By Augustine Osayande PhD
Amnesty International on Thursday called on the Nigerian authorities to adopt a rights-respecting approach and give clear instructions to security agencies not to abuse their powers as the nation tightens its effort to tame the COVID-19 pandemic, which compelled the authorities to impose lockdown and inter-state movement restrictions
The International Human Right Watch group in a statement said the national response to COVID-19 must be inclusive, to ensure that prisoners, internally-displaced persons and other marginalized and vulnerable communities were not left out at of any stages of the fight against the virus.
Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria said: “While acknowledging the size of the challenge and efforts made by authorities to fight COVID-19 across Nigeria, we are also concerned by reports and videos circulating on social media showing violations of human rights, that include beatings by law enforcement agencies tasked with ensuring compliance with the lockdown.
“As the nation observes the 14-day lockdown, the rights of citizens must be respected and protected, including the right to health care, security, and access to sufficient food and water. The lockdown must have a human face; enabling people to have access to vital needs and relief for those who can no longer earn a living since the majority of Nigerians are daily earners and live below poverty line.”
The International Human Right Watch Group added that as a matter of urgency, the Nigerian government should implement transparent income-support programmes targeted at the most vulnerable populations.
It said millions of Nigerians who lived in informal settlements without access to basic services were at higher risk of COVID-19 infection and Government should ensure that the rights to health, food, water and sanitation were realized in such settlements.
Amnesty International further stated that Nigerian authorities have a human rights obligation to ensure that the most vulnerable and marginalized sections of the population, such as persons living with disabilities and the homeless, have sufficient access to the services needed to give them the best chance of survival.
“This will include access to health services and facilities and the provision of emergency shelter, especially where needed to allow homeless people, including children in street situations to be protected.
“For women and children who are experiencing domestic violence, the lockdown exposes them to further dangers from their abusers. Domestic violence advocates and service providers are increasingly facing difficulties in providing support for victims of abuse, having not been granted exemption in the application of the 14-day lockdown.
“This must be reviewed as Nigeria is obliged to implement appropriate measures to ensure the protection of women and children from all forms of violence and the government should increase support for services and protection, including shelters, hotlines, online advice platforms and criminal justice processes during the period of lock down.
“The scale and deadly nature of the pandemic which has spread to over 201 countries and territories has made it necessary for governments to implement extraordinary measures. But collective efforts to curb the spread of the pandemic must be followed up with commensurate effort to ensure that timely testing and treatment are available and accessible to all Nigerians,” said Osai Ojigho.
The International Human Right Watch Group also called on Nigerian authorities to take immediate actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in correctional and detention centres.
“Prisoners and detainees at police and military facilities across Nigeria are at risk of contracting COVID-19 as they are held in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions that can be even more deadly in the hot weather.
“Kaduna Prison which has capacity for only 473 inmates, now has 1,480 prisoners; while Enugu Maximum Security Prison with capacity for 638, now has 2,077 prisoners.
“The Port Harcourt Maximum Security Prison has capacity for only 804 but currently has 4,576 locked up. Kirikiri Prison in Lagos has capacity for only 500 prisoners but now accommodates 1,601 prisoners.
“On Tuesday 31 March, there was unrest at the Kaduna Correctional Centre as a result of the reported death of a prisoner, which triggered panic among other inmates about the spread of COVID-19.
“Congestion in Nigerian prisons is staggering and a threat to the lives of prisoners, especially at this time that requires social distancing to prevent the rapid spread of the disease.
“Even in the midst of a global health crisis, the Nigerian authorities must protect people’s rights and ensure that all Nigerians have access to healthcare, food, water and all other basic needs.” Osai Ojigho stated.
Amnesty International also said Nigeria must urgently adopt a strategy for the protection of the rights of people deprived of their liberty, including through addressing overcrowding in prisons through the immediate and unconditional release of prisoners of conscience, reviewing decisions to retain people in pre-trial detention and adopting alternatives to detention, and considering the early or conditional release of people at risk such as older people and those with underlying medical conditions.