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COVID-19 Lockdown: No To Torture Of Citizens By Security Agents

By Inibehe Effiong

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Troubling videos showing policemen, military officers and other agents of
the state torturing, flogging, harassing and humiliating citizens for
straying outside despite the current lockdown in Lagos, Ogun and Abuja and
general movement restrictions across the country have surfaced online.

Section 34 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999
(as amended) guarantees the fundamental right to dignity of the human
person. It states that no person shall be subjected to torture or to
inhuman or degrading treatment. The Anti Torture Act of 2017 makes it a
criminal offence for the police and others to subject any person to torture
or to inhuman or degrading treatment.

By Section 5 of the Quarantine Act Cap. Q2 Laws of the Federation of
Nigeria 2004, the statutory penalty for contravening the regulations made
by the President is a fine of N200 or imprisonment for a term of six months
or both. Section 36 (5) of the Constitution guarantees every person the
right to a presumption of innocence.

Section 6 of the Constitution vest the courts with the exclusive authority
to determine the guilt of any person charged with a criminal offence in
Nigeria. It is against the principle of natural justice for law enforcement
agencies to be the accuser and the judge.

The unfortunate fact that we are facing a pandemic does not mean that the
Constitution has been suspended. We are not under martial law in Nigeria.
There is no exception to the rule of law under a constitutional democracy.

I urge the Chief Judges of the 36 States and the Federal Capital Territory
to constitute Mobile Courts (since regular courts may not be functioning
due the pandemic) to try and adjudicate on cases of alleged contravention
of regulations made by the president and governors pursuant to the
Quarantine Act.

I also urge the National Human Rights Commission to begin to exercise its
expansive powers under the Commission’s establishment Act as amended by
addressing cases of fundamental rights abuses by the police and other
security agencies and award damages in favour of victims of torture during
this period.

Torture was officially outlawed and expressly criminalized in Nigeria in
2017 following the enactment of the Anti Torture Act. I condemn
unreservedly, the torture and public humiliation of citizens under any
circumstance. The police and military authorities should punish their
erring officers who are found culpable.

While urging Nigerians and aliens alike to be responsible and adhere to
the directives of the government in the overall public interest, those who
are accused of contravening the extant regulations should be afforded fair
hearing and the due process of law.

We should not tolerate barbaric and abusive conduct and actions by law
enforcement agencies because of COVID-19 pandemic.

Email: inibehe.effiong@gmail.com

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