Curfew, ban: Nigerians burdened by overzealousness of security agents

PAUL OKAH reports that the mandate given to security agents implementing interstate bans and curfews in different states across the federation has led to defenseless Nigerians being harassed, brutalised and in some cases killed. Medical doctors and journalists are being arrested and prevented from discharging their duties; motorists extorted and forced to keep vigil at check points by security personnel claiming to be obeying “orders from above.”

The beginning

As one of the measures recommended by health experts for combating the Covid-19 pandemic, the federal and state governments declared interstate bans and curfews in different parts of the country.

To ensure compliance, the duty of enforcement of the /interstate ban naturally fell on the police, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), army officers, and other security agencies.

However, on a daily basis, the media is awash with news of security agents, especially policemen brutalising or even killing innocent Nigerians in the process of trying to implement the aforementioned directives.

In fact, from all indications, apart from the fear of contracting the Covid-19, the fear of security agents can best be said to be the beginning of wisdom for Nigerians at the moment.

Regrettably, medical doctors, journalists and other essential workers have either been harassed or arrested by overzealous security agents in different parts of the country, even as pregnant women have died in labour, as a result of being prevented from assessing the hospital by policemen manning check points.

Journalists, doctors arrested

Precisely, on May 19, 2020, more than 50 essential workers, including medical doctors and journalists, were arrested by the police in Lagos, following the directive of the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu.

On the same May 19, the IGP had held a virtual meeting with zonal assistant inspectors-general of police and state commissioners of police, where he directed strict enforcement of the as he reportedly ordered that anyone found in the streets beyond 8pm should be detained.

 Therefore, in the Alausa area of Ikeja, Lagos, journalists and doctors, who were returning from work, were forced to the police station, while their vehicles were impounded.

 Narrating her experience to her media organisation, a crime correspondent with TVC, Ivy Kanu, said more than 50 people, especially essential workers, were arrested and detained by the police and their vehicles impounded, with the officers vowing to arrest as many people as possible within three days.

She said, “I left the office tonight and on my way, I noticed that the roadblocks had increased. I turned to Alausa and I was picked up. I am at the Alausa police station alongside doctors and other essential workers. The place is packed. Over 50 people are here and I heard that the new instruction for the next three days is to go after everybody: essential workers and non-essential workers.

 “I don’t know how long we will be here. The impounded vehicles are more than 20 and more are still coming in. I don’t know if this is part of a new directive from the federal government or it is over-zealousness on the part of the police officers.

“Some of the arrested people have been taken into custody. They have been put into cells and some are standing outside. I was asked to go behind the counter; that was where I was before the DPO announced that everybody should come outside; that we should hand over our keys and we should sleep in our cars till the next morning.”

Pregnant woman delayed till death

Similarly, on May 21, controversy surrounded the death of an unnamed pregnant woman in Ibiade local government area of Ogun state, as youth of the community alleged that policemen delayed the pregnant woman for hours, while she was being taken to a hospital for delivery.

 According to reports, the youth alleged that the policemen at a checkpoint reportedly delayed a motorcycle carrying the pregnant woman to the hospital for hours, because the motorcyclist refused to give them money, even as it was alleged that the police officers allegedly hit the pregnant woman on the head with torchlight.

Therefore, the death of the pregnant woman led to protest by youth of the community who threatened to burn down a police station, though it took the intervention of the traditional ruler of the community, Alarege of Ibiade, Oba Kola Rahimi, and some other eminent personalities in the community before the youth were pacified.

Speaking to journalists, a human rights activist, Festus Ogun, said the pregnant woman, who was already in labour pains before getting to the checkpoint, was allegedly delayed for several hours by the policemen and was unable to make it to the hospital before she gave up the ghost.

He said, “The true situation is that earlier this morning, before dawn, the woman was in labour and she was already bleeding profusely and was being taken to the hospital. On the way to the hospital, the motorcycle carrying her was stopped by officers of the Nigeria Police Force. She was delayed for hours and it was that delay that led to her death.

“The matter is that the woman was in serious labour and the policemen were saying because of the lockdown or whatever reason they deliberately delayed the woman, leading to her unfortunate death. The woman died with the baby in her; thereafter the corpse was taken to the king’s palace. I think she died in between the checkpoint and the hospital.

“In fact, there were threats that the police station will be burnt down. It took the interventions of the traditional ruler of the community, the Alarege of Ibiade and eminent personalities to bring the situation under control. However, justice must prevail and the officers involved must be punished.”

Interestingly, the state police public relations officer, DSP Abimbola Oyeyemi, denied that the police were responsible for the death of the pregnant woman, saying she was only delayed for few minutes “so as to be sure she was not being kidnapped.”

He said, “The fact is that the person carried a pregnant woman on a motorcycle during midnight. Policemen, who were enforcing curfew, stopped them and asked them where they were going and they said that the woman was in labour and they were taking her to a hospital.

 “The officers asked them why that time and they said that the woman is bleeding, so the officers asked them to go to the hospital. About 10 or 15 minutes later, the woman died during labour. Maybe she had lost a lot of blood before they decided on taking her to the hospital. She hadn’t even given birth before she died, so those people came back and said that the policemen that stopped them at the checkpoint delayed them from getting to the hospital earlier, saying that they killed her. How is that possible?

“The DPO called me this morning to inform me about the situation. They were stopped truly to know where they were going, and I don’t think the officers went beyond their powers. What if they were kidnapping the woman for ritual? Don’t we have the right to stop them? We saw someone in the night carrying a pregnant woman, where are you taking her to? It is the duty of a policeman to question the person, and they explained and the policemen let them go.

“The delay for questioning wasn’t up to five minutes, according to the DPO. Are policemen not human beings, that they would now see a pregnant woman and deliberately delay her…for what?”

Motorists being extorted

Apart from arresting essential workers and allegedly delaying pregnant women in labour, the media is awash with news of open extortion of motorists by security agents manning checkpoint, with many motorists complaining of being forced to spend the night at borders or checkpoints if they refused to offer bribes to the security agents.

In a chat with our reporter, a civil servant in Jahi, Abuja, Mr. Armstrong Akpan, who recently returned from a trip with his family to his village in Akwa Ibom state, said security agents have made the borders as porous as possible and that he had no difficulty travelling and only had to “settle” them at different checkpoints to be waved on.

He said: “Forget what you hear about security agents manning our borders and implementing curfews. Their overzealousness is only directed at those who refuse to offer bribes. In fact, the closure of borders by federal and state governments has provided an avenue for the security agents to make money.

“I travelled to Akwa Ibom last month with my family and only came back on Monday. Despite the lockdown, we got through all the checkpoints just by offering N500 or N1, 000 bribe at different checkpoints. There is nothing to it. It is only those who don’t want to travel that believe there is restriction of movement. Our borders are as porous as ever, thanks to security agents making money out of the situation, but who would not hesitate to delay you or force you to spend the night at the checkpoints if you refused to offer bribes.”

Similarly, in a chat with Blueprint Weekend, a trader in Abuja, Amina Ahmed, said she had travelled to different parts of the country at will, because of the nature of her business, but was only delayed once at a checkpoint because she couldn’t afford the money demanded by police officers when the vehicle she travelled in malfunctioned and she couldn’t beat the curfew.

 “I hear of overzealous police officers forcing motorists to spend the 8pm to 6am curfew with them, especially if they refused to offer bribes. It is happening even in Abuja and other parts of the country. However, it is only once that I have been delayed because I ran out of money otherwise I pay and continue on my way. This country can never be redeemed, especially with the kind of murderous and corrupt officers we have in the police force.”

NHRC’s take

On May 24, during an interview with Vanguard, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) stated that police and other security agencies engaged in human rights violations, including extortion during the lockdown, with Imo and Enugu recording high cases.

The deputy director, monitoring, NHRC, Mr. Richmond Iheme, said at least 105 human rights violations were reported within two weeks of the first phase of the lockdown monitored and documented by the Commission, while the second phase of another two weeks and the next extension by one week, 104 human rights violations were reported across the country, totalling 209 infractions.

He said, “Various factors may account for it. You will recall that after release of the first report by the National Human Rights Commission, where extra judicial killings mainly were reported against law enforcement agencies besides other violation, there was so much public outcry, so much condemnation against such infractions, and unlawful killings by security agencies who ought to indeed protect lives.

“Incidents of excessive or disproportionate use of force, torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, seizure and confiscation of   property, arrest and unlawful detention and extortion, were high in Imo and Enugu states. People who flouted the ‘stay at home order’ were arrested and extorted. People were also detained and extorted before they were released.  These incidents account for the pattern of violation you find in Enugu, Imo as well as other places. Nevertheless, the only way to ensure that such violations do not continue is by bringing those found culpable of any infractions to justice.”

Expert’s opinion

In an exclusive interview with this reporter, an Abuja-based human rights and constitutional lawyer, Barrister Chukwu Emmanuel Madujibe, said the period of the lockdown has witnessed abuse of executive directives by security agents in different parts of the country. According to him, any essential workers arrested by police can sue police authorities for infringing on their rights.

“The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Criminal code, Penal code, Administration of the Criminal Justice Act, Police Act and Police Force Order, including international legal instruments, are against extra judicial killings by security agencies.

“Following the Executive Order of April 27, 2020, the Secretary to Government of the Federation, who is also the chairman of the PTF, on April 30, 2020, further expanded the scope of the guidelines for the implementation of lockdown to exempt those in the health care and public health, law enforcement, food and agriculture, energy, communications and information technology, journalists, among others.

“The aforementioned are all exempted in the course of their official duties, either in embarking on necessary interstate travels and beyond the curfew time. In a regime where Executive Orders are supreme, an Executive Order from the president cannot be countermanded by the CP’s or IGP’s directives to arrest and deal with essential workers on their lawful duties.

“It behoves on any arrested essential worker to seek legal redress against the police officer and jointly, the commissioner of police (if it happened in the state) and the IGP.”

IGP’s intervention

Following condemnations and concerns about police officers disregarding the orders of President Muhammadu Buhari on the exemption of essential workers in the implementation of curfew, the IGP, Mohammed Adamu, in a statement by the Force Public Relations Officer, DCP Frank Mba, on May 20, reversed the order restricting movement of essential services providers.

It read in part, “All essential workers, including medical personnel, fire-fighters, ambulance services, journalists, etc, are exempted from the restriction of movement associated with the partial lockdown and national curfew across the federation.

“The Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu has, therefore, directed all zonal assistant inspectors-general of police and commands’ commissioners of police to give effects to these exemptions, while enforcing the restriction orders.”

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