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Published On: Wed, May 6th, 2020

Contending with foes

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President Muhammadu Buhari, earlier this month renewed the COVID-19 lockdown of Lagos and Ogun states as well as the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, by another two weeks. While doing so, he praised the security for their professional enforcement of the curtailment measures. “The security agencies have risen to the challenges posed by this situation with gallantry and I commend them. I urge them to continue to maintain utmost vigilance, firmness as well as restraint in enforcing the restriction orders, while not neglecting statutory security responsibilities.”

However, Mr. President wasn’t quite correct about one thing: several officers of the agencies were anything but restrained on the job. Their highhandedness has resulted in many deaths besides those that the pandemic has killed already. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), a government agency, reported last week that security forces enforcing the lockdown in parts of the country have killed more people than coronavirus itself. Evidence of the killings, according to it, had come from members of the public who rang its hotline or sent in videos. It said law enforcers have killed 18 people since lockdowns began on 30 March. Covid 19 has killed 27 people so far, according to health ministry data released Monday. The country, which has a population of about 200 million people, reported over 600 cases of coronavirus on Tuesday.
In its report about Nigeria’s coronavirus lockdown period, the NHRC said it had found “8 separate incidents of extrajudicial killings leading to 18 deaths”. In total, the group said it received more than 100 complaints across 24 of Nigeria’s 36 states – including Lagos, Ogun and Abuja. Other areas have set a variety of restrictions, which have seen the police and army called out to enforce them.

The security forces have not responded to the NHRC’s report. But earlier this month, the Nigeria Police high command in Abuja encouraged citizens to report officers who violate rules on conduct, adding, “the rights of Nigerians are not infringed upon under any pretext”:

As it is, Nigerians have three enemies to contend with: the invisible covid 19 that does not distinguish between the high and low; the second is the ‘food virus’ that attacks only the very poor trapped in their homes without food. And the third is the security forces that kill and maim defenceless citizens in the name of enforcing orders “from above”.

It is lamentable that the security agencies are making an already hard situation for the ordinary Nigerian harder for him. He has understandably accepted the government’s stay-at-home order in the national interest. Why the security forces would now turn on him is inexcusable. A triggers-happy inclination has tragically displaced professionalism in this new war on a common enemy. One thing is obvious: the personnel of the security agencies did not receive the right training for this new war before being sent into the streets. They went in with the same old mindset that it is a war between us and bloody civilians”. Wrong. It is a war between the whole nation and a global enemy. We all must stand together, the armed and unarmed.

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