beaten up by the man and police officers supporting him. 

Special effect created by Nigerian make-up artist

An article on the blog of the Italian fact-checker David Puente shows that the photo is of a special effect created by Nigerian make-up artist, Hakeem Onilogbo, in 2014.

Onilogbo’s work can be seen on his Facebook page.

The photo has been published in other places online as though it were evidence of torture. In February 2019, the photo was used in an article about the security forces of the former president of Sudan, Omar Al Bashir, under the caption: “Sudanese Protester tortured by Bashir Security forces”.

Corps member was assaulted by police

While the photo is not of an NYSC member and not of real torture, a corps member called Michael Uwakwe was “assaulted by police in Zamfara”, according to newspaper reports from March 2017 and statements by police.  

Many of the real details are similar to those widely shared with the special effect photo. Apparently Uwakwe was detained by police after he had punished one of his students, who complained to her father. 

An NYSC spokesperson said that Uwakwe “went… to the police station and in the station he was slapped and detained for six hours”. 

Uwakwe, showing his unharmed back in this photo, was then redeployed from Zamfara state to Anambra state, in the southeast of the country. 

Police refute claim

Mohammed Shehu, public relations officer for the Zamfara Police Command, confirmed that Michael Uwakwe was assaulted in 2017 but the photo used in the claim is a wrong photo.

“The photo used in the claim is not that of the corps member who was punished in 2017. Also, the corps member was not tortured and brutalised.”

Shehu also released a statement “completely debunking the story and urging members of the public to discountenance it in its entirety”.

So, the photo of a man’s wounded back is not a true reflection of the assault on Michael Uwakwe in 2017. The photo is the work of a Nigerian make-up artist and unrelated to the incident where Uwakwe was beaten by police. – Motunrayo Joel


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