By OLUSESAN LAOYE
Hitherto, Nigeria’s human rights record has been questionable as the annual Amnesty International report always found the country on the wrong side of global best practices. Routinely, security agents of the state have been indicted trampling on the rights of ordinary Nigerians with impunity ranging from the war against insurgency in the northeast, extrajudicial killings by soldiers and trigger happy policemen; the list is endless. Lives of Nigerians have been taken for the refusal by motorists to part with just N100.
But matters seem to have reached alarming proportion with the current lockdown across the country which has reduced the revenue drive of some of these agencies since fewer vehicles and human traffic on the road to exploit. Across the country, there have been reports of the blatant and indiscriminate shooting of defenceless people by security agents on baseless grounds.
In the past few years, especially during this present government, there had been more cases of human rights violations than the previous governments. This is even why some people and human rights activists have labelled it a dictatorial government and the worst that would ever shun the rule of law.
Although the federal government specified some states with presidential order for the lockdown, state governments have been adopting what suits them, depending on the situations in their various states
But what Nigerians thoughts would be a civil enforcement of the lockdown, has turned out to be brutal, with the security operatives across the states misusing their powers and infringing on the fundamental human rights of the citizens, despite the hardship they were subjected to, by the government that locked them in, without adequate provision for their wellbeing, unlike other developed nations, which made concrete and adequate provisions for their citizens.
As a human rights activist in Oyo State, Comrade Amuda Liasu of the Rights of the less Privilege put it, “the attitudes of governments across Nigeria on the coronavirus pandemic amounts to sheer slavery and infringement of the people’s rights because government both states and Federal have failed in their responsibilities to cater for the needs of the people, either now when they were needed most or in the past when people are free to move about to earn their living”.
From the current situation and reports across Nigeria, the past few weeks have been hectic for the people and it has even shown the highest brutality and impediment of the people’s rights by the security operatives, who have taken laws into their hands.
From the latest collated statistics from Human Rights groups, about 25 people have been known to have lost their lives in the hands of the operatives, while several people have suffered severe injuries, since the beginning of the enforcement of the lockdown.
For instance, the first casualty of the enforcement happened in Warri Delta State on the first day, when a 28-year-old man known as Joseph Passu was gunned down by a soldier for not stopping at a checkpoint at Ogumu flyover bridge. It was said that the angry soldier without hesitation shot Passu, who was said to be rushing to pick his sick father to the hospital after he got a distress call.
This incident nearly generated a big riot by the boys in town who believed that the popular socialite and guy about-town was unjustly murdered by a trigger happy soldier.
Although the case is now being handled by the Army, one would have thought that the outcry which that incident generated, should have taught others a big lesson but the abuse went unabated with the security agents constantly taken laws into their hands and impeding on the rights of the people with impunity. Since then, there have been other cases reported across Nigeria.
In Akwa Ibom state, there was the case of a lady whose car was seized by the police, while taking her bleeding aunt to the hospital. The police officers were said to be from the Divisional Police Station in Barracks road Uyo. There were also two pathetic incidents which occurred in Abia State last week.
A businessman, Friday Arunsi, was killed by the police in Ebem Ohafia Local government of the State. It was said that the policemen saw them while offloading their consignment of beverages from a truck at Eni Njoku Street when they were asked to stop the offloading. But before they knew what happened the policemen who had gone the station to sign for guns descended on them and shot the businessman at close range. This led to a big protest by the youths who retaliated by burning the DPO’s vehicle and house.
Unfortunately again, a similar incident occurred when a fuel attendant was killed in Abia State. The Abia saga was however taken as a war by the angry youths, who confronted the soldiers and the police. The incident in Sapele in which some women protested the lockdown led to the arrest of their leaders. The state government eventually intervened and those who were arrested and charged to court have been released and cautioned when the police dropped the charges against them.
Another case of the arbitrary abuse of persons in the lockdown and which generated so much heat was that of a woman beaten in front of her house at Iwo town, in Osun State.
The woman, Alimat Adesola Andulazees was beaten by two police officers at Odo Ori in Iwo. Since the news came out, the action of the police has generated a lot of heat and the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu also waded into the matter.
The Force Police image maker Mr Frank Mba said that the police officers involved, Inspector Ikuesan Taiwo and Abass Ibrahim, would be brought to book, while the Osun state Police Commissioner, Mr Babatunde Kokumo said that the officers have been arrested and now being detained.
The Monarch of the town, Oba Abdulrasheed Olawale Akanbi Telu ii, described the action of the police as a barbaric and high level of abuse of the law and fundamental rights of the woman, who was sitting quietly in front of her house. Although the security operatives have been the most guilty; people in government and some individuals too, are highly involved in the abuse of power and the infringement of the fundamental rights of persons.
For instance, the Ebonyi State Governor, David Umahi ordered the arrest of a reporter with the Sun Newspapers who reported the outbreak of Lassa fever. Also his counterpart in Katsina state, Alhaji Aminu Massari ordered the detention of a blogger in the state who queried the rationale behind the purchase of 3,000 coffins at the rate of N40,000 each.
It has been noted that the infringements of people’s rights are not limited to people in power alone. There was a recent case of a rich owner of a pharmacy in Agbor, Mr Ndobu who ordered that a lady suspected of stealing milk in his supermarket, be stripped naked. The case was taken up by the Human Rights Foundation and the shop owner was arrested for taken laws into his hands.
Commenting on Human Rights abuses in Nigeria, a legal icon, and Right activist Chief Femi Falana said that one of the reasons militating against proper prosecution of human rights violators is corruption.
According to him, there are categories of abuses which are arbitrary arrests and killings, communal violence and forcefully taken over other people’s land with the backing of government and security agents, preventing freedom of speech and association. All these, he said, have been undermining the status of human rights in Nigeria
Also in his comment, the Director-General of Human Rights Commission Dr Tony Ojukwu said that Nigeria has been one of the countries guilty of violating Human Rights of persons’ right from Independence. He said “The government has been preventing freedom of expression and social rights and equality. Treaties signed on human rights not obeyed especially during the Military when the ruled by decrees which leads to arbitrary arrests, torture”
He went on “even now in the political dispensation people in power use of things to subdue their opponents, while there are extortions here and there.”