Findings by the CLEEN Foundation, a rights group have shown that most citizens in the Southeast wear face masks because of the fear of security agents and not to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the region.
The findings are contained in a release issued in Abuja on Sunday, on the monitoring of public compliance with COVID-19 directives across the region.
The Southeast geo-political zone comprising 5 states namely, Anambra, Imo, Enugu, Ebonyi and Abia, as at 30th June, 2020, has a total of 1,414 confirmed cases of coronavirus, 677 discharged and 18 deaths.
However, a total of twelve cases of extrajudicial killings has been reported in the region involving the member of the Nigeria Military, Law Enforcement Agents and the COVID-19 Taskforce enforcing government directives.
There have also been increased cases of human rights violation by security operatives in the region, with Enugu state topping the list of States with the highest cases alleged human rights violation received by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) between April 27th to May 3rd, 2020, with 13 cases and Imo coming second with 12 cases.
The CLEEN Foundation said the findings were from an aggregated report of happenings in South-East, Nigeria from April to June 2020, which documents the observations of 95 trained local government observers/volunteers and 5 state coordinators across the five states in the zone.
The report issued by the Executive Director of CLEEN Foundation, Benson Olugbuo, reported military and police officers at various checkpoints brutalizing and dehumanizing citizens for not wearing facemasks as well as extortion by security officers.
It read, “Most citizens are not wearing face masks and the few citizens seen wearing facemasks either hang it on their jaw or wear it inappropriately. Most people wear facemasks not because of protection but just to cross Police/Army checkpoints or gain access to the banks and other financial institutions. There are reports of non-compliance at various LGAs and communities, especially in churches, markets and commercial buses. We are also concerned that the majority of the citizens are nonchalant to the existence of the virus despite the increase of COVID-19 cases in the region.”
The group also observed that due to non-availability of adequate personal protective equipment, most security officials are exposed to risk of contracting the infection while they enforced government directives.
CLEEN advocated the retraining of personnel of security agencies in the region on non-violent policing and enforcement of COVID-19 guidelines to ensure synergy with other government agencies and respect for the rights of South East citizens.
It also called for continuous public sensitization and provision of hotlines for reporting and documenting cases of human rights abuses by security agents and cases of sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls.
“There is need for continuous sensitization and advocacy in all the states in South East due to the rising surge in community transmissions of the coronavirus disease.
“There is a need to provide personal protective kits to security operatives in the region given the rising cases especially with over 10 police officers testing positive to COVID-19 in Abia state recently.
“The Southeast Governors should consider informal policing groups to support the formal policing groups in the enforcement of the ban on inter-state movement at the borders and also prioritize improving safety and security of the citizens always and in all places, especially in inner cities and communities,” the report advocated.