South East Human Rights Situation Room (HumanRights4SouthEast) is a coalition of NGOs working in the South East Nigeria. Their core objective is to protect human rights of all residents of the zone through Advocacy, Dialogue and Sensitization.
The group was formed following a meeting held on Wednesday 13th September 2017 by like-minded NGOs working in the area of Human Rights in the South East Zone in Enugu to discuss the human rights situation and violence in the South East, as result of Operation Python Dance 11, a military exercise carried out by the Nigerian army in Igbo land.
The group has since evolved to a coalition of over 100 organizations and individuals committed to working in the area of monitoring and documentation of human rights violations in the South East Zone of Nigeria. The group is involved in promoting human rights, peace education and socio-economic wellbeing of citizens, including expanded civic space for civil society organizations operating within the zone and beyond in cooperation with likeminded organizations within and outside Nigeria.
The coalition has noted with grave concern the escalating cases of human rights abuses and violation of the extant laws on human rights by the Security agencies in the Country, especially in enforcing the Coronavirus lockdown order, particularly in the South Eastern states. Hence, we deem it important and also necessary to take action to prevent breakdown of law and order whilst fighting Covid-19 disease and enforcing lockdowns across the country.
There have been reported cases of extrajudicial killings, extortion, maiming, unlawful arrest, torture, and incessant intimidation of Nigerian citizens by men of Nigerian Police Force, Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corp, Nigerian Army, Nigeria Correctional Service, COVID-19 Task Force and men of vigilante services.
According to a press statement by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), 18 persons have been killed by security agencies extra-judicially in the guise of enforcing the lockdown order. This whooping figure is double the figure killed by the pandemic for which Nigerian citizens are being protected.
In the document released, out of this number, 12 deaths were recorded in Kaduna State. Abia State also recorded 2 deaths arising from 2 incidents while Delta, Niger, Ebonyi and Katsina States recorded 1 death each, in comparison to the death of about 11 patients recorded as of 14th day of April 2020, in Nigeria.
The report further shows that out of the 18 deaths, the Nigeria Correctional Service was responsible for 8 deaths while the Nigeria Police Force was responsible for 7 deaths. The Nigeria Army, on the other hand, was responsible for 2 deaths while the Ebonyi State Task Force on Covid-19, Afikpo South LGA was responsible for 1 death.
Since the release of this report by the NHRC, the incidences of death from extra-judicial killings and other human rights violations have shot up in the South East Zone and elsewhere in Nigeria.
Regrettably, this shows that law enforcement personnel killed citizens in some states of the South Eastern states that have not even recorded any death attributable to Coronavirus pandemic. This is unacceptable in a 21st century society practicing constitutional democracy.
Of particular mention is the killing of a middle-aged man identified as Friday Arumsi at Ebem Ohafia in Ohafia L.G.A. of Abia state on Saturday 18th April, 2020 by a trigger-happy officer. The incident was reported by Daily Post on the same day.
This came barely 24 hours after a policeman on duty from one of the neighbouring states killed a resident of Aba at Uratta axis of the Enugu-Aba-Port Harcourt Expressway, also in Abia State.
These developments are absurd, reprehensible, anachronistic and in contravention of all known international and regional human rights instruments, especially treaties signed and duly ratified by the Government of Nigeria. These includes the United Nations Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CPPR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. The non-compliance with the extant laws, including the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as Amended), underscores the level of understanding of the rule of law and procedure of engagements by the security agencies and their capability to engage the citizens, especially in circumstances where the law needed to be enforced.
In a BBC report on 16th April, 2020 titled “Coronavirus: Security Forces kill more Nigerians than COVID-19”, the medium described NPF thus, “the Nigerians police have a bad reputation for brutality, extortion, and harassment even before the current coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown imposed to contain the virus’’.
Thorough investigation should be carried out and perpetrators brought to book to serve as a deterrent to other officers. Families of the victims of human rights abuses should be adequately compensated, especially in the case of those who lost their lives as a result.
The unprecedented evil unleashed on citizens is vastly published in various media, including newspapers, radio and even on social media.
The situation has also led to mounting tension between security agents and the citizens, which if not controlled could result in civil unrest.
Already the COVID -19 pandemic and the lockdown has created hardship in the country leading to panic and agitation, hence any attempt to heighten frayed nerves may escalate the already tensed situation and may result in a revolt.
Nigerians and indeed the South Easterners are currently battling the pandemic with attendant lack of food, Medicare and other services, and has led to some traumatic experiences they are facing. It would be inhuman, callous and insensitive to further dehumanize them.
It should be noted that untold hardship pervades the land, prices of food items such as rice, garri, oil, etc. have increased considerably in this period.
Homes are witnessing increasing violence, including domestic violence, rape, defilements, assaults, wife battery etc.; the least they expect is another pandemic such as we are witnessing from the security agencies.
Similarly, we also condemn the rising case of gender-based violence, including spousal battery, rape, defilement, family abandonment, and starvation happening in families. We advise citizens, especially male perpetrators to have a rethink, while we call upon law enforcement agencies to always be on top of their responsibility by ensuring justice to the vulnerable ones.
The recent plan by the federal government to give palliatives to indigent families is a commendable development, which should be spread across all the states in the country. We are concerned that the South East geopolitical zone has been greatly marginalized in the distribution of the palliative material, and we call on the Federal Government to as a matter of justice, equity and fairness extend the distribution of the packages to the families in the five South Eastern states without exception.
- We recommend immediate engagement of our governors with the FGN to determine the reason behind the near exclusion of the zone in the cash and food items palliatives.
- Additionally, we advise governments across the zone to step up awareness campaign on the prevention and avoidance of total lockdown given the precarious socio-economic status of our people, the informal economy, and large population eking out a living on daily basis.
- We also recommend that governments in the zone should continue to maintain boundary closure and restrict interstate movement except for vehicles/personnel carrying essential goods, including food and medical supplies.
- Famers should be encouraged to continue farm work while maintaining social distancing and NCDC guidelines to avoid looming food shortage crisis.
- We appeal to governors in Igbo land to scale up state palliatives and involve civil society organizations (CSOs) in the task force for implementation and monitoring.
- Health sector facilities must be strengthened in readiness for any eventualities. Awareness should be created among communities to avoid stigmatization and discrimination of victims and survivors of the virus.
- Youths and out of school children should be meaningfully engaged to keep their mind and body busy and away from delinquent tendencies.
- We encourage the state governors to ensure close collaboration with National Center for Disease Control (NCDC) to improve testing capacity in the zone for early detection, isolation and treatment.
- We call for strengthening of community policing in the zone, and adopting practical and effective strategies to involve the people in securing their communities and eliminating all forms of violence, especially during this Covid-19 pandemic.
- We urge the leadership of all the security agencies in Nigeria to immediately initiate and scale up training and awareness campaign on human rights standards, including on sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) for their personnel/officers at all levels to improve their knowledge about citizens’ rights and engagements with the public.