COVID-19 Lockdown: Police Should Consider Rubber Bullets, Pepper Spray – NHRC Boss X-rays Abuse of Citizens’ Rights

The Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Tony Ojukwu, has called for the use of non-lethal weapons like rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray by officers of the Nigeria Police and other law enforcement agencies.

Ojukwu said the use of such non-lethal weapons in curbing criminality in Nigeria will reduce human rights abuse and extrajudicial killings by officers of the security agencies across various states of the country.

Speaking at a virtual meeting organised by the Centre for Democracy and Development on Thursday, May 21, Ojukwu said the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has brought to limelight, the many issues of human rights abuses against the citizenry.

The event themed, “Human Rights and Law Enforcement During the COVID-19 Lockdown”, sought to critically review the human rights dimensions of the COVID-29 pandemic and government’s attempt to curtail the spread of the disease within the context of activities of security agencies.

Continuing Ojukwu said Section 45 of the 1999 Constitution as amended which talks about the right to freedom of movement, the right to assemble are all the kind of rights have all been affected by the pandemic and the Quarantine Act.

“Assembling to protest, religious activities have been put on hold due to the nature of the spread of the coronavirus,” Ojukwu said.

He also said that the NHRC has been preparing the minds of citizens as the commission continues to monitor and control the kind of abuses including extortion, cases of torture, cases of extra-judicial killings and harassment of essential workers by security operatives.

The human right scribe said there is need for all active agencies operating during the lockdown to find alternative strategies for reducing human rights violations.

Addressing the need for campaign and awareness, Ojukwu said law enforcement agents must be trained to make informed decisions during the enforcement of cOVID19 regulations.

“Look into the issue of providing rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray for police and other enforcement agencies rather than for them to carry ammunitions. These will reduce the abuse and extrajudicial killings,” he said.

Also speaking, a Nigerian researcher at the Human Rights Watch, Aniete Ewang, said while curbing the spread of the deadly COVID-19, the Nigerian government and its agencies need to work towards gaining the people’s trust.

Ewang said the government authorities should provide clear directives and ensure a well-communicated order to guide officers who have been deployed to enforce the lockdown within the confines of the law and international law standards.

She said there is also a need to provide internal oversight which will take the form of accountability during policy while calling for citizens’ collaboration.

“Human right bodies should look into enforcing the idea of responsibility between teams during the pandemic,” Ewang said.

In her address, the Country Director for Amnesty International, Osai Ojigho, said the many challenges witnessed with law enforcement in Nigeria have always been there even before the COVID-19 lockdown.

She suggested that to reduce the cases of rights abuses and gain citizens’ trust, government and law enforcement agencies must be held accountable at all times.

“Accountability starts first internally in terms with the police and other law enforcement agencies, their responsibilities and obligations to the people that they serve, and secondly, in terms of how the authorities see the international obligations that they have signed up to, like the human rights framework,” Ojigho said.

She noted that one of the weaknesses of the law of enforcement structure in Nigeria is the fact that officers who are accused of committing crimes or human right abuses, do not necessarily get punished for it.

She said: “It is good  to note that there has been attempt and we have seen some officers who have been called out, both often times we don’t know what happens thereafter, there is no much information, whether there was a disciplinary measure or whether steps are taken to ensure it never occurred again.”

She said it would be heartwarming to see a law enforcement body in Nigeria which thrives on accountability and service to the people with dignity, recognize that everyone in spite of their status has the right access to justice and how they facilitate it, rather than perpetuating some of the abuses that we have been seeing under this current dispensation.