The increasing lawlessness of security agencies

April 22, 2020
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THE unusual circumstanceswhich the advent of the Covid-19 global pandemic has foisted on many countries of the world, including Nigeria, has in turn elicited unusual official responses such as total or partial lockdown of activities.  One of the significant consequences of the restrictive orders is the transient impairment of citizens’ freedom which, even if painful, is for a good cause: to rein in community transmission of the deadly coronavirus. But there have been needless issues around the enforcement of the orders as some security agents see the executive orders as giving them latitudeto exceed legal and ethical boundaries in their dealing with citizens while enforcing compliance with official instructions. Quite a few of the security agents have run berserk, visiting unabashed brutality and violence on citizens and literally validating the accusations often levelled against them in respect of human rights abuses, disproportionate use of force, extra-judicial killings and rape while dealing with civil populations.

In Delta State, soldiers reportedly threatened to rape women and infect them with HIV. Pray,what has this criminal and uncivilised version of punishment which the soldiers threatened to mete out got to do with the enforcement of restriction orders around Covid-19? And without any investigation, the military and Delta State government initially debunked the story, only for the Defence Headquarters to later admit that the two soldiers had been arrested in Lagos. There have also been cases of policemen and soldiers beating people up and confiscating foodstuffs under the guise of enforcing lockdown. This is somewhat strange because in this emergency situation, movement and distribution of foodstuffs are part of the essential activities that must continue to run in order to avoid ultimate collapse of the system.

Similarly, Citizen Amobi Igwe, a commercial driver, was reportedly killed by one Eke Richard, an official of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) who was enforcing the lockdown order at the tollgate area of the Umuahia-Aba Expressway. Surprisingly, the deceased commercial driver was said to be conveying food items like rice and tomatoes to Aba but because he allegedly refused to give the bribe demanded by the NSCDC official, he was shot dead at close range while his assailant reportedly ran to a nearby police station at Umuikaa junction to escape mob attack. Also in Anambra State, police allegedly killed two persons while enforcing the lockdown order in the state few days ago. The incident reportedly happened at New Tire Market Area of Nkpor in Idemili North Local Government area of the state.  Even on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway there was an incident: a video went viral about three weeks ago, as some apparently recalcitrant persons who broke the lockdown order were brutalised in a rather awful and chilling fashion by security agents. The victims were left with broken and bloodied heads and facesarising from merciless clubbing.

These acts of cruelty on citizens by the security agents under the cloak of enforcing Covid-19 lockdown orders are condemnable and should stop forthwith.  Yes, some Nigerians can be lawless and obstinate but it is the duty of the security agents who belong to supposedly disciplinedorganisations to whip them into  line within the ambit of the law. Even in clear cases of flouting of the restriction order, the appropriate thing to do is to apprehend the law breakers and prosecute them. It is not the place of the security agencies to mete out their own version of punishment to any suspect; that is the exclusive preserve of the court. Perhaps it is imperative to reiterate that the temporary abridgement of citizens’ freedom during this emergency period need not be equated with diametrical suspension of the rule of law; otherwise, total system collapse will result.

It is nonetheless gladdening to note that there are indications that the leadership of the security agencieshave clearly spelt out the rules of engagement.  For instance,  the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, has unequivocally warned policemen not to harass people, while the military has made public some telephone numbers to call to report harassment. What that means is that the few overzealous and undisciplined security officials who are perpetrating atrocities under the pretext of enforcing the lockdown are simply executing their own agenda which is patently ignoble and self-serving. Their motivation is essentially to profit from the collective grief of all over the Covid-19 global pandemic by extorting money from the supposed lawbreakers and even those who are granted exemption from the restriction order because their services are very crucial.

Sadly, most of the untoward incidents around the enforcement of lockdown in which the security agents have been implicated happened when citizens refused to be extorted, not because the security operatives were genuinely interested in enforcing the lockdown for the common good. This has been the sordid state of affairs even at normal times; the situation has exacerbated during this ‘emergency period’ only because some security agents erroneously believe that the prevailing circumstances would not permit their being held to account for infractions of the extant laws of the land.

We urge the relevant authorities to ensure that all security agents that have taken the law into their own hands using the enforcement of the lockdown as a facade are apprehended, investigated and diligently prosecuted.  At times like this, people are already traumatised and forlorn; adding brutalisation and oppression to it is most unfeeling and insensitive.

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