The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) says the brutality meted out to Joe Ajaero, the president of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) during a protest in Imo State on Wednesday was an abuse of his fundamental rights.
The Executive Secretary, NHRC, Anthony Ojukwu, condemned the brutality against Mr Ajaero, and called for an investigation into the incident with a view to bringing the perpetrators to book.
Mr Ojukwu said this in Abuja on Friday when he reacted to the alleged attack on the NLC President.
He said that people’s rights to peaceful protest and freedom of expression should be respected for the progress of human and Nigerian society.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the NLC alleged that Mr Ajaero was picked up at the state secretariat of the congress and taken to an unknown location where he was brutalised.
Mr Ojukwu condemned the attack, describing it as gross violation of human rights of Mr Ajaero and other Nigerians who might use protests to register their grievances against constituted authorities.
“It is a reprehensible act, a flagrant violation of human rights and an affront to the principles of democracy and the rule of law.
“Brutality on Mr Joe Ajaero, a senior labour leader, represents impunity and a direct attack on the fundamental rights of individuals to associate and express their views and opinions freely, which is the cornerstone of a democratic society like ours,” he said.
He reiterated that in a democratic nation like Nigeria, the right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression must be respected and upheld no matter how uncomfortable law enforcement agents feel.
Mr Ojukwu, therefore, called on the relevant authorities to swiftly investigate this ugly incident to bring the perpetrators to justice and ensure such acts of brutality were never repeated or tolerated.
He maintained that persons responsible for the brutality must be held accountable for their actions to serve as a clear message that such behavior would not be tolerated in society.
According to him, it is unethical to use force and violence to arrest unarmed civilians; this brutal act is against international best practices for the promotion and protection of human rights.
“The commission reiterates its commitment to upholding human rights, protecting freedom of expression, and ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all individuals in the country,” he said.
“I am using this medium to call upon law enforcement agencies to exercise restraint and uphold the principles of democracy and respect for human rights when dealing with unarmed civilians while enforcing law and order.
“Together, we can build a society where every citizen’s rights and freedoms are safeguarded, respected and tolerated, where acts of violence and intimidation have no place,” he said.
The NLC had called on workers in Imo State to embark on a state-wide strike on 1 November.
While declaring the strike on Sunday, Mr Ajaero said the industrial action was in protest against “the persistent and egregious violations of the rights and privileges of workers in Imo State by the state government.”
“Despite our repeated efforts to engage in constructive dialogue and reach amicable agreements, the Imo State Government has become a habitual and serial breaker of these agreements, continuing to trample on the rights of workers in the state.
“As a result, we are left with no choice but to embark on mass protests and industrial actions beginning on the 1st day of November, 2023,” Mr Ajaero said.
There was uproar in the state on Wednesday, the day the strike and industrial action were to begin, with some thugs and police officers reportedly attacking Mr Ajaero and other members of the NLC who had assembled at the union’s council secretariat ahead of their planned protest in the state.
The national leadership of the NLC later alleged that Mr Ajaero was arrested by police operatives in the state.
The union also accused the state governor, Hope Uzodinma, of mobilising the thugs and the police officers to attack and arrest the NLC president to frustrate the planned protest in the state.
But the police later denied arresting Mr Ajaero, saying they only placed him in protective custody to shield him from attack by the thugs.
On his part, Mr Uzodinma, seeking reelection in the upcoming poll in the state, blamed Mr Ajaero for his alleged partisanship.
“What has happened in this ugly coincidence is that the national president of the Nigeria Labour Congress is from Imo state and has not been able to demarcate the difference between being a national leader of an organisation and then an interested party in local politics,” Mr Uzodinma said at the presidential villa on Thursday in Abuja after receiving the flag of his party, the All Progressives Congress, from President Bola Tinubu, as a mark of endorsement for the governor’s reelection bid.