Enforcement of The Lockdown

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Security agencies should be civil in enforcing the restriction of movement to stem the spread of Covid-19

The killing last Thursday in Warri, Delta State, of a young man allegedly by one of the military personnel deployed to enforce the stay-at-home directive to curtail the spread of Coronavirus has brought to fore the danger the nation faces in handling this pandemic. The vortex of outrage triggered by the incident was not unexpected. This is more so as we cannot make rapid progress in this public health emergency campaign with flagrant violation of the human worth.

It is bad enough that we are overstretching the capacity of the armed forces at a time that terrorists are randomly killing troops deployed to tackle insurgency in the North-east. But it is worse when the conduct of some of the security agencies in the midst of the civil populace is callous, barbaric and unbecoming. On Friday, the army headquarters announced that soldiers caught in a viral video threatening to molest women in Warri had been arrested with the promise of an investigation that would be “swift and fair in accordance with applicable military laws.” It is commendable that the army acted swiftly on the disgraceful incident that can only sully their image and that of Nigeria before the civilised world.

The necessity for the current lockdown is understood. Since we are in an emergency situation almost akin to war, all extraordinary measures should be put in place even if they are inconveniencing so as to safeguard public safety. Apparently because the federal authorities dithered on how to handle the pandemic, there was no time for adequate public enlightenment before a 14-day lockdown was imposed by President Muhammadu Buhari on Lagos, Ogun and Abuja, and in some of the states by their governors. But applying arbitrariness in the enforcement of the restriction of movement is misplaced.

Sadly, what we have seen in the past one week is pure brigandage at a period when there is a need for greater sensitivity in dealing with the people, given the economic and social dislocations in the country. Nigerians who ordinarily live on day-to-day income are forced indoors with no relief. To now compound their woes with brutalities can result in unintended consequences. Many could view those sent to enforce the lockdown as oppressive adversaries and may begin to fight back, as it is already happening in some places.

Apparently worried by field reports, the Inspector General of Police, Mr Mohammed Adamu on Thursday cautioned officers and men of the Nigeria Police Force currently deployed for the enforcement of the lockdown and social restriction orders “to ensure that the rights of Nigerians are not infringed upon under any pretext.” He said persons on essential duties, duly exempted from the restriction orders, should be accorded due courtesies and unfettered access to and fro their places of duty, adding that all police officers in the field “must be professional, humane and tactful and must show utmost respect to the citizenry.”

In commending Adamu’s intervention, we appreciate the fact that the challenging security situation in the country has forced the deployment of military personnel to many states to aid the police in securing the peace. We have always given allowances that, because of their operative rules and norms of trading in violence, and with insufficient training for their new roles, no one expected the human rights report to be smelling of roses. But the torture and harassment of citizens perpetrated by some undisciplined soldiers during this period of lockdown is unacceptable and potentially dangerous.

It would be tragic if enforcing the stay-at-home order in the country is allowed to degenerate into unmanageable social convulsion and avoidable bloodletting. It is the responsibility of President Buhari to ensure that doesn’t happen.

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It would be tragic if enforcing the stay-at-home order in the country is allowed to degenerate into unmanageable social convulsion and avoidable bloodletting