Security agents using Covid-19 lockdown to make money in Imo, Group alleges


…Demands Mobile Courts

A coalition of Nigerian public interest organizations under the aegis of the Action Group on Free Civic Space has called on the Imo State Governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma to set up mobile Courts immediately so as to address violations of Imo State Executive Order 001 on Covid-19 lockdown and curfew signed into law on April 17, 2020.

The group in a statement signed by Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri, Benson Olugbo, Okechukwu Nwanguma, Martins Besong, Oche Tony Onazi and Ikule Emmanuel said that lockdown directives issued by federal and state governments in Nigeria had resulted in spikes in human rights abuses including brutal killing of citizens across the country.

The statement noted that the documentation of Coronavirus-linked violations published on Closing Spaces Database, a digital database that tracked incidences of shrinking civic spaces in Nigeria and West Africa, revealed over 22 deaths caused by security operatives enforcing lockdown in Delta, Abia, Anambra, Kaduna and Cross-Rivers States.

It added that the Action Group had on April 11, 2020 launched legal helplines; 08145000093 and 07039855775 as well as constituted a legal team comprising lawyers in different parts of the country that provided free legal services to persons whose rights were violated as a result of Covid-19 lockdown measures in Nigeria.

According to the statement, since the legal helplines were launched, the majority of complaints received had come from South Eastern part of the country, with Imo having the largest share.

It said, “The Action Group’s independent investigations revealed that scores of citizens are arrested on daily basis by state security agents in Imo, especially the Nigeria Police. Arrested persons often include those looking for food or on the way to hospital and/or looking for basic necessaries that humans depend on for survival. Reports received further reveal that arrested persons are usually detained beyond the constitutional limits of 48 hours without any formal charge. Some of them told the Action Group that state agents allegedly demanded N50,000 bribe before they can be released.

“In order to understand why detained persons are never charged in accordance with the Imo State Executive Order 001 on Covid-19 lockdown and curfew, the Action Group discovered that Mobile Courts were either not set up or that the Mobile Courts have never sat to try the lockdown and curfew violations resulting in the Police exercising discretion in ways that hurt civil liberties and shrink the civic space in Imo state.

“The Action Group legal team therefore calls on Imo state governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma and the Imo State Attorney General to immediately begin the process of using mobile Courts to address violations of Covid-19 lockdown and curfew violations. A community service of 7 days (Clause 5) is the punishment imposed for these violations. Without setting up or operationalizing the Mobile Courts, state security agents and other unlawful persons may continue to exploit the opportunity to make money out of innocent citizens.”

Photo: The Governor of Imo State, Senator Hope Uzodinma.

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