Police, DSS, others worsened human rights violations during COVID-19 lockdown – Reps C’ttee

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Policemen block the expressway to prevent motorists from driving into Lagos, at the Ojodu-Berger border between Lagos and Ogun States, on March 31, 2020, following the lockdown by the authorities to curb the spread the COVID-19 coronavirus. – Lagos was deserted on March 31, 2020, after Nigeria locked down its economic hub and shuttered its capital Abuja, in the continent’s latest effort to brake the juggernaut of COVID-19 coronavirus.

Businesses were closed, markets abandoned and streets empty as the usually chaotic megacity 20 million, along with the capital Abuja, shuddered to a halt on the first full day of a two-week shutdown. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

The Chairman, House Representatives Committee on Public Petitions, Jerry Alagbaso on Wednesday came hard on security agencies in the country, accusing them of human rights violations during the COVID-19 lockdown.

According to him, the police, followed by non-state actors like State COVID-19 task forces and the Nigerian Army were among the top violators human rights as contained in the documented report by the National Human Rights Commission.

He also said that the Department State Services and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corp were indicted for violating human rights while enforcing the pandemic rules and regulations.

The legislator spoke during an experience sharing session on the “Administrative injustice arising from COVID-19”, organized by the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre with support from the European Union.

The Executive Director PLAC, Clement Nwankwo, while welcoming participants, stated that the aim of the event was to gather data on lessons learnt from COVID-19 and the recommendations to improve the socio-economic well-being of vulnerable groups.

The session also made recommendations on legislative committee interventions that will protect the rights women in public emergency situations.

Alagbaso said the violations included arbitrary arrests and detention citizens and even those who had cogent reasons to go about their official duties during the COVID-19 lockdown period.

Apart from harassment and illegal detention journalists by security agencies, he said there were

also several instances illegal arrests and detention of ordinary citizens and others who were pushed by hunger in search of food and sources of income.

He said, “At the Committee on Human Rights Abuses, we have handled cases concerning administrative injustices. And at our investigative hearings, the Committee’s position as regards the violation of human rights is always made clear to the heads of the security agencies and we have always pointed out the dangers in the abuse of human rights. Another issue is that of extra-judicial killings.

Alagbaso said the NHRC documented more than 11 extra-judicial killings between April and May 2020 committed by the security agents while enforcing the COVID-19 lockdown as well as other non-state actors.

In their report, the commission said that they caused seven of the deaths while the NSCDC, non-state actors and state task forces situated in Abia state for COVID-19 enforcement were responsible for others.

He said that the NHRC report showed that out of the 11 documented deaths, four were recorded in Abia state, two in Delta State, while Niger, Jigawa, Lagos, Anambra and Rivers states recorded one death each.

“The report also stated that during the COVID-19 lockdown, the police accounted for 29.6 per cent of the total violations, followed by individuals and non-state actors and gender-based violence which accounted for 18.3 percent.

“The report pointed out that the various task forces on the enforcement of COVID-19 regulations across the country accounted for 10.5 per cent of the cases, while the Nigerian Army and Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corp accounted for 7.7 per cent and 1.9 per cent respectively of the violation.

“The DSS also accounted for 1 percent of the total cases of violations”, Alagbaso said.

The lawmaker said that the cases of the arrests were rampant to the extent that even journalists who render essential services were arrested and detained by the police illegally.

He decried the overzealous nature of some uniform personel in the course of carrying out their duties, calling for a change in attitude.

Participants at the event shared their experiences during the period under review with most accusing the police of extortion and other forms of abuse.

The session also heard from participants how the Covid -19 pandemic exposed grievous corruption in the country as claims by the government of putting in place critical infrastructure to the effect was not realistic.

The issues also highlighted were those of domestic and sexual violence which increased during the lockdown as observed by civil society groups and Non Governmental Organizations.