With the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic worldwide which affected Nigeria among other African Nations and communities following the fast and unstoppable spreading of the endemic viral disease, the Federal government of Nigeria declared a total lockdown and sit at home order in its attempts and deliberate efforts to prevent the spread.
This was after it discovered that such preventive measures as washing the hands with soap and running water, wearing of face masks and social distancing were not effectively enough to check the spread of the rampaging Coronavirus, epidemic or plaque.
The lockdown was further extended for a period of 14 days effective 13th -27th of April, 2020. When this period did not witness any appreciable reduction or decrease in the recorded incidences of Covid-19, the lockdown or sit at home order was further extended from 27th April to 4th May, 2020, which is where we are at the moment.
Regrettably, security agencies engaged by government to ensure strict compliance with these directives instead took undue advantages of the panic situation to unleash terror and inflict violence, extortion, exploitation, vindictiveness and militancy on the helpless people. There was no exception as it happened simultaneously in Abuja, Lagos, Ogun and the rest of the country.
According to a documentary release by the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Mr Tony Ojukwu (Esq), the report also documents the various thematic areas in which the violations occurred, the nature of the violations, the disaggregated data on state reported violations, the agencies of Government responsible for the violations as well as the response/action taken to remedy the violations.
Incidents of violation of Human Rights, the report shows that a total of 104 complaints were monitored/received from twenty-seven States (27) out of the 36 States of the federation including the FCT, namely: Abia, Adamawa; Akwa Ibom; Kano; Jigawa; Cross Rivers; Ebonyi; Edo; Enugu; Ekiti; Delta; Imo; Lagos; Nasarawa; Niger; Ogun; Osun; Borno; Bayelsa; kogi; Benue; Anambra; Kaduna; Gombe; Zamfara and Rivers States.
It further shows a reduction in the total number of complaints on human rights violations received/documented by the Commission from 105 (as contained in the first report released by the Commission on 14th April, 2020) for a period of 2 weeks (i.e from 30th March – 13th April, 2020) to 104 complaints for a period of three (3) weeks (i.e from 13th April – 4th May, 2020). This shows an improvement of the state of human rights in the enforcement of Covid 19 Regulations by law enforcement officers, Task Forces on Covid 19 and other non-state actors. This improvement is attributed to the level of awareness created by the Commission following the release of its initial report of 14/4/2020 as well as efforts to ensure accountability and adherence to the rules of engagement on the part of Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs).
Out of 104 complaints/incidents of human rights violations received and documented within the period, 49 complaints were received/documented within the first week of the extended lockdown period (i.e. from 13th – 20th April, 2020); while 33 complaints were received during the 2nd week (i.e. from 20th – 27th April, 2020). During the 3rd week (i.e from 27th April–4th May, 2020), only 23 complaints/incidents were received/documented by the Commission. This shows weekly reduction in complaints received, perhaps for fear of a backlash and uncertainty over any actions taken.
The report also shows that Enugu State has the highest recorded cases with 13 incidents unlike Lagos State that had the highest cases with 28 incidents in the earlier Report released on 14/4/2020 by the Commission. This is followed by Imo State which had 12 incidents. Akwa Ibom and Nasarawa States recorded 10 incidents each, while Delta and Abia States recorded 9 and 7 incidents respectively.
Lagos State recorded 5 cases, while FCT Abuja and Benue States recorded 4 cases each. This is followed by Niger, Zamfara, Osun and Rivers States with 3 incidents each. Other states such as Anambra, Jigawa, Bayelsa and Edo States recorded 2 incidents each; while Ogun, Kogi, Borno, Gombe, Kaduna, Adamawa, Ebonyi, Kano, Cross River and Ekiti States recorded 1 incident each.
Thematic areas/types of violations, the complaints of human rights violations were received and documented in the following thematic areas: extra-judicial killings, violation of right to freedom of movement, unlawful arrest and detention, seizure/confiscation of properties, sexual and gender based violence (SGBV), torture, inhumane and degrading treatment and extortion.
There were eleven (11) documented incidents of extra-judicial killing leading to 11 deaths. Out of this number, 4 deaths were recorded in Abia State alone. Delta State recorded 2 deaths, while Niger, Jigawa, Lagos, Anambra and Rivers States recorded 1 death each.
The report further shows that out of the 11 deaths, the Nigeria Police Force was responsible for 7 deaths, while the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Nonstate Actors and the Abia State Task Force on Covid – 19 were responsible for 1 death each. Investigation was still on-going as at the time of the report to unravel the perpetrator of the extra-judicial killing that occurred in Jigawa State.
Other types of violation recorded within the period include 34 incidents of torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, 14 incidents of violation of right to freedom of movement, unlawful arrest and detention, 11 incidents of seizure/confiscation of properties, 19 incidents of extortion and 15 incidents of SGBV.
The report finds that the Nigeria Police Force accounted for 59.6% of the total cases of violations followed by Non-State Actors (i.e. mostly private individuals in SGBV related cases) which accounted for 18.3% of the total cases. The various Task Forces on enforcement of Covid-19 Regulations across the states accounted for 10.5% of the total cases; while the Nigeria Army and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) accounted for 7.7% and 1.9% respectively. The Department of State Services (DSS) also accounted for 1% of the total cases, while a perpetrator representing the other 1% was yet to be determined as at the time of this report.
The report also finds that18 incidents of violations representing about 17.3% of the complaints have been resolved by different security agencies and the Commission.
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 none adherence to international and national human rights laws and best practices by law enforcement agents.
In conclusion, the report shows some improvement and restraint in enforcement of the lockdown on the part of law enforcement officials following the public outrage and condemnation by all levels of authorities in the government, Judiciary, the Legislature and the Executive as well as civil society.
Accordingly, a protocol has been established between the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 and the Commission to ensure accountability for the violations in line with the statement of the President that all alleged human rights violations will be investigated and accountability brought to bear for them. To date, all the alleged violations have been communicated to the oversight Ministries of the law enforcement agencies for full investigation and accountability. These are namely, Ministries of, Police Affairs, Defence and Interior. The accountability steps taken by each of the law enforcement agencies should be communicated to the Commission within one month of the release of this report, and subsequently on monthly basis. The Commission will henceforth give monthly update on the reports from the various Law Enforcement agencies, of accountability steps taken, as well report where no action is taken.
It is hoped that each of the security agencies will in the very near future identify, make public and communicate same to the Commission, the name of very senior Desk officer who will be in a position to offer quick response on behalf of each agency and facilitate early resolution of complaints escalated to such agency.
The Commission commends all law enforcement officers who have shown restraint and professionalism in the face of provocation by members of the public during the lockdown. The report of human rights violations for the period of 13th April to 4th May, 2020 show some restraint and regards for the human rights of citizens by law enforcement agents (the DPO being harassed by the woman in the viral video is highly commended for his professionalism). This is the standard expected of all officers. However, the woman should have been arrested gently and made to face the law and not allowed to dramatize this for over 30 minutes.
Citizens are to understand that they have a responsibility to be law abiding and assist law enforcement agents by obeying the law. However, as professionals, where citizens are unruly to security agents in the course of law enforcement, officers should not be helpless, the rules of engagement do not envisage or permit use of torture or inhuman and degrading treatment on the part of professional law enforcement officials. No matter the provocation, the Anti Torture Act of 2017 states that there is no excuse to use torture. Any citizen who is unruly to a law enforcement agent while enforcing the law, should be arrested professionally without torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, and prosecuted, not extorted or tortured. That is what the law says and law enforcement officials must be seen to be obeying the law themselves and not get provoked, resort to self-help, impunity and disregard for human rights.
The report did not however include the resort to vendetta, toll collection and seizure of vehicles belonging to those on essential services especially journalists in Imo State by the security agents.