As the Coronavirus lockdown bites harder across the globe and the nation in particular, another burden has been placed on the people in the course of enforcing the restriction order. No doubt, the confinement is crucial at this moment in the life of the country as the deadly virus infects and kills with ease. Therefore, the more people are made to stay indoors, the better for them. It is for these reasons that all that it takes should be given to end the pandemic.
Despite series of efforts and intervention by the federal and state governments, individuals, religious bodies and corporate organisations, people still have one reason or the other to flout the restriction order because the impact of such palliatives and interventions are not felt by the majority of the people. Most people seem to sneak out to eke out a living while some were caught up with the lockdown outside their respective locations of domicile. No matter the excuse, violating restriction orders is not justifiable. The face-off between the people and law enforcement agents can generally be classified into two. In the first instance, security operatives have been reported to aid the illegal movement of persons from one location to another.
Since the national lockdown commenced in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, as well as Lagos and Ogun states, many intra-city and inter-city roadblocks have been mounted to monitor the movement of people in line with the presidential directives on the enforcement of Section 5 of the Quarantine Act, Laws of the Federation. Apart from civilians classified as engaging in essential services, the other categories of persons that can move freely from one place to another are the law enforcement agents. It is this immunity that the security officers latch on and move about after being compromised and receiving gratification from travellers.
To facilitate easy passage, security agents either serve as escorts to vehicles provided by civilian lawbreakers or they convey people directly, who are crammed into the official vehicles released to them for patrol assignments. This attitude is not only criminal but it also amount to dereliction of duty, breach of trust, and outright sabotage because the essence of confinement is being defeated as a result of corrupt practices by security agencies. In other words, the security personnel are now conspirators to the spread of the deadly disease. The second context has to do with the people apprehended on the streets violating the restriction order without prior knowledge by law enforcement agents. Rather than arrest and hand over culprits to prosecution authorities, the security operatives usually take the law into their hands and maltreat the people with impunity.
Nigerians wandering about and apprehended are made to swim inside gutters, frog-jumped, canned, and beaten up, and even killed. It is instructive to state that Section 36 of the 1999 Nigerian constitution (as amended) allows every person the right to a presumption of innocence. Section 34 of the constitution equally guarantees the fundamental right to dignity of the human person while the Anti-Torture Act of 2017 makes it a criminal offence for security agents to subject persons to torture, inhuman, or any degrading treatment. Nigeria is also a party to several international and regional human rights standards that prohibit torture and other forms of assault.
A recent gory report by the National Human Rights Commission indicated that a total of 105 complaints were monitored and received from 24 out of the 36 states of the federation including the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, in which Lagos State had the highest recorded cases with 28 incidents, followed by FCT with 10 recorded cases bordering on extra-judicial killings, violation of the right to freedom of movement, unlawful arrest and detention, seizure or confiscation of properties, extortion, sexual and gender-based violence, discrimination, torture, inhumane, and degrading treatment.
NHRC, which decries the impunity, reckless disregard for human life, violation of protocols and rules of engagement for law enforcement, describes the lawlessness as a clear manifestation of the efficiency level and the capacity of law enforcement agents to deal with the civil population. The report further berated the Nigeria Correctional Service, Nigeria Police Force, and Nigeria Army, among other security apparatus for the excessive or disproportionate use of force, abuse of power, corruption, and non-adherence to international and national human rights laws, and best practices. Despite assurance by the police and other security agencies high commands to protect lives and property, and respect the fundamental rights of the people, this negative image and perception caused the nation is monumental and cannot be easily shoved aside.
The United States Council on Foreign Relations disclosed that 25,794 people encountered violent deaths in Nigeria since 2015 out of which at least 1,476 people were killed by state actors alone in the past one year. The British Broadcasting Corporation described the Nigeria police as having a bad reputation for brutality, extortion, and harassment even before the current pandemic began. As it is now, people are being subjected to double-jeopardy. Why would any police or military officer assist anyone to flout regulations? Are they ignorant that social distancing is still in force? Have they ever reflected that they (security agents) have become conduits for transmission and putting their own lives at risk too?
Nigerians should endeavour to obey all instructions, regulations, and directives given by the government and health authorities to defeat coronavirus. They should avoid subjecting themselves to avoidable torture and punishment by security operatives that have been known to be lawbreakers over the years. Before now, trigger-happy security personnel are notorious for raping women, shooting indiscriminately in the name of accidental discharge, colluding with unscrupulous persons to commit a crime. Journalists carrying out their lawful duties are not spared from brutality. With due respect to a few of them that are highly committed to securing lives and property; many security agents remain a burden to the nation. They can best be described as a necessary evil and deadlier than COVID-19.
Government at all levels and non-state actors should not relent in ensuring that necessary action is taken to prevent further spread of the virus, the exploitation, molestation, and killing of the people. Security operatives found engaging in any of these unbecoming acts should be apprehended, prosecuted, and severely punished. The use of the NHRC App for the electronic monitoring, documentation, and reporting of human rights violations is a welcome development to track abuses and identify erring officers, their collaborators or victims. NHRC needs aggressive publicity to elicit peoples’ cooperation and patronage for desired outcomes.
As obtainable in other climes, security agents have become friendlier and active in the service to their fatherland since coronavirus ravaged the world. They are seen assisting in fumigation, providing support for the elderly and vulnerable, rapidly responding to emergencies, and increasing surveillance to ensure that people are happy and that the burden of the calamity is whittled down. Our law enforcement agents should brace up, turn a new leaf and should desist from giving the impression that they are above the law. This should be their post-COVID gift to Nigerians.
Kupoluyi writes from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB). [email protected],@AdewaleKupoluyi