COVID-19 NATIONAL RESPONSE: THE NEED FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENTS TO RESPECT CITIZENS’ RIGHTS
By BLESSING MASE
At a time when national security and the cooperation of all citizens are vital, situation reports show that the law enforcement agents who were instructed to enforce the stay-at-home order of the Federal Government are violating the rights of citizens in various parts of Nigeria.
The stay-at-home order of President Muhammadu Buhari came in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and as it were, law enforcement agents were instructed to enforce the President’s Order.
Recall that in 2019, the first case of Corona Virus (COVID-19) was confirmed in the Chinese city of Wuhan and it was reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO). On 27 February 2020, here in Nigeria, an Italian national who came into the country was tested positive to the virus in Lagos State. Also, another case was confirmed in Ogun state when a Nigerian citizen who had contact with the Italian national contracted COVID-19. As a result of the high rise of the pandemic, the Federal Government decided to lockdown three states in the federation, namely Lagos, Ogun, and Abuja on the 23rd of March 2020. Many other states were locked down by their Governors. As at the time of writing this article, 305 Nigerians had been tested positive of COVID-19.
Human Rights Violation by Law Enforcement Agents
While the 14 days’ stay-at-home order continues, it was gathered authoritatively that law enforcement agents were very brutal in the course of discharging their duties. On the 9th of April 2020, a group of soldiers was seen chasing errant Abuja residents with rods because they defied the stay-at-home order. Three days later, some people were caught violating the stay at home. In another place, some young men that were caught violating the stay at home order were beaten mercilessly, inflicting injuries on all parts of their body. Women that came to sell food items, their food were destroyed and thrown away. These are people that come from poor homes and their means of livelihood depend on the petty business they do to survive. This is contrary to President Buhari’s order that food sellers and others whose services are indispensable should go about their normal businesses.
Recently, doctors working for Federal Medical Centres in Delta State have gone on an indefinite strike as a result of police molestation. Also, 4 people have been killed by police officers in Trikania community in Kaduna for violating Kaduna State’s stay at home order. To stop the spread of COVID-19, the Kaduna state government ordered a shutdown of social and economic activities last month. The joint task force enforcing the order had a confrontation with some of the youths in Trikania community in Kaduna on the 6Th of April 2020 in a market area. According to an eye witness, when things started getting out of hand, the joint task force invited the police for reinforcements. When they came and saw the situation, they have to shoot teargas canister to disperse the crowd. They were pelted with stones in retaliation. To calm the situation, the police later started using live bullets. That led to four people been killed and 10 critically injured. The angry youths have vowed to launch a reprisal against the Police. One of the victims who was shot in front of his house came out to know what the commotion was all about. When he rushed out of his house, a stray bullet pierced into his chest and he died instantly.
Sure, the Nigeria Police Force which is the principal law enforcement agency of the government is aware that molestation of any individual amounts to Human rights violation, especially if there is no reasonable justification for that. The police are aware that they are not expected to subject any citizen to degrading and inhuman treatment. Policemen are law-keepers and are not expected to violate the law. Ever since the outbreak of this deadly COVID-19, the medical personnel have been working tirelessly treating the affected victims and are permitted to move around to help reduce the spread.
We understand the difficult nature of the work of our law enforcement agents. Maintaining law and order is not easy. Sometimes their lives are in danger. Again, some Nigerians are non-compliant and will never comply with any law, regulation, or order. This can be frustrating. But as well-trained and highly disciplined professionals, policemen are expected to always be on top of situations. They should know when to shoot life bullets and when not to. They should know when to apply force and when not to. They should learn to be civil when enforcing the law. They should know when a person is breaking the law and when he is not. They should also be conversant with the instruction given to them.
The government needs to sensitize these law enforcement agencies on how to handle this lockdown situation. The police and soldiers who are supposed to be protecting the citizens are the ones killing the citizens. While we appreciate the efforts of our law enforcement agents in enforcing the stay at home order, we cannot lose sight of the fact that they ought to discharge their duties lawfully and at the same time respect the fundamental human rights of citizens. This is professionalism and we cannot expect anything less.
God bless Nigeria!