Covid-19: CLEEN Foundation Observes Citizens in the South-East wear Face Masks out of the fear of Security Agents and not to Prevent Coronavirus Disease

July 5, 2020
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For Immediate Release

Abuja-Nigeria

3:00 pm

Saturday 4th July 2020

1.0.         Introduction

The corona virus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, a global disruption with unprecedented geopolitical, health and security implications have been increasing rapidly in Nigeria despite Federal and various State Government’s efforts to flatten the curve through lockdown directives and its enforcement by security officers, gradual phasing of imposed lockdown and reopening of the economy. The exponential increase in Covid-19 confirmed cases and deaths on a daily basis indicates the rise and spread of community transmission as the virus is apparently not a respecter of persons or status.

Cumulatively, as at 30th June 2020, South East geo-political zone has 1,414 confirmed cases, 677 discharged and 18 deaths. A breakdown shows there are 310 confirmed cases, 207 discharged and three deaths in Abia state. There are 261 confirmed cases, 73 discharged and six deaths in Enugu State. Anambra state recorded 73 confirmed cases, 57 discharged and nine deaths. Ebonyi state recorded 438 confirmed cases, 357 discharged and three deaths while Imo state recorded 332 confirmed cases, 40 discharged and six deaths. In general, there are very few reports of security officers who tested positive for coronavirus disease. However, in June 2020, it was reported that ten Police Officers tested positive in Abia state. There is need for an assessment of the possible impact of Covid-19 on security agents in the country.

2.0 Methodology

This is an aggregated  report of happenings in South-East, Nigeria from April – June 2020 which documents the experiences/observations of 95 local government observers/volunteers and 5 state coordinators across the five states in the zone specifically through the use of Tella Application an  electronic platform on compliance by citizens of government directives and rights violations by security personnel in the region. A total of 95 observers and 5 coordinators were trained and deployed across the respective states and Local Government Areas in the region. These reports have been forwarded to Government agencies including the National Human Rights Commission, the Police Service Commission and the Nigeria Police Force (Complaints Response Unit and the Gender Desk Unit). The CLEEN Foundation will continue to follow-up on their responses.

3.0 CONDUCT OF SECURITY PERSONNEL IN ENFORCEMENT OF GOVERNMENT DIRECTIVE ON COVID-19

3.1 Extra-Judicial Killings by Security Personnel

There has been twelve (12) reported cases of extrajudicial killings in the region by our observers.  Abia State accounted for six (6) deaths involving officers of the Nigeria Police Force.  The outcry of these extra judicial killings led to the redeployment of the former Commissioner of Police of Abia State who was accused of inaction in the face of the killings of citizens.  In Anambra State, four deaths were recorded involving the Nigeria Police and the State Covid 19 Task Force enforcing government directives.

In Enugu State, a 27-yr-old 500 level Law student of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Augustine Ugwu, was allegedly murdered by an officer of the Nigeria Police Force at Nsukka.  Furthermore, two persons were extra-judicially killed by Naval officers at Ngor Okpala LGA of Imo State within the period under review. In view of the increasing rates of extra judicial killings, the Federal House of Representatives in May 2020, directed security agencies in Nigeria to bring to justice the officials who were involved in the killing and other abuses during the lockdown. There have been calls for justice for the victims by citizens but as at the time of writing, the perpetrators are yet to be brought to book.

3.2 Brutality of Citizens by Security Operatives

CLEEN Foundation Observers reported military officers at various checkpoints brutalizing and dehumanizing citizens for not wearing facemasks in Abia state. There have been outcries by drivers and road users over cases of bribery and extortion by security officials on the roads within the south-east region especially at the borders. There was an incident in Onuimo LGA, at Umuna junction Mopol checking point, Imo state on Saturday, 16th May 2020 where a trailer driver was brutalized by the police officers due to minor disagreement on the compulsory extortion fee by the police. The incident escalated into a serious crisis between police and trailer drivers which nearly led to a breakdown of law and order by the aggrieved citizens. There have been reports by drivers and road users in Enugu state over cases of bribery and extortion by security officials (State Covid 19 taskforce) on the roads within the state during this reporting period. Further reports from Ukpo, Dunukofia LGA of Anambra state indicated that security operatives (including local vigilante groups) harass and extort money from people from 8:00 pm because of the curfew. It was observed that people pay as high as N10,000 or have their cars impounded. Bystanders in front of their houses were also harassed by security agents. Extortion by security officers was commonly observed and reported in almost all the LGAs in Imo State. It was further reported that the security officers at strategic locations including borders were seen collecting moneys from drivers and passengers to allow free movements within and outside the State. Meanwhile, many security checking points transformed their extortion methods by using youths to avoid easy identification by observers. The extortion by security officers is still in progress in almost all the LGAs and borders of Imo State according to the reports from our observers.

3.3 HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS BY SECURITY OPERATIVES

During the COVID-19 lockdown period, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) published human rights violations recorded during the lockdown.  In the South East, Enugu state topped the list of human rights violations reported during the first week of May 2020. Out of 104 complaints and incidents of alleged human rights violations received by the Commission from April 27th to May 3rd 2020, Enugu State had the highest recorded cases with 13 incidents followed by Imo State with 12 cases respectively. The conduct and activities of security agents and state Covid-19 taskforce trying to enforce the government directives in curtailing the spread in Enugu state contributed to the high number of human rights cases as documented. CLEEN Foundation will continue to monitor developments and report on disciplinary measures taking against the perpetrators of these crimes.

4.0 PUBLIC COMPLIANCE TO GOVERNMENT DIRECTIVES ON COVID-19 IN THE SOUTH EAST

South East governors were observed to have responded to the pandemic swiftly through various measures including lockdowns, curfews, ban on public gatherings and events, Restriction of interstate movements, compulsory wearing of face masks, social distancing guidelines among others. The level of compliance on each of the directives varied as follows:

4. 1 Stay at Home Order:

 This directive was partially complied with in the region leading to the south east governors’ addition of curfews in some hotspot areas. In Abia state, the restriction order was partially lifted in May due to its crippling economic effect on the citizens who are mostly into commerce and trade. Presently, state governors are threatening to restrict movements again following the rising number of cases in the region. In Enugu state, this directive was totally complied with by civil servants and partially complied with by the rest of the public, particularly those in commercial sector. The partial compliance led to the state governments addition of curfews (10:00 pm to 6:00 am) in the state and total closure of the main markets such as Ogbete/Akwata, Mayor and Garki. This restriction order was partially lifted in early June 2020 due to its crippling economic effect on the citizens. The Anambra state governor declared two weeks of total lockdown in the state on the 11th of April and lifted it on the 25th April, 2020. Even with the stay at home order, the citizens of Anambra state struggled to comply with the order on the grounds that they feed themselves from their daily activities without support from the government and staying at home would result to hunger and starvation. Also, at the wake of possible extension of the stay at home order by the Governor, some market associations threatened a protest should the Governor attempt to extend the lock down. The pressure from religious bodies, traders and the clamour for survival by the people made the Governor to lift the stay at home order by providing strict measures which the citizens, the market traders and churches must abide to control the spread of the virus.

 Imo state was also on total lockdown for a while to curtail the spread of the virus. Presently, the stay at home order is no longer active in some parts of the state due to some obvious reasons including hunger, non-payment of salaries, and lack of palliative supports from the government.

4.2 Non-Compliance with Physical Distancing Guidelines/Use of Facemasks

There are reports of general apathy to these guidelines especially in Banks, worship centers and markets in Abia and Enugu states. Despite the efforts of the state’s officials in getting leaders of communities, religious bodies and markets to commit to enforcement of social distancing prior to the partial relaxation, it was observed that citizens threw caution to the wind as they go about their normal businesses. Most citizens were not wearing face masks and the few citizens seen wearing facemasks either hang it on their jaw or wear it inappropriately. The quality of facemasks and their efficacy in protecting citizens has to be questioned. Majority of Imo state citizens find it very difficult to comply with the compulsory facemasks order. They see those obeying the rules as possible covid-19 carriers.

Most people wear facemasks not because of protection but just to cross Police/Army check points or gain access to the banks and other financial institutions. There are reports of non-compliance at various LGAs and communities, especially in churches, markets and commercial buses. Reports from Nwangele, Obowo, Ahiazu Mbaise, Orlu, Okigwe, Onuimo, Ngor Okpala, Orlu, Isu in Imo state suggested that the poor compliance may be ascribed to poor sensitization of the local communities on the reality of Covid-19 and urgent need for adequate infection prevention and control measures. The zeal for physical distancing has reduced to the extent that people are boldly hugging themselves in the markets, burial and marriage ceremonies without safety considerations. Furthermore, the physical distancing directive is not being adhered with in Anambra state as most citizens are not complying at various local food markets visited around Nnewi, Nkpor and Onitsha amongst others show low compliance level to this guideline. Unfortunately, it is higher within urban areas like Awka, Onitsha and Nnewi.

4.3 Citizens Compliance on Ban on Public Gatherings

 There is reasonable compliance to the various state’s governments’ guidelines on gatherings as community leaders and local government chairmen are being used to enforce this in the region.  Abia and Enugu States Government are observed to issue a permit for any event with strict directives on number of attendees. While burials are allowed, events like weddings and other non-essential gatherings remain banned in the states. Public Gatherings were banned at the beginning of the lockdown when the Anambra state government swung into action to prevent the virus from either entering the state or spreading. The traditional rulers and vigilantes were enjoined to ensure compliance at the community level. This was achieved as violators were flogged and their activities disrupted.  However, after lifting of the sit at home order, the Government directed that any public function should not accommodate people more than thirty (30) in number including traditional ceremonies and burials as the citizens were allowed to bury their loved ones. These notwithstanding, multiple reports have it that Bars and Restaurants opening within Awka are yet to adhere to the directive and since they open and operate at night, there is little obstruction they encounter from enforcement agencies. There is fairly adequate compliance to the ban on social gatherings such as weddings, burials, night clubs, meetings and sports activities in some parts of Imo State. The burial ban was slightly lifted on 16th May, 2020 when the Executive Governor of Imo State, Senator Hope Uzodimma gave two weeks break for burials without ceremonial gatherings. This decision came as a result of the increased pressure in the available mortuaries in Imo State due to lack of space for new corpses.  It appears that the ease on burials automatically lifted the ban for other public gatherings such as wedding ceremonies, political party meetings, birthday parties and so on. Several burial ceremonies and other public gatherings took place at different locations without any form of adherence to the recommended physical distancing and use of personal protective equipment (PPEs).

4.4 Inter-State Movements

This has been the loophole which the states governments in the region have been making frantic efforts to plug. For instance, due to the economic status of the city of Aba, most traders from surrounding states have continued to break the travel ban to visit the state. It is therefore not a surprise that about 70% of the new and rising cases in the state are being reported in Aba, Abia State. On the other hand, Enugu State is a gateway state to Eastern region of Nigeria sharing boundaries with Kogi and Benue states.  Because of this, most traders from northern states have continued to break the travel ban to visit Eastern part of Nigeria through Enugu border communities.

During the period under review, there were media and eyewitness reports of influx of Almajiri children and other youths from the North to the East during the lockdown and interstate travel ban period. State governors alleged the complicity of security agencies in making its borders porous thus receiving bribes and allowing visitors in the region despite the ban. The cases of reported migration of Northern youths into the region are one report too many which led the states to set up its own taskforce to complement police at border points. A particular index case in Abakpa, Enugu East LGA is a woman who was said to have travelled from Plateau state to Enugu and Covid-19 related symptoms manifested few days after her arrival.

Based on available reports, there are free movements of people both within the LGAs and also across the borders of Imo State and neighbouring states such as Abia, Anambra and Rivers States. The State borders are very porous due to complicity of security officers in the enforcement of the inter-state movement ban. The officers at the borders focus more attention on extortion from drivers and passengers than playing their roles. Towards the third week of April, attention in Anambra state was shifted from people with travel history outside the country to community level spread of the disease, prompting the government to place a ban on inter-state movement, but allowed the movement of those on essential services and those carrying essential goods. However, this order was disobeyed as citizens were moving in and out of the state with connivance of security personnel who collect bribe to allow them pass as observed in Onitsha Head Bridge where passengers pay about one thousand naira to security agents on duty. Also, citizens travelling from other States like Enugu are made to have the Bus conveying them to stop at the Boundary between Enugu and Anambra state by security agents at the border.  They will have to walk through the boundary and board other vehicles in the other part of Anambra state to continue the journey to their destination in the State.

5.0 INCIDENTS OF SEXUAL AND GENDER BASED VIOLENCE IN SOUTH EAST NIGERIA

There is an upsurge in sexual and gender based violence cases reported in the South East within this period and most of them are related to domestic abuse. It is worrisome that several of these cases go unreported and most times unprosecuted. A major sexual violence case reported within the period is that of the 39-year-old man, Charles Okoro, accused of raping a 7-year-old girl, who lives in the same compound with her single mum in Aba, Abia state. The story went viral because it was alleged that officers of the Nigeria Police Force were trying to ‘broker peace’ instead of arraigning the suspect and seeking for justice. In a related development, a mother of four children was raped and murdered by a suspected ritualist at Umu-chiaku Lowa Uboma in Ihitte/Uboma LGA of Imo State.

6.0 OTHER PUBLIC SAFETY & SECURITY INCIDENTS OBSERVED IN SOUTH EAST

Several public safety and security incidents were recorded in the South-East from April to June 2020.  For example, security agents confronted members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) protesting the killing of Christians and civilians in the country on June 8 2020. Even though no fatality was recorded, it is reported that about seven protesters were detained after the incident in Umuahia. There were reports of kidnapping within Abia state especially in Aba. In one of the cases, Vanguard Newspapers reported on May 9 of the rescue of two victims by officers of the Nigeria Police Force. Other security related incidents recorded in Imo State include armed robbery, assassination and kidnapping in different parts of the state especially Okigwe and Onuimo LGAs.

On Tuesday, June 2 2020, a wealthy young man was gruesomely murdered by an unknown-gunmen within Okigwe town. In addition, there has been several attempts of kidnapping with heavy shootings in Okigwe town within the reporting period. As a result, there is fear and apprehension within Okigwe and Onuimo communities in Imo State. In a related development, a case of killing of Mr. Ozoemena Iriaka, a 75 years old man farmer from Agwa community allegedly by suspected herdsmen was recorded at Oguta LGA of Imo State. This ugly incident left the community with serious tension, although the Imo state Commissioner of Police has intervened to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to book.

Another murder incident took place in Okigwe, Imo State on Tuesday 30th June, 2020. Three commercial cyclist operators were attacked by armed robbers who pretended to be customers along Umulolo road in Okigwe LGA and took their motorcycles away to an unknown destination. Two of the victims died on the spot, while one is alive and receiving treatment at Federal Medical Centre Umuahia. There is security tension in Okigwe at the moment as a result of the incident as the victims were said to be from the northern part of the country.

7.0 GAPS IDENTIFIED

1.            Several people in the South-East wear face masks because of security agents and not necessarily to prevent coronavirus spread.

2.            There is an upsurge in reported cases of sexual and gender-based violence.

3.            Due to non-availability of adequate personal protective equipment, most security officials are exposed to risk of contacting the infection while they enforced government directives.

4.            Majority of the citizens are nonchalant to the existence of the virus despite the increase of covid-19 cases in the region.

5.            There is poor compliance to physical distancing directives and use of facemasks in the markets, commercial buses and most public gatherings such as wedding, burial and community meetings.

6.            There is poor sensitization on the importance of the use of personal protective equipment especially in Imo state.

7.            There is an increase in reported crimes during the Covid-19 pandemic in different parts of the South-East.

8.            There is incessant compromise and extortion by security personnel at the borders while the ban on interstate travels lasted.

9.            There are very few reports of security officers who tested positive for coronavirus disease in the South East and its impact on security agents generally.

7.0 RECOMMENDATIONS

1.            There is need to retrain personnel of security agencies in the region on non-violent policing and enforcement of Covid-19 guidelines to ensure synergy with other government agencies and respect for the rights of South East citizens. 

2.            There should be continuous public sensitization and provision of hotlines for reporting and documenting cases of human rights abuses by security agents and cases of sexual and gender based violence against women and girls.

3.            There is need for continuous sensitization and advocacy in all the states in South East due to the rising surge in community transmissions of the coronavirus disease.

4.            There is need to provide personal protective kits to security operatives in the region given the rising cases especially with over 10 police officers testing positive to COVID-19 in Abia state recently.

5.            The States Governors should consider informal policing groups to support the formal policing groups in the enforcement of the ban on inter-state movement at the borders;

6.            The South East Governors Forum should prioritize improving safety and security of the citizens always and in all places, especially in inner cities and communities.

7.            There is need for an assessment of the possible impact of Covid-19 on security agents in the South East and the entire country.

May God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria and heal our land.

Benson Olugbuo, Ph.D.

Executive Director

CLEEN Foundation

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