Last Wednesday, May 6, the Akwa Ibom State government task force intercepted the corpse of a COVID-19 victim being smuggled into the state. Despite the lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus and the ban on interstate travel, the ambulance conveying the corpse passed through seven states. How did they do it? The smugglers simply “settled” the security agents, particularly policemen, in those states.
The lockdown imposed in virtually all states in Nigeria has turned out to be a prayer answered for policemen in the country who have been deployed to the streets and highways to enforce the order. From the fringe of the Sahara to the Atlantic coastline, it is largely the same story of extortion, human rights abuse and extra-judicial killings.
Indeed, the attitude of security personnel enforcing the restriction of movement and social distancing directive leaves a lot to be desired. Those who refuse to grease their palms are made to gnash their teeth in pains.
Courtesy of the social media, Nigerians and the world at large are daily served the ignoble performances of the cops, who seem not to realise that the times have changed. These are several video clips in circulation on the Internet showing policemen attacking civilians and practically robbing them. A policeman in Akwa Ibom said he never had it so good.
Jennifer Alegieuno, a makeup artist, described the trend as “sickening, the corruption and laxity in the Nigeria Police Force.”
Two youths were killed by the police in Anambra State, on Tuesday, April 14, 2020, when the police in state caused the death of two persons while enforcing the lockdown order in the state, at the New Tyre Market Area of Nkpor, Idemili North Local Government Area of Anabra State.
It was alleged that the young men were killed outside their residence in the police officer’s attempt to enforce the stay-at-home order. They had insisted that since they were in front of their residences, the police could not force them into their rooms. The standoff created tension between the police and other residents and led to the police shooting at the two young men.
Police public relations officer in the state, Haruna Mohammed, however, noted that the shooting was as a result of an unprovoked attack on the police patrol team with substances suspected to be acid by some miscreants in the area.
Another case involved a lady, Tola Azeez, who was flogged by policemen in Iwo, Osun State, for allegedly violating the COVID-19 lockdown directive in the state.
The inhuman treatment meted on Azeez by the police on Saturday, April 18, became the topic of social media outrage when the video of the assault was first published online by Nigerian musician, RuggedMan, on his Twitter account, @Ruggedybaba, calling the attention of police authorities to the brutalization.
The victim, on the same day, retweeted the video posted by the musician, to confirm it. She wrote: “This is me being beaten by the police today on my way to get drugs and some relief materials for my people.”
Due to the outcry and condemnation, the Osun State Commissioner of Police, Babatunde Kokumo, later announced the arrest and detention of the officers involved.
The officers, identified as Inspector Ikuesan Taiwo and Corporal Abass Ibrahim, were subjected to Orderly Room trial, which led to their dismissal after being found guilty by the police authorities.
On Thursday, April 23, a female police officer, Lavender Elekwachi, was shot dead by a colleague, Sergeant Bitrus Osaiah, while on duty. Elekwachi, before her death, was attached to Eneka Division in Obio/Akpor Area of Rivers State and was posted to Eneka Roundabout on traffic duties.
Bitrus Osaiah, who also serves in the Operations Department of the Command, was attached to the Rivers State Task Force on Decongestion. He shot his colleague while trying to enforce movement restriction put in place by the state government to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The incident occurred when the policewoman, a nursing mother with an 18-month-old baby at home, tried to prevent her colleague and members of the task force from destroying the wares of some traders who had created makeshift markets in the area.
Revolt by citizens
The saying that a hungry man is an angry man rang true when a mother of six was arrested for allegedly slapping a police officer in Eruwa, Oyo State.
Kehinde Afolake, a single parent, assaulted Assistant Superintendent of Police, Divisional Crime Officer of Eruwa Police Division, Adeyemo Ogunyemi.
In a video that went viral on social media, the woman explained that she was sitting on her own, when the police officer moved closer to her and gave her a slap, which prompted her to revolt.
She held on to the officer’s cloth and asked if slapping her was part of the instructions given to him by government.
Reports and statistics
The reports and statistics provided by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) stated that, between March 30 and April 13, which happened to be the first phase of the lockdown in the country, law enforcement agents killed 18 persons while enforcing the order of the Federal Government.
The report showed that a total of 105 complaints were monitored/received from 24 states out of the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). They were Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross Rivers, FCT, Ebonyi, Edo, Enugu, Ekiti, Delta, Gombe, Imo, Kaduna, Katsina, Kogi, Kwara, Lagos, Nasarawa, Niger, Ogun, Osun, Plateau and Rivers states.
Out of 105 complaints/incidents of human rights violations received and documented within the period, Lagos State had the highest with 28 incidents. This was followed by the FCT, which had 10 recorded cases. Enugu State recorded nine incidents, followed by Abia, Delta and Nasarawa states, which recorded seven, six and five incidents, respectively. Rivers State also recorded five incidents of human rights violations, while Imo recorded four incidents.
Ekiti, Akwa Ibom, Gombe, Kaduna and Ebonyi states recorded three incidents each, while Kwara, Osun, Benue and Niger states recorded two incidents each. Edo, Adamawa, Ogun, Cross River, Kogi, Bayelsa, Katsina and Plateau states recorded one incident each.
The report also showed that complaints of human rights violations were received and documented in the following thematic areas: extrajudicial killings, violation of right to freedom of movement, unlawful arrest and detention, seizure/confiscation of properties, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), discrimination, torture, inhumane and degrading treatment and extortion.
There were eight documented incidents of extrajudicial killing leading to 18 deaths. Out of this number, 12 deaths were recorded in Kaduna State. Abia State also recorded two deaths arising from two incidents, while Delta, Niger, Ebonyi and Katsina states recorded one death each. Whereas COVID-19 had led to the death of about 11 patients as at April 14, law enforcement agents extrajudicially executed 18 persons to enforce the lockdown.
The report further showed that out of the 18 deaths, the Nigeria Correctional Service was responsible for eight deaths while the Nigeria Police Force was responsible for seven deaths. The Nigerian Army was responsible for two deaths, while the Ebonyi State Task Force on COVID-19, Afikpo South LGA, was responsible for one death.
Other types of violations recorded within the period included 33 incidents of torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, 27 incidents of violation of right to freedom of movement, unlawful arrest and detention, 19 incidents of seizure/confiscation of properties, 13 incidents of extortion, four incidents of SGBV, and one incident of discrimination in the distribution of food items.
The report stated that the Nigeria Police Force accounted for about 90 per cent of all cases of violations, followed by the Nigerian Army and Nigeria Correctional Service and other non-state actors. The report also stated that 31 incidents of violations, representing about 29 per cent of the complaints, have been resolved by different security agencies.
The report finally stated that the various human rights violations recorded during the period arose as a result of excessive or disproportionate use of force, abuse of power, corruption and non-adherence to international and national human rights laws and best practices by law enforcement agents.
In his review of the situation, Osun State-born legal practitioner and rights activist, Mr. Kunle Adegoke, said it was unfortunate that the understanding of an average law enforcement officer in Nigeria was that of a licensed terrorist at liberty, in the name of law enforcement, to brutalise those he was paid to protect.
He stated that the average security agent in Nigeria regarded the right to life as his own to grant or refuse.
“Personal liberty of an average taxpayer is at the pleasure of a Nigerian law enforcement officer, as he regards other citizens as enemies who he is at liberty to kill or dehumanise.
“It is sad that, in Nigeria, we lost lives to law enforcement officers in the name of enforcing the lockdown and stay-at-home orders. We have seen video clips of human rights abuse by soldiers and police officers forcing offenders to swim in sewage waters, applying corporal punishment on lockdown offenders, and, in some cases, shooting citizens at close range in trigger-happy encounters.
“It is even disheartening to hear two army officers threatening to subject Warri women in Delta State to rape and inflict them with HIV. It is a display of lunacy and one wonders what sort of orientation is instilled in our soldiers, policemen and civil defence officers during their recruitment training.
“Definitely, the entire system is suffused with distorted orientation and warped mentality. An example is the 2015 declaration of war by the Nigerian Army on the entire household of an Islamic scholar in Kaduna in which tens of lives were lost and subsequent detention without trial of the victims of the human rights abuses.
“Once such military brigandage goes with executive endorsements, it is certain that the lower rank officials in the force would see themselves as above the laws of the land.
“ The government needs to check these excesses. The military, the police and other agencies should be properly trained not only in how to apply force and shoot, but how to be human and respect other citizens’ rights. They must be made to understand that these people they are killing are the movers of the economic forces by which the state is run, the forces are kitted, equipped and salaries of officers are paid.
“There must be a complete re-orientation of officers. The government should also pay compensation to the families of those killed and those subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment by these reckless officials. Those who committed the atrocities referred to should also not go unpunished and they should be relieved of their appointments,” he said.
Former chairman, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja branch, Mr. Dave Ajetomobi, while lamenting the situation, stated that the security agents in the country needed re-orientation.
“It’s rather unfortunate, the species of humans in the law enforcement agencies are really not the best. They are mostly frustrated and poorly paid, they tend to vent their frustrations on the public.
“On the other hand, the political class has groomed some hoodlums who they use for elections but have no plans for them after elections. They are the people mainly troubling the environment in my area, among others. When they are arrested, the politicians ensure their release. It is sad, those people have no means of survival, apart from extorting from the public; since their lives have no value, they are willing to die.
“Another group is the ‘I sabi too much’ group who knows or argue that there’s no COVID-19, and that they have right to move around, you don’t argue with a frustrated man holding a gun. In all cases, I am of the view that persons involved should be brought to justice, rich or poor,” he said.
Mr. Bayo Akinlade, chairman of the Ikorodu branch of NBA, said, the issue of abuse of human rights was not a new thing but became more visible now due to the fact that there was no distractiion.
His words: “No doubt that there will be cases of abuse by security operatives during this period. But it has always been like this. It is only more visible now because we are not distracted by other things like work.
“We are in lockdown, which means that we are now paying more attention to the things we hitherto didn’t consider or we ignored and accepted as normal.
“The citizens are now more attentive to the many violations of human rights by enforcement agencies who go beyond the law and torment the most vulnerable. I am, however, excited that people are now recording these acts of abuse and escalating it via social media. The press should also work closely with rights groups to bring more awareness in this regard. A well protected and respected citizenry is the most productive and law-abiding.”
Human rights lawyer and member of the Ekiti State Judicial Commission, Mr. Kabiru Akingbolu, said the rate of human right abuses by security agents during the lockdown was of incredible proportions.
“Although there is no excuse whatsoever for anybody, no matter highly placed in Nigeria, to wilfully violate the rights of other citizens, unfortunately, a good number of the human right abuses complained of during this lockdown were opportunistic abuses or occurrences.
“This is because there is a lawful order to remain at home but people without just causes are coming out, wandering about. This gives the security agents the opportunity to abuse and dehumanise them.
“In fact, in so many cases, it has led to the death of the victims of such reckless abuse. I can tell you for free and this is known to many Nigerians that many security agents now see their call to duty to protect the lives and property of innocent ctizens who are being ravaged by hunger as a result of the lockdown, which has prevented them from working for their daily bread, as a means of making money.
“This is unfair to the helpless citizens and totally illegal and runs parallel to the spirit of the law establishing the security outfits. Not only that, it is a violation of peoples’ rights to own properties, if police extorts money from poor citizens. It also runs contrary to the very essence of engaging the security agents during this trying period.
“To worsen the situation, most of these human rights abuses cannot be challenged for now since the courts have been locked down completely, though wrong because when justice or instruments of justice, which is the courts, are shut down indefinitely in any society, the people are done for and, if not carefully handled, the ripple effects on the society may be gargatuan.
“It bears no repetition that the security agents for this kind of assignment ought to be properly trained in the act of civility and courtesy.
“But from the way things have gone so far, it is a far cry from what is justified in any modern democracy. For crying out loud, many were flogged, beaten, forced to roll in the gutter, made to do frog jump and in so many instances, some were shot dead.
“This is sad and needs to be nipped in the bud with immediate effect so that Nigerians are not made victims of this unwholesome indiscipline and despicable acts of some of our security agents,” he said.
The Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC) condemned the rising cases of security agents’ brutality in Nigeria occasioned by enforcement of lockdown in most parts of the country.
In a statement signed by RULAAC coordinator, Okechukwu Nwanguma, the centre warned that there is likelihood of a violent disorder in the public against law and order, should the situation continue.
Okechukwu commended the prompt response of the Inspector-General of Police and some state commissioners of police in the affected states but he demanded the outcomes of investigations into several cases of police brutality still being probed.
“In the last one week, after the National Human Rights Commission raised concerns about the high numbers of killings by law enforcement agents supposedly enforcing the lockdown imposed across states in Nigeria in the wake of the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, cases of killings, particularly by the police have been on the increase with resultant unacceptable casualties.
“I commend the Inspector-General of Police for always rising to the occasion in promptly ordering the arrest of unruly officers and investigation of acts of brutality and misconduct. But we need to see the outcome of investigations into these cases and RULAAC and its partner-organisations across the states are monitoring and will keep documenting,” the statement read.
Source: Sun News