COVID-19: Punish Security Agents Extorting Nigerians at Interstate Borders–CLEEN Foundation TO IG

COVID-19: Punish Security Agents Extorting Nigerians at Interstate Borders–CLEEN Foundation TO IG

1.0 Introduction

Nigerians have started adjusting to the phased opening of the economy as announced by President Muhammad Buhari on 27th April 2020. Monday the 4th of May 2020 witnessed a huge turnout of Nigerians especially in the FCT, Lagos and Ogun states as many residents trooped out following the partial lifting of the restriction on movement. There was little or no recourse to complying with the preventive measures including social distancing as many residents were seen in large numbers across public places like markets, banks, streets etc. There was a failure to take into cognizance the extra measures put in place to enable the easing of the lockdown in preventing the further spread of the novel corona virus. Banks were seen to host a huge number of customers with most of these without face masks and little recourse to complying with the physical distance directive.

Following the pronouncement by the President, some state governors followed suit by introducing new measures to ease the lockdown in their respective states. As of the time of this release, some states are still undergoing a total lockdown.
As at Sunday 17th of May 2020, Nigeria has recorded 5959 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 182 deaths and 1594 discharged cases. Despite the rising numbers and apprehension from concerned citizens, some citizens appear to live in denial regarding the existence of the corona virus disease in Nigeria. Compliance by citizens to COVID-19 directives by the federal and respective state governments will go a long way to curtail the further spread of the virus. Below are our findings from the six geo-political zones between the 4th and 18th of May 2020.

2.0 Methodology

CLEEN Foundation continues to adopt a triangulation approach involving the collection of primary data by our 37 state coordinators (including the FCT) and volunteers tracking COVID-19 developments across the states and from reliable secondary sources of information. CLEEN Foundation has received a total of 1,692 reports across the 774 LGAs in the six geopolitical zones and these are disaggregated as follows:

• 967 reports on citizens’ compliance to government directives;
• 498 reports on conduct of security personnel enforcing government directives;
• 227 reports on human rights violations by security personnel enforcing government directives on COVID19 pandemic.

3.0 Citizens’ Compliance with Government Directives

  1. 1 Stay at Home Order
    The lifting of the stay at home resulted in several Nigerians moving out en-masse to various destinations and places of work with poor observation of the recommended COVID19 measures such as physical distancing, wearing of face mask and non-observance to the recommended number of passengers to be carried by commercial motorists especially in Lagos and the federal capital territory.

While the stay at home directive was relaxed in Lagos, Ogun and the FCT, some state governments in other parts of the country maintained their stay-at-home order. Our observers in the South South, observed a high compliance with the sit-at-home order in the two local government areas under lockdown in Rivers state, namely Portharcourt and Obio-Akpor. In Edo state, there was a moderate compliance by citizens to the 8:00 pm to 6:00 pm curfew in most parts of the state. Although in some local government areas like Akoko Edo, Orhionmwon, and Owan West, citizens were seen violating the curfew rules. In Bayelsa state, residents of communities such as Kolokuma, Nembe, Sagbama and Southern Ijaw were observed to be violating the dusk to dawn curfew imposed by the state government. In Delta state, however, there was full compliance by citizens to the curfew restrictions in most areas of the state.

In the South West, it was observed that compliance to the 8:00 pm to 6:00 am curfew was reasonably high in Lagos state. Notwithstanding, the state recorded some violators as the Lagos Commissioner of Police indicated that 820 persons were arrested for violation of the curfew imposed on the state. In Ibadan North LGA of Oyo state, it was observed that the security agents are positioned in strategic places to ensure curfew restrictions and mount roadblocks. Only essential workers with means of identification are allowed passage.
Our observers in the North East observed that in Yobe state, military personnel were seen forcefully ensuring adherence to the curfew directives in Nguru LGA. However, in Potiskum, Geidam and Gashua LGAs of the state, a moderate enforcement of the curfew by the military was observed.

In the North Central, our volunteers in the FCT observed partial compliance by citizens to the curfew directives. In Nassarawa state, with Nasarawa LGA as the only local government area on a total lockdown, there was high level of compliance with the sit-at-home order. Residents in other LGAs of the state like Lafia, Keffi and Akwanga have reportedly returned to life as usual without any compliance to the dusk to dawn directives. In Plateau state, it was observed that there is a high level of compliance by citizens especially in Mangun LGA. In Benue state which is on a 6:00pm to 7:00 am curfew, is reported to have drinking pubs and social places open until late into the night.

In the South East, our volunteers have observed moderate compliance to the imposed dusk to dawn curfew in the five states across the region. However, in Enugu state, we observed a low compliance level by citizens especially in the rural areas of the state.

In the North West, our observers noted that compliance by the citizens to government’s stay at home directives have been abysmally low and mostly haphazard in most of the states where the lock down is in force, particularly in Kano, Jigawa & Kaduna state. In Kaduna state, the COVID-19 guidelines are largely complied more by the residents in urban areas than by residents in rural areas. We however gathered from low income community members that despite the lockdown, some are still able to go to the market to trade on non-market days especially in the Ramadan month while some persons still traverse in and out of the state.

3.2 Non-Compliance with Social Distancing Guidelines
In the South-South, our observers reported limited observance to physical distancing directives in most markets and banks across Akwa Ibom, Edo and Bayelsa states. In Calabar, Cross River state, it was reported that residents at markets and grocery stores in the city did not comply with physical distancing measures. Several banks in Rivers State were also observed to be highly populated without any recourse to social distancing directives.

In Lagos state, South West Nigeria, our observers reported low compliance to social distancing measures especially in most banks and markets. Commercial transporters/Okada riders are also not adhering to the physical distancing directives. The situation is also the same in Ondo State, where we observed non-compliance to distancing directives at various local food markets around Akure, the capital of the state.

In different parts of Osun state and Ibadan North East LGA of Oyo State, our observers reported a commendable compliance level to physical distancing directives as most banks, eateries and private companies ensured the use of hand sanitizer or hand washing before entry into their facilities. They also ensured a minimum number of customers were allowed at a time.

In some areas in the North East states such as Adamawa, Bauchi, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe, citizens were observed complying with physical distancing and wearing of facemasks directives. However, in Balanga LGA of Gombe, citizens’ compliance to government directives was found to be very poor. Compliance to social distancing, use of face mask and hand sanitizer were almost non-existent. During the reporting period most of the states in the North East relaxed the lock down initially imposed to curtail the spread of the COVID19 pandemic.

In Kubwa, Lugbe and Nyanya-Mararaba areas of the FCT and Nasarawa State, it was observed that large groups of people often gather by the roadside in a bid to secure commercial vehicles going into the city. No attention was paid to the physical distancing measures by these commuters. The situation is not different in Benue state where transporters flouted social distancing directives by conveying six (6) persons or more in saloon cars and fourteen (14) persons for buses.

In the South East region, our observers reported that in Aba and Umuahia in Abia state and Imo State respectively, there was non-compliance to social distancing in the markets, banks and commercial vehicles by citizens. Banks and markets were seen to be crowded in the areas stated above. Our volunteers in Anambra State observed that social distancing was not adhered to around the markets at Awka, Nnewi, Nkpor and Onitsha.

It is also worrisome to note that in the North West, major markets were congested on days earmarked for the relaxation of lock down for the purpose of restocking essentials. For instance, in Kano state, the popular Kofar Wambai Market in Fagge LGA was filled to the brim as residents thronged into the market in very large numbers. Although Banks, supermarkets and grocery stores have made it mandatory to wear face mask before entry is allowed, the social distancing rules are however not observed.

3.3 Ban on Public Gatherings and Citizens Compliance
About 51% of CLEEN Foundation’s observers noted a low to moderate compliance to government ban on public gathering. This was attributed to the high level of public rush to banks, a rise in economic activities, marriages, and burial ceremonies following the federal government relaxation of the stay-at-home order. There was unprecedented crowd in the FCT and Lagos state within the period.

In Bayelsa state, the COVID-19 task force arrested six (6) church pastors who opened their churches and held services in the state capital in violation on the directive by the government for all religious places to remain shut. In Yala local government area of Cross River state, citizens were seen attending social functions such as burials and weddings, thereby violating the ban on public gatherings. In Ondo state, 50 persons were arrested by the state taskforce in a hotel for violating the ban on social gathering. In Lagos state, two facilities in Badagry West LCDA were shut down for failure to comply with the new guidelines on the operations of hotels, nightclubs and other entertainment outfits aimed at preventing the further spread of COVID-19 in the state. In Niger state, our observers reported that the lifting of the ban on congregational prayers has not witnessed strict observance to precautionary measures.

In Abia State, there were reports by our observers of political meetings held in Ugwunagbo and Umunneochi LGAs where participants exceeded the stipulated government guidelines without maintaining physical distancing.

In the North West, the ban on public gathering has only been effective in major city capitals such as Kaduna, Kano, Gusau and a few other places. Our observers confirmed that congregational prayers were still being held in remote parts of the states without any recourse to the relevant public health advisory.

3.4 Inter-State Movements

In the South-South, we observed interstate movements by citizens. In Bayelsa state, our observers reported that police personnel at Okaki junction (toll-gate) which is one of the boundaries between Rivers and Bayelsa in the eastern part of the state were seen extorting money from motorists to enable entry into the state. Some of these officers were however swiftly apprehended by the new Police leadership in the state. In Cross River state, it was observed that the taskforce set up by the state government were becoming less visible at the border points/tolls. This has resulted to free entry and exit from the state by citizens. In Edo, a trailer conveying 84 travelers from the Northern part of the country were intercepted at Irrua by the state task force, the travelers were taken to Irrua specialist hospital where three (3) of the persons tested positive for COVID-19. In Akwa Ibom state, a truckload of cattle herders was apprehended at Itu LGA (a boundary point between Akwa Ibom and Cross River state) by a Divisional Police Officer.

Our observers in Lagos state reported that restrictions on interstate movement between Lagos and Ogun state through the Lagos-Ibadan express road are strict due to the heavy presence of personnel of the Federal Road Safety Corps and other security operatives on the road. However, the outward bound movement from Lagos to Ogun was less policed and scrutinized as commercial transporters flouted directives on the number of passengers they are expected to convey. Ogun Waterside LGA of Ogun state that borders Lagos and Ondo states has also remained a key entry point due to the porous nature of both the land and sea borders. This has also led to a high number of COVID-19 infected victims that has been discovered in the LGA. In Ekiti state, reports from border LGAs such as Ikere, Emure, Ekiti South West, Moba, Ekiti West etc indicate that security agents extort money between N200 – N5000 from travelers to allow movement in and out of the state. A bus full of travelers allegedly from Sokoto state was intercepted at Afao-Ekiti in Irepodun/Ifelodun LGA within the period under review. Residents of Ondo state border communities also alleged that security officials are extorting money in exchange for free passage of travelers at night. It was also reported that nine (9) Almajiri children brought from Kano state were sent back at the entrance of Akure after they had passed many checking points.

Reports emanating from Niger state in North Central Nigeria have shown an increase in interstate travels especially within Shiroro LGA of the state. In Benue state, transporters were observed to utilize the midnight period for interstate travels despite the ban on non-essential interstate travels. In Kogi state, observers reported that security personnel were seen extorting money from transporters in the sum of 3000 naira each to allow passage through the Abaji/Lokoja expressway.

In Kebbi state, North West, Nigeria, there is a restriction order on the movement of persons across the state’s borders. But with the complicity on the part of the security and law enforcement agents, enforcement has remained challenged. We also noticed influx of people from Niger Republic and Benin Republics into the state. The porous nature of our national borders around Kebbi state poses a serious public health risk to the state and the entire country.

In Abia State, our volunteers reported that at the border between Abia and Rivers state, passengers were seen disembarking from buses coming from Port Harcourt and walking across the Imo river bridge to join other waiting vehicles on the Abia side of the bridge, all under the watchful eyes of security officials who did not stop them. Also, it was reported that on Tuesday May 5, 2020, the COVID-19 taskforce and security officials intercepted and turned a truck laden with food items from Zamfara which allegedly had over 24 Almajiri children hidden under the food items and another group hidden in cattle trucks at the Enugu – Abia border. It was also reported that at the Enugu – Anambra border communities at Ugwuoba and Amansea; motorists picked passengers from Enugu and dropped them at the border where they crossover and board vehicles going into Anambra. These happened under the watchful eyes of security operatives. Our volunteer from Oguta LGA in Imo state also reported that as early as 6.00am, vehicles from Omoku in Rivers State move in convoy to Onitsha via the Oguta Lake Pontoon Ferry and return back by 6.30pm every day. An average of N2,000 is paid for clearance.

4.0 Conduct of Security Personnel on Enforcement of Government Directives on COVID-19 Pandemic
On the general conduct of the security personnel on COVID-19 duty, the observers were evenly divided as 50% rated the conduct of security personnel good/very good while 50% equally rated their conduct poor/fair.

4.1 Extra-Judicial Killings by Security Personnel and other State Actors

Our observers have recorded a total number of 33 deaths since the restriction of movement started. On the 4th of May 2020 in Onitsha market in Ogbaru LGA of Anambara state, it was reported that a member of the market’s Task Force had a fight with a young boy and stabbed him to death. We were informed that the task force denied the boy’s mother entry into the market for not wearing a face mask and this led to a fight that resulted to the young boy’s death. In Plateau state, a young man was killed by personnel of the Nigeria Armed Forces. The National Human Rights Commission has opened investigations into these extra -judicial killings.

4.2 Brutality on Citizens by Security Operatives and Vice Versa
In Rivers States, there were reports of the draconian manner the State Governor enforces directives which violates the rights of citizens in the state. Citizens who violated the sit-at-home order had their vehicles seized and auctioned by the state government without recourse to milder penalty measures. Furthermore, the Governor demolished a hotel named Prodest in the state capital for violating the government’s directives. We condemn the actions of the Governor and call for restraint and respect for the rights of citizens as enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

In Gombe state, there was a report of human rights violation by the Rapid Respond Squad while enforcing the partial lockdown in the state. The squad stormed Wuntin Dada community in the state capital and arrested 40 petty traders for allegedly being in their shops at night despite the curfew imposed by the government to curtail the spread of coronavirus. After the arrest, they were conveyed in about five Police Hilux vans and taken to Yelwa Divisional Police Office and detained without recourse physical social distancing.

In Nasarawa LGA of Nasarawa state, it was reported on the 9th of May 2020 that security agents in a bid to enforce compliance resorted to flogging individuals who disobeyed the stay-at-home directives within the LGA with canes.

We have also noted a worrisome development associated with the Almajiri exchange program embarked upon by the Kano, Kaduna and other State Governments in the North West. This is a disturbing development and an outright violation of the fundamental human rights of the Almajiri children as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which guarantees the right of all Nigerians to live in any part of the country and also provisions of the Child Rights Act.

5.0 Gaps Identified

  1. Insufficient testing centers in several states of the Federation with several citizens who are qualified to be tested yet to know their actual COVID-19 status and no clear indication on the status of our contact tracing, isolation and treatment of patients.
  2. General low compliance by citizens to the precautionary guidelines by the Government and National Centre for Disease Control.
  3. Poor enforcement of Government directives on citizens by law enforcement agencies
  4. Low compliance to social distancing across in most banks and markets
  5. Complicity of security operatives who allow interstate movements despite the restrictions imposed by both the Federal and state governments
  6. Porous borders both on land and on water despite restrictions leading to increased cases of new infections in border communities.
  7. Reported cases of unexplained deaths in Bauchi, Hadejia and Kaura Namoda and parts of Yobe state.

6.0 Recommendations
6.1 Commercial banks are encouraged to set up more branches especially in urban areas with high population as this will support social distancing measures by bank customers.

6.2 Religious centres and social gatherings have continued to operate in states with partial lockdown rules. Religious leaders and business owners should comply fully with government’s directives on COVID19.

6.3 Security institutions and their oversight agencies are encouraged to sustain internal and external disciplinary measures to discipline personnel who are guilty of extorting citizens and violating human rights to serve as deterrent to other officers.

6.4 The provision of testing centers in all the 36 states of the country remains an effective measure to stop the further spread of the coronavirus disease. State Governments are encouraged to establish more testing centres to improve early detection, isolation, treatment and higher recovery rates.

6.5 Kogi state remains a key state in the effective implementation of the ban on interstate movement given its very strategic geographic location as a nodal state linking many other states. The Presidential Task Force and the Kogi State Government should collaborate with security agencies to ensure compliance.

6.6 The mass movement of Almajiri children during the coronavirus pandemic exposes them to various risks. Each state government is encouraged to set-up special social protection programs in their states to cater for the needs of the children pending the development of a more sustainable plan.

6.7 Owners of hotels and other recreational centres are
encouraged to conform completely with the preventive measures set by each respective state government.

6.8 The reported cases of unprecedented records of deaths in Bauchi, Hadejia and Kaura Namoda as well as some parts of Yobe should be subjected to urgent clinical inquiry to ascertain the cause of deaths in these states.

May God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria and heal our land

Benson Olugbuo, PhD
Executive Director, CLEEN Foundation

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