Lockdown: Nigerians versus security operatives

In Nigeria, extra-judicial killing is not new to security agents and the citizens. However, since the Covid-19 pandemic berthed in Nigeria, security agents have allegedly killed more Nigerians than the virus. PAUL OKAH reports.

At different times, Nigerians have been killed in their primes by security agents either during ‘confrontations’ or for no just cause other than that the security agents were being trigger-happy.

As part of efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic ravaging the globe, federal and state governments in Nigeria ordered restriction of movements and naturally mandated security agents to monitor compliance.

However, while enforcing the measures put in place by federal and state governments, and “instead of showing understanding,” security agents allegedly manhandle Nigerians, and even sometimes killing them.

From Lagos to Abuja, Ebonyi to Kaduna, Anambra to Niger, Delta to Katsina, and other states, it has been one morbid tale or the other involving security agents killing innocent and defenceless Nigerians… sometimes even without provocation.

Kaduna, Anambra, Delta cases

In fact, on April 6, this year, a clash between operatives of the Civilian Joint Task Force (JTF) and some youth in Tirkania community, a suburb of Kaduna, over enforcement of the stay-at-home order by the state government, claimed four lives, with many injured.

According to Vanguard, the JTF officials tried enforcing the lockdown order at a local market in the area when the fight occurred. A source, Alhaji Nuhu Mohammed Marafan Nasarawa, disclosed that “the crisis started between the youth and JTF before the police came in trying to enforce the stay-at-home order.”

The source said further that they thought things were over when the JTF officials left the scene, only for them to return and accompanied by the police.

He said, “The policemen from Kakuri dispersed the aggrieved youth with teargas. Later, we heard shots, live bullets as some youth threw stones at the police. Yes, four of our boys were killed and we have buried them. We have 10 others who sustained gunshots injuries; seven are in critical condition as we speak. 

“I called on the Army and other community leaders to calm the angry youth, who had vowed to take revenge against the police. Among the dead is a 30-year-old Musa Aliyu, who was killed after rushing out of the bathroom to see what was happening outside.”

The father of the slain Musa, Ali Balteh, who resides on Dogaje Street, Tirkania, said his son was having his bath when some youth jumped inside their compound.

“Musa rushed out of the bathroom when he saw youth jumping into our compound. So, he went straight to the gate to see who was chasing them, that was how police shot him on the left hand and the bullet penetrated into his chest,” he said. He was taken to a private hospital where he was confirmed dead together with the others. The Kaduna state police public relations officer, ASP Mohammed Jalige, said the Command would issue an official statement after hearing from the divisional police officer in the area.

Similarly, on April 15, 2020, two youth were allegedly shot dead by police officers at the New Tyre Market Area of Nkpor, Anambra state. The incident reportedly took place where the police were enforcing restriction movement over the Covid-19 pandemic. One of the victims was said to have died instantly, while the other died at an undisclosed hospital.

According to media reports, the youth were drinking in front of a beer parlour when the policemen on patrol drove in and ordered them to go into their houses.

An eyewitness, who asked not to be named in print, told journalists that the youth refused to comply, insisting that there was no other place they would go as the joint was part of their compound. “The guys simply told the police that the place was their yard and can’t be ordered into their rooms. The policemen became angry and started threatening to shoot them. The noise attracted other residents, who the policemen also ordered to leave the scene or be shot,” the source said.

He said further that the police who could no longer tolerate the youths refusal, opened fire on them and zoomed off in their patrol van. Reacting, the police spokesperson, Haruna Mohammed, said the policemen were attacked by miscreants with substance suspected to be acid.

 “It was an unprovoked attack on Police patrol team with substance suspected to be acid by some miscreants. Yes, they snatched the rifle of the police man after pouring acid on him, which prompted the other policemen to use force and retrieved the rifle,” he said.

Also, there was pandemonium at Ogunu community in Warri South council area of Delta state as a soldier, on April 2, allegedly shot dead a middle-aged man identified as Joseph Pessum. According to media reports, the deceased was allegedly killed by the soldier while attempting to escape from his Toyota Camry car after breaching a security checkpoint. This happened two days into the lockdown order by the Delta government.

NHRC’s report

On April 15, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) stated that it was worried that within the initial lockdown period of two weeks, security agents across the country extra-judicially killed more Nigerians than the dreaded coronavirus.

In a statement signed by its executive secretary, Mr. Tony Ojukwu, the Commission lamented that whereas Covid-19 only led to the death of about 12 patients in the country, “as at last Tuesday, a total of 18 persons were illegally executed by law enforcement agents to enforce the lockdown regulations.”

It observed that of the 105 complaints/incidents of human rights violation it received and documented within the initial lockdown period, Lagos state had the highest recorded cases, with 28 incidents, followed by the FCT, Abuja, which had 10 recorded cases.

The Commission also revealed that it got eight documented incidents of extra-judicial killing that led to 18 deaths, adding that, of this number, 12 deaths were recorded in Kaduna state; Abia state, two deaths arising from two incidents; while Delta, Niger, Ebonyi, and Katsina states recorded one death each.

Ojukwu noted that the federal and state governments, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, okayed several measures, including regulations and directives that empowered the security agencies to ensure compliance and enforcement of the stay-at-home order that followed the lockdown.

He said, “There were 8 documented incidents of extra-judicial killing, leading to 18 deaths. Out of this number, 12 deaths were recorded in Kaduna state. Abia state also recorded two deaths arising from two incidents; while Delta, Niger, Ebonyi and Katsina states recorded 1 death each.

“Whereas Covid-19 has led to the death of about 11 patients to date (14/4/20), law enforcement agents have extra-judicially executed 18 persons to enforce the regulations. This speaks volumes of the protocols and rules of engagement for our law enforcement as well the efficiency level and capacity of law enforcement agents to deal with civil population.”

He said further that, “It’s a sheer display of impunity and reckless disregard for human life in law enforcement by security personnel. The report further shows that out of the 18 deaths, the Nigeria Correctional Service was responsible for eight deaths, while the Nigeria Police Force was responsible for seven deaths. The Nigeria Army, on the other hand, was responsible for two deaths while the Ebonyi state Task Force on Covid-19, Afikpo South LGA was responsible for one death.

“The report finds that the Nigeria Police Force accounted for about 90% of the total cases of violations followed by the Nigeria Army and Nigeria Correctional Service and other non-state actors. The report also finds that 31 incidents of violations representing about 29% of the complaints have been resolved by different security agencies.

“The report further finds that 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.”

Lamentations

Commenting on Facebook about extra-judicial killings, a civil servant, Alagbara L’olohun, said the population of Nigeria is being decimated by security agents, hunger and coronavirus itself.

“Three messengers of angel of death are now roaming the country. They emerged through the arrival of this stupid terminator of joy; coronavirus. The three agents of death are: Nigeria police and soldiers, Covid-19 itself and hunger. It is unfortunate that it is only the poor, weak and the hungry ones these agents are chasing up and down.

“If you escape Covid-19, you can’t escape hunger. If you escape hunger, you can’t escape the trigger happy police and army officers. For being a civilian in Nigeria, you are already in trouble. The real angel of death is now smiling; he got uninvited messengers to assist him,” he said.

Also, a Kaduna-based activist, Yakubu Bello, said there is no justification to kill Nigerians for flouting the lockdown order and called for prosecution of culprits.

“The way things are being done in this country is always shameful. How can our security men kill more people than Covid-19, within this period of stay at home? I am not supporting people to go out, but even if they go out, it is not a reason to be killed. IGP, the men that did this must be prosecuted before all Nigerians, to serve as a lesson to other security agents,” he said.

ULC’s admonition

On April 19, the president of the United Labour Congress of Nigeria (ULC), Joe Ajaero, said police officers were competing with Covid-19 on who/what will kill more Nigerians and that there is a need for President Muhammadu Buhari to instruct the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) to call his men to order.

He stated this in a statement while commiserating with President Buhari over the death of his Chief of Staff, Malam Abba Kyari, from coronavirus-related complications.

He said, “President Muhammadu Buhari will notice that the security agencies, especially the police, seem to have engaged in an unhealthy competition with Covid-19 to see who kills Nigerians more. Please, instruct the IGP to rein in his men to stop the killings all over the nation. It may just be the trigger for social upheaval in our nation, if it continues unabated.

“We urge the president to ensure that all Nigerian workers, whether in the private or public sector, are paid their wages and salaries at this period of great distress. It is important that the rights of Nigerians are respected to the hilt as we battle Coid-19.”

Lawyers’ reactions

Condemning the situation, a Lagos based lawyer, Barrister Precious Ajuzie, said people have been forced to provide their own security and appealed to security agents to show compassion.

“We are asked to stay safe from coronavirus, but our lives are being taken by coro-bullets, courtesy of Nigerian security agencies. Our security agencies don’t think twice before gunning innocent lives down. They won’t even listen to your explanations.

“The real criminals have turned us to vigilantes in our various communities because our security agencies are nowhere to be found to go after them. They have forgotten we are all in this together. Nigerian security agencies, this is not the time to rip us off. Be compassionate for once,” she said.

 In his reaction, another lawyer, Barrister Alao Adetunji, said policemen should be trained on respecting human rights, revealing he was manhandled by some policemen just last month.

He said, “I think some of our policemen need to be trained on respecting human rights and best way to handle crisis; while discharging their duties. It was God’s intervention that rescued me from Aguda policemen on March 23, at Brown Road, Aguda, very close to my office. While eating my breakfast, I was approached by a team of Aguda policemen led by their DPO. 

“They asked me why I was outside by the time, that I was supposed to be inside my house. I tried to ask some questions, but I was not allowed. I was slapped, forcing me to enter their waiting vehicle. I was roughly handled. Later, I was released; based on personal recognition. It was a sad experience.”

IGP’s intervention 

On Tuesday April 21, 2020, the Inspector-General of Police, Mr Mohammed Adamu, ordered the deployment of Ms Janet Agbede as the new Commissioner of Police in Abia state.

A statement by the Force Public Relations Officer, DCP Frank Mba, in Abuja, indicated that Agbede would take over from Mr. Okon Ene who had been redeployed to the Force Headquarters.

He said the deployment of Agbede followed the unprofessional conduct and misuse of a firearm by a policeman in Ebem Ohafia area of the state that led to the death of one Ifeanyi Arunsi.

Adamu condemned the incident, saying it was glaring that the policeman was unprofessional in his conduct. He also condemned the resort to self-help by some people in the area and the destruction of government property and operational assets of the police.

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