COVID-19: Free Civil Space Action Group takes on Nigerian government over human rights abuses

COVID-19: Free Civil Space Action Group takes on Nigerian government over human rights abuses

The Action Group for Free Civil Space is a loose network of organizations, student unions, social movements and active citizens in Nigeria working on various thematic issues but engaged

to ensure that state regulation in the name of national security does not shrink civil space in Nigeria.

In a media statement issued and jointly signed by:

Emmanuel Asha: Youth Forum for Social Change

FyneFace Dumnamene Fyneface: Youth and Environmental Advocacy Centre

Obioma Agoziem: Center for Corrections and Human Development

Victoria Ibezim Ohaeri: SPACES FOR CHANGE

Okechukwu Nwanguma: Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre, said national and international law prohibits governments and law enforcement agencies from using COVID-19 as an excuse to derogate from the right to life.

The Free Civil Space Action Group is deeply concerned about the growing record of human rights violations of citizens by law enforcement agencies responsible for enforcing the COVID-19 lockdown and stay-at-home directives in various states in Nigeria.

The substantiated media reports are full of stories of shootings, police/military brutality, destruction of cooked food and other necessities, physical assaults, etc.

With the way the COVID-19 pandemic is ravaging the world, we realize that these are not normal times.

We particularly applaud the efforts of the Nigerian government and relevant stakeholders who have redoubled their efforts to contain the further spread of the pandemic. While we recognize the need to adopt strict measures when necessary, we must however caution that the measures to contain COVID-19 are being implemented in

states emphasize respect for the rights to life and human dignity guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Just yesterday, trigger happy soldiers are said to have shot dead one Mr. Joseph Pesu in an unfortunate

a show of force to maintain the COVID-19 lockdown in Delta State. A week ago, Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State ordered security operatives to immediately shoot any person trying to escape the quarantine and

isolation centers in the state. Similarly, in Rivers State, hasty lockdown directives, such as the closure of markets and businesses without palliative measures to support the welfare of citizens, hastened the inevitable

situations where the state task force is trying to enforce lockdown directives is abusing some residents trapped outside their homes trying to get food and survival supplies. In other places such as Lagos and Abuja, eyewitness reports and video evidence continue to emerge showing security

forces brazenly using whips and guns to enforce discipline and compliance with lockdown directives. In light of the above alarming development, it has become imperative to remind the Nigerian

government that emergencies and related restrictive measures must be consistent with the country’s national, regional and international human rights obligations.

Sections 33 and 34 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, guarantee life

and human dignity for all citizens. The sanctity and inviolability of the rights to life and human dignity are further protected by Article 4 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Similarly, Art

4(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) also reiterates that certain rights

such as the right to life, freedom from cruel, inhuman treatment and punishment are non-derogable and cannot be terminated even in an emergency. As is clear from these provisions, the national and

international law prohibits governments and law enforcement from using COVID-19 as an excuse to derogate from the right to life.

Furthermore, we dare say that low-income Nigerians have been worst affected by the suspension measures.

Millions of citizens living in informal communities, also called slums, have little or no access to proper sanitation, clean water, quality healthcare, electricity, food, shelter, etc. Only citizens with a roof over their heads can comply with the government’s stay-at-home directive. Closed businesses not only mean a loss of income for businesses, but also weaken the survival of the self-employed and the poor


The majority of people work in the informal sector, depending on their daily income for subsistence. Without a daily income, they are unable to build up the food reserves necessary to maintain the blockade.

Accordingly, the government must shoulder its responsibility to provide adequate relief packages to these needy households. Intervention schemes and economic stimulus packages announced by both countries

Federal and state governments must be supported by effective distribution mechanisms to ensure that relief items reach those in critical need of food and medical supplies, especially in urban slums and rural areas.

The much-touted billions received in donations from philanthropists and corporate bodies supporting the fight against the coronavirus should also be used to help those in need. To plug the reported gaps in distribution, we advise the Federal Government to urgently establish an inclusive body of relief managers in the 36 states and the FCT. Help managers

should be duly selected from trade unions, civil society organisations, the private sector, community organisations, people benefit associations and relevant government bodies. This democratic body of

managers will not only develop a clear strategy to roll out stimulus packages to all Nigerians but

also reports daily to citizens the spending accounts of how aid and items are distributed fairly, equitably, timely and transparently. The Free Civil Space Action Group makes the following demands to the Nigerian government:

-Officially canceling the firing order of Governor Umanyi of Ebonyi State and ordering the Inspector General of Police and his men to reject the directive.

– Adopting humane, responsive and legally binding measures to enforce public safety orders and correct members of the public who defy lockdown directives. – Investigate the killing of Mr. Pesu in Delta State and bring all other erring law enforcement officers to justice.

– Sensitization of law enforcement authorities on rights-respecting methods of carrying out their duties, including tuning

establishing complaint desks and hotlines for members of the public to report cases of abuse.

– Finally, we implore Nigerians to remain strong in these challenging times and obey all public health directives and guidelines meant for the overall public health and welfare of Nigerians.

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