By Benson Olugbuo, PhD
As the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic continues to ravage many states across the Federation, governments at all levels continue to adopt various measures in collective efforts to stem the tide of the virus in Nigeria. Virtually all sectors of public and private spheres have been affected by the pandemic with attendant increases in human rights violations by state security actors, unexplained deaths in parts of the Northwest/Northeast of Nigeria and extortion by law enforcement agents at state borders and highways despite a ban on interstate travels.
The increasing rates of sexual and gender based violence within and post-lockdown period in various parts of the country is a worrying development. Sadly, these reports of various sexual abuses, incest, domestic violence, rape leading to murder have continued unabated. The consensus in the south south region has been the adoption of facemasks as a preventive measure in combating the pandemic following the gradual ease of lockdown in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun from the 4th of May 2020.
The use of facemasks has been matched with other COVID-19 directives and legal frameworks in some instances by some governments in the region in efforts to bring the pandemic to an end in Nigeria.
The increasing rate of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nigeria and for the region inclusively has been sources of great concern. As of 30th June 2020, the South-south geo-political zone recorded 3417 confirmed cases, 1254 discharged and 116 deaths.
A breakdown shows there were 965 confirmed cases, with 190 discharged and 23 deaths recorded in Delta state alone. In Rivers state, we recorded 1056 confirmed cases, with 622 discharged and 38 deaths. Furthermore, Bayelsa, recorded 205 confirmed cases, with 100 discharged and 14 deaths. Akwa Ibom state 86 confirmed cases, 54 discharged and 2 deaths while Edo State had 1105 confirmed cases, 288 discharged and 39 deaths. However, Cross River state remained the only state with no known cases of COVID-19, none discharged and no deaths as a result of the pandemic.
Generally, across the region, compliance to the use of facemasks was particularly noticeable in the urban parts of the region but weak in rural areas. In some cases, as seen in riverine areas, there were cases of noncompliance to the use of facemasks and social distancing. The trend was not only noticeable within the residents but also security actors deployed on COVID-19 duties were seen in various instances without the use of facemasks while on duty.
Extortion by security actors was almost the order of the day in parts of the region as security agents deployed various tactics in collecting monies from residents. These ranged from failure to use the facemasks to extortion of passengers both within and across state borders. The complicity of security actors needs to be addressed as part of ongoing measures to bring the pandemic under control in Nigeria. We advocate for the prioritization of the safety of security actors on COVID-19 duties and the effective and speedy disciplinary measures to control actions of professional misconduct of erring security operatives. We also recommend that officers who have exhibited professionalism during the Covid-19 lockdown period should be officially commended.
As part of the efforts to achieve the objectives of its public safety and security project on COVID-19, CLEEN Foundation engaged and trained 6 state coordinators and128 observers across all the local government areas in the South-South region. These coordinators and observers monitored, verified and documented several cases of human rights violations by security operatives in the region in addition to citizens’ adherence to government directives during the total lockdown and 2nd phase of the eased lockdown period.
The project worked in partnership with key government oversight bodies such as the National Human Rights Commission, the Police Service Commission and law enforcement institutions like the Nigeria Police Force (Complaints Response Unit and the Gender Desk Unit) and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps.
CLEEN Foundation will continue to follow-up on their responses on institutional actions to address the reports submitted to them. This report is a summary of findings in the South-South geo-political zone from 1st April – 30th June 2020.
2.0 CONDUCT OF SECURITY PERSONNEL ON COVID-19 ENFORCEMENT DUTIES
2.1 Human Rights Violations/Extra Judicial Killings by security personnel
There were four (4) reported cases of extrajudicial killings of civilians involving security operatives on COVID-19 duties in the region. Within the first lockdown period imposed by the Delta state government, our observers recorded a case of extra-judicial killing by a soldier who was reported to have shot and killed a young man named Joseph Pessu in the Ugbangwe axis of Warri for violating the lockdown order of the State Government on the 1st of April, 2020.
This incident led to public outrage by angry youths in the area but peace was swiftly restored by the state government and the Nigeria Army while the soldier who committed the act was promptly arrested. Similarly, on the 25th of April 2020, a tricycle rider was shot dead by a Police officer in Otokutu town in Delta State over an alleged refusal by the deceased to advance bribe.
In Rivers state, a female police officer was shot dead by a member of the Rivers State Task Force in Elenu town in Obio- Akpor Local Government Area on the 23rd of April 2020. The police personnel while ensuring civility is restored between the taskforce team and the traders who violated government directives was shot by a police sergeant attached to the State Task Force. In addition, a young man was shot on the leg by personnel of the Nigeria Police at Abuloma in Port Harcourt Local Government Area for violating the lock down order which occurred on the 10th of May 2020.
We commend the quick action of the Nigerian Army in arresting her personnel for the extra-judicial killing of a civilian and recommend the full spectrum of justice to be administered by all security agencies whose personnel have been indicted for human rights violations during the Covid-19 lockdown period.
2.2 Brutality of Citizens by security agents
The South-South region also recorded cases of high-handedness, torture and the use of force beyond permissible levels. These acts were perpetrated by state security agents including COVID-19 Taskforce teams set up by the state governments in the region.
In Bayelsa state, our observers reported incidences of human rights violations and illegal detention on the 27th of April 2020 of children and persons living with disability in Yenagoa and Ogbia local Government areas by the Nigeria Police at around 6:00 pm before the restricted curfew hours of 7:00 pm. Further, a Pharmacist was reported to have been arrested while on essential duty in Port Harcourt by the Rivers State COVID-19 Taskforce on the 12th of May 2020. He was reported to have been humiliated and detained in the police cell. Subsequently, the sum of N20, 000 naira was used by the Pharmacist to bail himself.
We also observed that the state taskforce team was intimidating residents while enforcing the lock down orders, mostly around Obio Akpor and Port Harcourt Local Government areas of the state.
In Akwa Ibom state, security personnel were observed to have violated the rights of the citizens through the use of barbaric and unjustifiable force. A Medical Doctor of the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital was assaulted by the security personnel on the 3rd of April 2020 even with the production of valid means of ID which showed he was on essential duty. We also received reports of intimidation which led to injuries on traders in Ikot Ekpene, Akwa Ibom state by security operatives leading to a serious altercation.
The situation was however brought under control by the intervention of the Chairman of the State COVID-19 Taskforce. Our observers also reported that in Sapele, Delta state, security personnel shot at protesters who staged a peaceful protest against the extension of the sit-at-home order on 16th of April 2020. Some protesters were flogged, molested while some sustained various degrees of injuries.
2.3 Intra-state Lockdown and Extortion by Security Personnel
CLEEN Foundation reported movements and extortion of motorists by security operatives deployed to man various points within states in the region. Failure to wear facemasks was a major reason for the extortion by security actors of hapless citizens. Our observers noted these practices were particularly rampant at security check points and roadblocks.
In Delta state, our volunteers reported that in Jeddo Community located in Okpe Local Government Area of the state, some personnel of the Counter Terrorism Unit of the Nigeria Police Force popularly known as the ‘Red Beret’ in the state were observed to be publicly extorting citizens of various amounts of monies on a daily basis.
The amounts collected from citizens ranged from N5, 000 to N10, 000 daily for not wearing facemasks while boarding commercial tricycles within the reporting period. Places like Udu, Otokutu Bridge, Jakpa/Ekpan, Airport road in Warri, and Sapele towns also recorded police personnel collecting between N1, 000 and N5, 000 naira for failure to wear facemasks. In Asaba, security personnel at the following check points: Okwe Junction, Summit road, Coka junction, Nnebisi road, Ibusa junction were observed extorting money from citizens to enable free access within the state capital as against Government directive on no-movement in the state. The same was applicable in Effurun Sapele Road, Otukutu Bridge, Ebrumede, amongst other areas in Warri. Traders were also extorted on a regular basis by security personnel on established market days in most markets in Uvwie and Ughelli areas of Delta state.
In Akwa Ibom state, it was observed that some operatives of the Nigeria Police Force from the Surveillance unit were extorting Tricycle operators and other motorists in the states using the excuses of no facemask as excuses for these practices.
Our volunteers observed that the rate of extortion was particularly alarming during the day, which allowed for movement of personnel. Road blocks were mounted at different locations in the state namely: Afaha Obong Junction, Stadium Road by Ikot Ekpene Road Abak, Pepsi Junction by Idoro Road Uyo, Ikot Abasi Road by New Road Opposite Technical College Abak, Mkpat Enin, Uruan, Ikot Ekpene –Ikon Road, are places of extortion on a daily basis. Also observed was a high level of extortion of tricycles and mini- bus operators by officials of the State traffic Office in Uyo.
In Edo state, our volunteers observed incidences of brutality and extortion by security personnel in the state. There were reports of residents being subjected to molestation and in-human treatments by security personnel even when arraigned by the Mobile Courts for allegedly violating government order on the use of facemasks. These incidents were confirmed by the Nigeria Bar Association, Benin Branch Monitoring Committee on Human Rights that most of the residents arrested and arraigned before the mobile courts had their facemasks but failed to wear such. In Ekpomma, Edo Central, we also recorded reports of extortion by Police personnel of residents who did not observe government directives.
- 4 Extortion by Security Operatives Interstate
The complicity of security actors in allowing movements across states was particularly worrying within the reporting period. Our volunteers in Akwa Ibom state reported that at the boundary between Cross River and Akwa Ibom states, security agents were seen collecting money and allowing butchers to pass through to Cross River State to buy goats to sell in Akwa Ibom despite a ban by the Akwa Ibom State Government. The ban on interstate movement was put in place as part of measures by the Federal governments to stop the transmission of the virus from state to state. In Delta state, our observers reported that the Ughelli-Bayelsa Highway, Koko-Benin Highway and Asaba-Onitsha head bridge became a bazaar for security personnel manning those checkpoints who were seen extorting transporters and commuters between N500 – N3000 thousand naira at each checking point.
There were regular entry and exits into the state through the Asaba – Onitsha and Patani-Bayelsa axis due to the compromising nature of security personnel. In Bayelsa state, commercial motorists were observed to commute with passengers from Yenagoa to Port Harcourt (Rivers state) and to Ughelli (Delta State) with the complicity of security personnel. In Rivers state, the State land border closure were observed to be compromised as security agencies and the State Task Force were reported to collect N1000 from drivers for passage across the borders. Our volunteers further observed compromise on the part of the security personnel manning all border points and toll gates entrances to the state. However, there were commendable reports by our observers of the non-compromising nature of the taskforce manning the borders of Rivers and Cross River states due to few incidences of incursion into Rivers state.
3.0 PUBLIC COMPLIANCE TO GOVERNMENT DIRECTIVES ON COVID-19 IN THE SOUTH SOUTH
3.1 Citizens compliance on the use of facemasks/Physical Distancing in Public Places
On the use of facemasks and physical distancing in the region, there were low to partial compliance in most parts of the region. Physical distancing was observed in the urban areas while rural communities and riverine areas carried on with business as usual. Some places of worship adhered minimally to Covid-19 guidelines.
The approved market and movement days also served as grounds for overcrowding across major markets in the region. In some urban areas of Delta state, it was observed that most transporters did not adhere to physical distancing when conveying passengers on market days. Most markets in the state are observed to operate in Primary and Secondary schools closest to their domain and social distancing was not adhered to as the markets were overcrowded. In the major markets across the state, it was observed that no measures were put in place by the government to control the crowds for the three days which the government directed citizens to trade and stock-up on food supplies.
Our observers further reported that most citizens in coastal areas such as Ayakoromo, Ogbeingbene, Okirika, Gbekebor, Obotebe, Yayorogbene, Ekoro, Egologbene, Oyangbene, Akparemogbene, Eseimogbene in Burutu local government area areas failed to make use of their facemasks knowing that the activities of monitoring task force were not strong in these areas. Boat riders and passengers in the riverine communities of Egbokodo River in Warri, River Ethiope in Sapele, Urie River in Igbide Isoko, Asaba-Ase creek and Aragba River in Abraka, failed to make use of their masks believing that the virus will not spread to the territory.
However, with the ease of lockdown by the state government, most supermarkets, departmental stores, corporate organizations and designated offices were observed to permit entry of persons into their facilities only with facemask while the state taskforce in enforcing violation of physical distancing was reported to have shut down some eateries around Ekpan, Ugberikoko, Ugbolokposo all in Uvwie LGA of Delta state.
In Edo state, it was observed that in Etsako East LGA, some churches were organising programmes with sizable gatherings and physical distancing was not being adhered to including in most markets in the state due to overcrowding. Compliance is said to be average on ban on public gathering as there are reported incidences of gathering of more than 20 persons by citizens in some part of the state.
There is moderate compliance by residents on the use of facemasks while transporters were observed to fully comply with the physical distancing by commuters which was enforced by the state taskforce. In most markets visited, especially Ibillo market in Akoko Edo LGA and Okhuesan communities in Esan south east LGA, citizens failed to adhere to physical distancing.
Most transporters in the state were observed to adhere to physical distancing while commuting passengers. However, we still recorded a few incidences of violations. Most citizens across the state were observed not to comply with the use of facemasks and physical distancing in public places.
The Cross River State Government on the 4th of April 2020 signed into law the ‘No-Mask-No Movement’ policy which prohibits the movements of persons around public places without a face mask. A penalty of N100,000 was imposed on defaulters. Despite the policy, it was observed that some members of the Hausa community in Calabar the state capital did not comply with social distancing rules. However, there was a commendable level of compliance in the usage of facemasks by residents in the urban areas and several violations in the rural communities.
Most citizens that participated in the local government area elections held in June 2020 wore face masks. However, compliance to physical distancing amongst citizens was not adhered to and most polling units were not provided with hand sanitizers especially outside the state capital. It is hoped that with this new law, the level of compliance to the use of facemasks will improve across the state.
In Bayelsa state, it was observed by our volunteers that social distancing was not observed in most markets in the state. There were reports of non-compliance to physical and social distancing by commuters, transporters and even security operatives in the state mainly made up of Police, Army and Civil Defense Corps who checked vehicle particulars and controlled crowd movement including patrolling the highways,
These operatives were observed not to wear facemask and other personal protective equipment including complying with social and physical distance in their various stations and barracks including Police Force (Ekeki, Azikoro, and Akenfa Police station), Civil Defense (Water Board road), Air Force (along Okaka express way), Army and Navy Based (at Agudama town) all in Yenagoa, the state capital. It was further observed that most citizens living in the rural and riverine areas namely Kolokuma, Ogbia and Sagbama, Nembe and Southern Ijaw Local Government areas flouted government directives on the use of face mask. They were also reported not to observe physical distancing in their communities, however the compliance level in Yenagoa the state capital was observed to be high by citizens.
Our observers in Rivers state observed that the United Bank of Africa, Ikwerre Branch was observed to violate the directive on physical distancing by her customers and was almost shut down by the Local Government chairman for noncompliance within the reporting period. Other areas visited in the state apart from Obio-Akpor and Port Harcourt LGAs, which were observed to commence partial lockdown on the 4th of May 2020, witnessed partial compliance by citizens to government directives.
Most transporters were observed to adhere to physical distancing while commuting passengers but there were still few incidents of violations. Furthermore, the volunteers observed that most police personnel on patrol neither wore face masks nor maintained physical distancing with motorists.
In Akwa Ibom state, our observers reported that in some areas namely Mbo, Okobo, Udung Uko, Urue Offong, worshippers in churches were observed not to comply with physical distancing and the use of facemasks while certain transporters were also observed not to comply with Government directives on physical distancing in Uyo.
Most markets visited especially at the community levels in Oron, Uruan, Ikot Abasi, Itu, Eastern Obolo Local Government Areas indicated low citizens’ compliance to government directive in this regard. However, due to the government directive to open worship centres in the state, our observers reported that physical distancing and use of facemask was observed in churches monitored in Mkpat, Oruk, Onna, Ikot Abasi and Uruan local government areas of the state. However, churches monitored in Udung, Okobo, Urue Offong and Mbo local government areas by our observers indicated that many worshippers did not make use of facemasks.
5.0 Citizens Compliance to Government imposition of curfew and Sit at Home Directives
Across the six states of the region, we observed partial compliance by citizens on curfew and sit at home restrictions by the various state governments in the region. In Bayelsa state, it was observed that the dusk-to-dawn curfew was flouted by citizens in all the Local Government areas including Yenagoa, the state capital. However, in Delta State our observers reported a high level of compliance to curfew directives in most parts of the State by citizens especially after the time was extended from 8:00 pm – 6:00 am to 10:00 pm – 4:00 am. In Akwa Ibom state, most security agents who enforced the lockdown rules were observed to fail to comply with the Federal Government directive on the curfew hours. They maintained that they were waiting to hear from the Governor of Akwa Ibom State thus creating confusion amongst citizens.
The situation was however different in Cross River state, where our observers reported strict compliance to the curfew directive by citizens as the taskforce were observed to monitor and ensure compliance. In Edo state a gradual decline in compliance to the curfew was observed in the state as motorists were seen commuting at very late hours without compliance to government directives.
6.0 Citizens Compliance on Ban on Public Gathering
Within the reporting period, our volunteers observed that in Bayelsa state, citizens in Nembe and Ekeremo Local Government areas of the state were holding frequent burials, funerals and wake keeping programmes without public compliance to the ban on public gatherings. In Yenagoa, many churches had over 300 congregants in attendance as against the prescribed number of 200 persons in large church auditoriums.
In Delta State, our observers reported low compliance with government directive on public gatherings as citizens congregated in large numbers in most clubs, bars and marriages monitored in the state in Uvwie, Ughelli North, Sapele, Udu, and Warri South Local Government areas respectively. Most marriages and birthdays held in the state within the period under review were observed to have over 100 persons in attendance as against the prescribed number of 50 persons. In most churches and mosques visited in Udu, Ughelli South, Okpe, Isoko South, Patani, Sapele local government areas of the state, congregations of more than 50 persons were observed in small church/mosque auditoriums violating Government directives. In Akwa Ibom state, a commendable level of compliance to the directive by citizens was observed.
7.0 Sexual and Gender Based Violence
In Rivers state, the Nigeria Police Force arrested a 24-year-old lady who was alleged to have sexually molested a four-year male old child of her employer which occurred on the 10th of May 2020.
In Edo state, the rape of Miss Uwa Omozuwa at a branch of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) on the 27th of May 2020 and her eventual death remains the most traumatizing event recorded in the state. In Delta State, a girl of 10 years was reported to have been gang-raped while hawking on the streets in Opuama Community, Warri North Local Government Area on the 8th of June 2020. These reports are indicative of the need for state governments to set-up taskforce teams and institute stronger measures to tackle the menace of sexual and gender based violence in the region.
We advocate for the prioritization of the safety of children at this critical period and the need for improving police actions on SGBV and visibility across the states.
It is gratifying to note that the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Bill was passed into law by the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly. We advocate effective implementation of this law and other laws to address sexual and gender based violence in the region.
8.0 Gaps noted
- High level of extortion by security operatives both within the states and at interstate borders and highways.
- There was weak compliance to COVID-19 directives by residents in the communities and riverine areas.
- Public gatherings and social events despite ban on such engagements by the state governments in the region.
- Noncompliance by citizens to physical distancing and precautionary guidelines by the Federal Government and Nigerian Centre for Disease Control.
- Conflicting guidelines on curfew hours between the Federal and State Governments in the region and lack of synergy on COVID-19 implementation policies
- Low usage of personal protective equipment by security operatives on COVID-19 engagement in the region.
- Use of face masks and physical distancing is not a priority to citizens in riverine communities making community transmission inevitable in different parts of the region
- Significant increase in reported cases of SGBV within the region in the period under review
- Lack of effective enlightenment campaigns and community mobilization of citizens in riverine areas of the region on the negative impact of Covid-19 on the health of citizens and the economy.
- The Taskforce on Covid-19 set up by states are not inclusive of significant members of the society including religious leaders, youths, women and people living with disabilities.
- Training of security agents on the operational guidelines for the Police and other Law Enforcement Agencies issued by Nigeria Police Force.
- The Federal Government should ensure that security personnel are provided with personal protective equipment and hazard allowance.
- Security personnel found guilty of extorting citizens and violating human rights should be disciplined appropriately to serve as a deterrent to other erring officers. Those that have excelled professionally should be commended formally.
- There is a need for a coordinated regional approach to Covid-19 directives by all state governors in the South-South region.
- State governments in the region should ensure total compliance by religious leaders in their states to Covid-19 directives on re-opening of places of worship.
- All State Task Forces on Covid-19 should be inclusive by having women, youths, religious leaders and people living with disabilities to enable community mobilization to beat the pandemic.
May God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria and heal our land.
Benson Olugbuo, PhD is the Executive Director of CLEEN Foundation