COVID-19 : The responsibility to uphold human rights

By Theophilus Ekpon

The COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria – a country of over 200 million people –has exposed the lapses in adherence levels to the protection of human rights and compliance to the rule of law.

The various levels of restrictions declared by governing authorities exposed the gaps inherent in our security agencies, which calls for urgent remedy. For example, there were reports of police officers collecting bribes and allowing people to move past checkpoints despite President Buhari’s instruction for everyone to stay at home. At the same time, some citizens who could not pay bribes were denied passage and, in some instances, maltreated and beaten up.

The reported actions of these security agents strongly reflect violations of citizens’ rights. The offenders should have been charged to a competent court to face trial instead of maltreatment and brutality.

Again, the police officers who were reported to have compromised the lockdown measures that were put in place, including the ban on inter-state movement, should not have exhibited double standards by allowing some citizens unhindered passage in exchange for bribes and others maltreatment. This calls for a review and constant monitoring of the effectiveness of how the police and other security agencies go about providing security and carrying out assigned duties.

There should be improved and systematic monitoring of security agents, including the police, and all officers found guilty of extortion at checkpoints and at any other time should be prosecuted.
This will further instil discipline in the Nigerian Police and other security agencies and help convince the general public that the police and security agents can now be trusted, leading to more peaceful relationships between citizens and security institutions.

There were also reports of arbitrary killings and disregard for the rule of law. A report by the National Human Rights Commission indicates that over a dozen Nigerians were shot dead by security officers during quarantine.
These Nigerian citizens lost their lives because of the carelessness or overzealousness of some security agents. These reported cases of random killings by security agents should be investigated and culprits should be prosecuted to serve as a deterrent to others.

There is an urgent need to revisit the modules for training of security agents and especially the police, including those in the lowest ranks, to include compliance with human rights and the rule of law as a core component. Regular capacity development programs on their relationship with civilians including how to mediate conflicts and dialogue should be compulsory during the career of security agents.

Additionally, the Federal Government of Nigeria should embark on citizen’s orientation with respect to their relationship with the police and other security agents. There are daily instances where Nigerians err in their approach of dealing with the police in particular.

The display of arrogance and the constant viewing of the police from a negative perspective should be discouraged. Instead, acceptance and the ability of the general public to be aware of their rights under the law must be prioritized. The National Orientation Agency and other relevant stakeholders should take this as a task to put an end to police brutality.

Finally, for Nigeria to avoid another lockdown, and to ensure the implementation of SDG 16, all citizens must come together and support each other in abiding by the COVID-19 guidelines of the NCDC.

These recommend the practice of social/physical distancing, the wearing of facemasks, and getting tested, as well as undergoing timely and NCDC-supervised treatment for all those who test positive.

This collective effort will help prevent another round of lockdown, and can help reduce misinformation, tensions and conflict in the country and strengthen the resilience of communities.

This will prepare us to deal with both the current circumstances as well as a post COVID-19 world. In doing so, we can aim to localise the values of SDG 16 – peaceful, just and inclusive societies – on our path towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals in Nigeria by 2030.

For comments and questions, please contact Theophilus Ekpon, Centre for Sustainable Development and Education in Africa (CSDEA) at theophilusekpon@csdea-africa.org

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