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Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Deadlier than COVID-19: Should Nigerians isolate from 'Killer Security Agents'? - ITREALMS

Caveat: There is difference between upholding and protecting Nigeria’s defence and security institutions of which advocacy for sustained reforms must be upheld, and holding individual personnel accountable for their alleged crimes.

Therefore, the focus of this article is to condemn the barbaric and atrocious acts of the few bad eggs and criminals in uniform--whose penchant to kill fellow Nigerians at the slightest provocations--has left an ugly stain on their agencies and undermined the commendable efforts of their professional colleagues. Is it not tragic to note that from the latest figures, Nigerians who were felled by the bullets of the law enforcement officials as a result of the lockdown order, are more than those that have so far died from the Coronavirus pandemic.

This is what happened...

"E go better" is a popular phrase in broken English used by Nigerians to express hope and optimism in the face of adversity. Even though it is good to be optimistic but the sad reality today is that Nigerians are increasingly becoming endangered species cornered by the deadly trio of COVID-19 pandemic, hunger and the 'killer security agents'/insecurity. The deadly chokehold of these murderous elements on Africa's most populous nation is odious.

The reports emanating from human rights groups, especially the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), CLEEN Foundation and International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) about the extrajudicial killings of Nigerians in this trying time is alarming. It therefore, calls for urgent reforms and inquiries about the suitability of the current policing system in the country because the prevailing reality has made mockery of the slogan: 'Police is your friend'. The question however, is how can you be friends with those you would kill at the slightest trigger? It beggars belief.

Of this triumvirate threatening Nigerians, there is a race to the finishing line as to which of them will emerge the fastest killers of the people. As at the time of writing, the trigger-happy law enforcement agents reportedly account for the death of over 24 Nigerians since the lockdown began. This is even more than that of the dreaded Coronavirus that boasts a heightened figure of 21 fatalities so far. This is where the danger lies, as a careful observer will note that with the strict measures being adopted by the governments, we can only but concluded that the more COVID-19 persists, the more will be the aggressive enforcement of the lockdown order. Even though, it may not be entirely the fault of the erring security operatives, it is nevertheless, their responsibility to eschew high level of discipline and self control in the face of provocation.

Apart from the Federal Government imposing a total lockdown in the mega city-state of Lagos and its conurbation-state of Ogun as well as the Nation's Capital Abuja, there are different levels of restrictions enacted in other states in a bid to contain the virus. Against this backdrop, the security and law enforcement agencies, including the Nigerian Police, Nigerian Army, Department of State Services (DSS), Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) among others, were being dratted to enforce the stay-at-home orders, sparking deadly confrontations in some states.

As at today, Nigeria had a total of 627 confirmed cases with 21 deaths and 171 discharged but the geographical spread of the new cases is worrisome. The latest is Borno State-the epicentre of Boko Haram terrorists in North East Nigeria. The reported case and the tracing of other 99 possible infections, have sparked fears that the virus might spread to the overcrowded Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps in the state with vengeance.

Expectedly, the public attention has been captured by the terrifying onslaught of the security officers and COVID-19 pandemic because the duo belong to what the Bible described as the "noisome pestilence", forgetting that the havoc being wrought by the silent killer called hunger on a number of already malnourished citizens are yet to be unravelled. The scary part is that possible deaths by hunger has not come into the equation as people are busy responding to the battle cry of "to your tenths o'Israel". They are busy with their personal survivals to even take note of how many of their neighbours are being slaughtered by hunger in their respective homes.

However, the focus of this gospel is to address what is fast degenerating into an unofficial assassinations order on Nigerians by the renegade elements within the law enforcement agencies with the ugly events in the South East as a reference point. What is even scarier is that over 22 of these deaths were recorded between 30th March and 17th April 2020, which was when the security agents were deployed to enforce a draconian restriction measures being put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 across the country. The dreadful implication is that if the oppressive method of policing is not reformed urgently more hapless citizens may be gunned down before the end of the lockdown.

It was the NHRC that first rang the alarm bell when four days ago, its report indicted security agents in the death of 18 people, a figure higher than the documented 12 death toll inflicted by Coronavirus as at then. The Commission said it received and documented “105 complaints of incidents of human rights violations perpetrated by security forces” in 24 of Nigeria’s 36 states and Abuja; and that of these complaints, “there were eight documented incidents of extrajudicial killings leading to 18 deaths". Since then we have seen many horrific videos and pictures as well as read stories of how security agents have maximised the unbearable lockdown order to punish Nigerians whose subsistence level of capitalism forces them to eke out a living on daily basis. From the viral video of a woman being beaten to stupor in Oshogbo, Osun State, to those being legitimately tried at a Mobile Court in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, the situation is the same.

Subsequent reports from CLEEN Foundation, Intersociety and National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), have updated the number of those killed by either the law enforcement agents or the COVID-19 pandemic. CLEEN Foundation in particular, have led the way in documenting these atrocities and fatalities, which "brought to the fore the need to re-examine police response in COVID-19 affected countries and to possibly shape police agenda for pandemic policing", as was articulated by the Programme Director of the Non-Governmental Organisation, Ms. Ruth Olofin, in her article entitled: 'Policing the COVID-19 Pandemic in Nigeria: Matters Arising'. Olofin expressed concerns about "disturbing reports of some personnel of the Nigeria Police who have been involved in corrupt practices, extra-judicial killing of citizens and the use of force on those who have violated COVID-19 directives." The issues she raised was also accentuated in the subsequent report by the Head of Public Safety and Security Department of the Foundation, Ms. Teresa Okoro, who facilitated the documentation of gross human rights violations by security agencies particularly in the South East geopolitical zone of Nigeria.
*By Senator Iroegbu

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PixIfeanyi Arunsi, killed by the Police in Abia State. Photo Credit| Teresa Okoro, CLEEN Foundation

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