While the Buhari administration didn’t rate high on the Human Rights index, the Tinubu administration doesn’t seem set to improve on this record either. Across the country, there have been complaints about human rights violations, gagging the media and impunity by some State Executives. The recent brutal attack on the President of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Joe Ajaero by State- sponsored security operatives in Imo State, is confirmation of the fact that indeed, SARS, which many were not convinced had been disbanded as a result of the nationwide #EndSARS Protests in 2020, is still alive and kicking. As at the time of going to press, plans were said to be afoot to fly Comrade Ajaero abroad for medical attention. Dr Sam Amadi, Emmanuel Onwubiko and Okechukwu Nwanguma raise some pertinent issues about the Imo State imbroglio, Governor Uzodinma’s highhandedness and the overall human rights records of this administration
Joe Ajaero: Lawless Policing and Democracy Failure
Dr Sam Amadi
The President of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Joe Ajaero, was brutalised in Owerri by agents of the State Government, led by officers of the Nigeria Police. He was beaten up at the NLC office, while preparing for a planned protest. He narrates that the assailants were led by Ola, a Police Officer attached to the Tiger Base Unit of the Government House, Owerri, and Mr Chinasa Nwaneri, Special Adviser to the Imo State Governor on Special Duties. Because of the brutality, the NLC leadership announced a nation-wide strike action unless the Government fishes out the alleged assailants, prosecutes them according to law and redeploys the Imo State Commissioner of Police under whose watch and endorsement the assault occurred. As a response to the assault against its leader, the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) cut off electricity supply to the State. Aviation workers also responded by cutting off air travel from and into Owerri, the State capital. The NLC and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) jointly announced the commencement of a national strike from Tuesday, November 14, 2023, if the demands are not met. To demonstrate its determination to carry out the proposed actions, the NLC and the TUC carried out a protest to the International Airport in Abuja, an action that delayed air travel to the displeasure of air travellers.
Expectedly, many people are angry that a localised crisis in Imo State is snowballing into a national crisis. To these consternated Nigerians, it is not a responsible behaviour for union leaders to punish the entire country with protests and strikes, because of an assault against its leader by the Imo State Government. These people make light of the implication of the assault on the NLC President. They consider it a mere assault, that should not be a basis for a national labour action. Whereas, I do not justify or castigate the response of organised labour to the assault of Mr Ajaero, I consider the assault a clear indication of the way policing in Nigeria has become the major challenge to democracy. I argue that the assault on Ajaero should be mapped on the canvas of the #EndSARS protest, to understand its wider implications for democracy and freedom in Nigeria.
Policing and Democratic Accountability
Oftentimes, we do not appreciate the importance of policing to democracy. Democracy is not possible or feasible, without fair and effective policing. This is the reason some of the stable and vibrant democracies, boast of fair and efficient policing. There is a conceptual and historical relationship, between democracy and fair and effective policing. At the conceptual level, democracy is a theory of limited government. The central idea of democracy is self-determination. The people determine themselves, through expressing their freedom and dignity. Self-determination does not mean that we are not constrained in any way. It means that in the things that matter for our lives, we are free to make the necessary decisions.
Self-determination imposes a limited government, in the sense that the government is restrained by law from doing some things. It cannot take away our liberties, except through due process. The due process is such that ensures that none of us is deprived his or her rights, to make the other person happy or comfortable. This due process is now entrenched in constitutional texts, that guarantee every person his or her personal liberty. The guarantee of personal liberty and dignity of person prohibits any act by a person or the government to detain us, invade our privacy or manhandle our bodies.
The whole edifice of the Magna Carta that presaged and influenced the development of fundamental human rights, is an effort to protect the person from undue assault and interference by the government. The court is authorised by the Magna Carta and all the legal instruments it has influenced, including the Constitution, to uphold the parameter separating appropriate and inappropriate interference with the person, dignity, and privacy of human beings.
In the context of protection of fundamental human rights, the Police play the most important role. The chief work of policing, is not arresting and prosecuting criminals. It is to prevent the violation of the freedom and dignity of the person, either as a citizen or a resident of a political community, and to prosecute those guilty of such violations. By so doing, that is, by restraining the government and the powerful from violating the democratic rights of citizens, the Police further the entrenchment and sustenance of democracy. So, the Police are the chief protector of democracy, to the extent that they restrain the powerful and the rich from expending the liberties and freedoms of the people for their convenience.
The historical association of policing and democracy, goes this way. Historically, society was brutish and violent. The strong ruled over the weak and used them as they liked without any constraint, except those articulated by whatever morality they acknowledged. This is a state some economists called ‘banditry’. Thomas Hobbes called it ‘state of nature’. To exit the state of nature requires the concentration of the coercive power (violence) in one person (according to Hobbes), or in a government (according to John Locke). The Nobel winning Economist, Mancur Olson, in his book, Power and Prosperity: Outgrowing Communist and Capitalist Dictatorships (2000) argues that, the exit from banditry in society occurred because of some balance of power that may have arisen accidentally in history. As he puts it, “autocracy is prevented and democracy is permitted by the accidents of history that leave a balance of power amongst a small number of leaders, groups or families – that is, by a broadly equal dispersion of power that makes it imprudent for any leader or any group to attempt to overpower the other”. Banditry ended, because powerful people could no longer have their way. Power was dispersed and therefore, no longer within any person’s or group’s absolute control.
In the theory of democracy, the leading western political scientist of the modern times, Ronald Dahl, in his attempt to explain the conditions necessary for democracy to thrive, argues that democracy requires competitive elections. The transition from autocracy to democracy requires that the power of violence in the society be removed from the hands of those who control political power to use as they wish, and be put in the hands of a professionalised group that will not pander to the whims and caprices of men and women of power. Competitive elections are only possible, if there is a level playing field for contentious politics. Where a group mobilises violence through capture of policing power, democracy will be difficult to attain or sustain.
The difficulty of institutionalising fair policing, is one reason we have struggled with free and fair elections. It is also one reason we have executive recklessness that undermines constitutional governance. If the policing power in a country is highjacked to serve the interest of those in power, the result will be the destruction of democratic rights of citizens and residents. Once democratic rights are eroded, even if periodic elections subsist, democracy is dead.
The Failure of Rule of Law through Unfair Policing
Unfair policing is all forms of policing that violate the rights of citizens, and predate rather protect citizens. The #EndSARS protest was a campaign against unfair policing. The Nigerian youths who revolted against the Police in that protest, were crying against how Police brutalise and kill them on the pretext of fighting fraud. #Blacklivesmatter movement is a response to unfair policing that targets black people unfairly. Whenever there is unfair policing, there is gross violation of the rule of law. The fundamental proposition of the rule of law is that citizens are protected in their equality, freedom, and liberty. The guarantor of that protection is the police that commits itself to fairness in applying coercive force. This is a fundamental norm of democratic policing. The police are not an instrument of terror, not an instrument of protection for those in power.
But ,unfortunately, the Nigeria Police has a history of abuse that relates to its DNA. The Nigeria Police was conceived as a colonial force, to repress the ‘natives’ and protect the colonists. It has faithfully retained that configuration, and enhanced its brutish unfairness. Every terror that emanates daily from the Nigeria Police, is an expression of this historical and conceptual pathology. The Police are a regime protector. They are an instrument to maintain status quo. Someone may argue that there is nothing unusual about this, considering that the Police are the coercive component of what Foucault called ‘governmentality’. But, the fact is that even if the Police maintain the status quo, it should not make it an instrument of a ruling class. Otherwise, democracy as defined by Joseph Schumpeter as the possibility of removing those in power, will be impossible. Protecting the status quo should amount to protecting those in power, and victimising those not in power.
What is evident in the history of policing, is that the Nigeria Police is lent to the ruling elites to use to brutalise those who are not part of that elite. Even amongst leading politicians, the Police serve those who have attained access to formal political power, and disserve those who do not exercise political power. This institutional logic is the reason the Police would create a special unit in the Government House, Owerri, tag it ‘Tiger Base’, and authorise its commander to allow it to be used at the whims and caprices of the Governor and those he authorises. There are similar examples in other States, where the Police franchises itself to the Governor of the State to use as he deems fit. This is not an aberration. This is the logic of policing, in the context of Nigeria’s historical development.
The assault on Ajaero by Governor Uzodinma’s aides and thugs, enabled by Police officers from the Tiger Base at the Government House, Owerri, is one expression of the daily operation of Nigeria Police when there is a disagreement or conflict between the government and a citizen. Before Ajaero, many citizens have been brutalised and allegedly killed by the same unit in similar circumstance. These officers consider it their responsibility to protect the Governor and such other designated government officials from any harm, even to their reputation. They do not serve the people. They serve those who rule over the people. By this logic, they reverse the liberal democratic notion of policing, which in essence, is to protect the freedoms of the people from attack by fellow citizens, including those in political offices. The reason citizens in true democracies can harshly criticise those in political offices, is that they trust the policing in their countries to protect democracy and the rule of law by protecting their exercise of their democratic rights.
Democracy is built on democratic rights. If these rights are abrogated or made inaccessible to citizens, then the edifice of democracy has collapsed. What is clear is that Nigeria is no longer a true democracy, because of the erosion of democratic rights. Democratic rights are not just about shambolic periodic elections. Even if elections are free and fair, as they are not in Nigeria, they are not enough to become a democracy. Beyond free and fair elections, democracy requires that the people enjoy democratic rights. And the chief of them, includes the right to personal liberty. When the Police cannot guarantee such right, or when it enables its violation as in the case of the NLC President, then democracy has failed. This may be the reason the authoritative review of democracy in the world, the Verities of Democracy (V-DEM) rates Nigeria as an ‘electoral autocracy’.
The assault on the NLC President, raises concern on how the Police undermines democracy and the rule of law. It is not an isolated problem. It is definitive of the philosophy of policing in Nigeria. We are yet to democratise policing in Nigeria. That is why Police officers follow every VIP around, and there are no Police officers to protect the cities. That is the reason there are many unresolved high-profile crimes, because proper investigation will implicate the men and women of power. That is the reason we cannot have free and fair elections, because the Police will aid incumbents to remain in power through all forms of manipulation. And, that is the reason we do not prosecute electoral offences, because they are either committed by men and women of power or at their behest.
With the current character and nature of policing, Nigeria has little hope of being a true democracy. And, the Ajaero saga merely illustrates the relationship between lawless policing and Nigeria’s failing democracy.
Dr Sam Amadi, Harvard trained Human Rights Lawyer, former Chairman, Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission
Attack on NLC President is an Intolerable Crime Against the People
On November 1, 2023, the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Joe Ajaero, who was on a tour of duty to Imo State, was brutalised by armed thugs sent by the Imo State Government, with the objective to frustrate a planned solidarity peaceful protest by members of the NLC in that State. Subsequently, he was further battered by the unruly and well armed Police operatives from the Imo State command who arrested him in the most notorious and life threatening of fashions, and then whisked him away into Police torture facility somewhere near the State Government House in Owerri, the Imo State capital. The incident is just a true representation of what is said in a section of the Holy Bible, that a prophet has no honour in his own home.
The National President of the NLC, Comrade Joe Ajaero is from Owerri, Imo State. Unfortunately, the Government of his State is said to have masterminded such a dastardly and brutal attack on the person of the well distinguished national figure who ironically, hails from Imo State.
Imo State: Now a Place of Unrestrained Violence
The truth is that Imo State has in the last four years of the administration of Governor Hope Uzodinma become a place of unrestrained blood cuddling violence, to an extent that not less than 300 citizens are alleged to have been killed by members of the armed forces and Police, and also the Department of State Services (DSS). Similarly, many people have disappeared after being captured by security operatives. Also, many Police stations in Imo State have been set ablaze by suspected arsonists. The Police blame renegades, such as members of IPOB for such attacks. However, Emma Powerful, the media spokesman of the Nnamdi Kanu-headed IPOB have often distanced IPOB from these attacks, and blamed forces working for the Imo State Governor for instigating the destruction, so as to find justification for the massive killings of young Igbo youths that has gone on for four years.
The are many reports done by Amnesty International, on the orgies of killings that have happened under the watch of Hope Uzodinma as the Governor of Imo State. However, not a single killer has been arrested, charged and prosecuted. The Police in Imo State claims that it has over 200 members of IPOB in detention, but not a single conviction has been made all these years.
So, the violent incident involving the President of the NLC is not an isolated incident, because it has become a pattern that opposition figures are constantly attacked and brutalised in Imo State, therefore, making the entire Imo State look like a place whereby the administration practices fascism. This is antithetical to constitutional democracy. The member representing the good people of Ideato North/South Mr Ugochinyere was once attacked, his father’s complex in Akokwa razed to the ground, over 100 of his buses procured for his campaign for the Federal House of Representatives then, were burnt. He blamed Governor Hope Uzodinma for the attacks against him, and said the Governor wanted him dead because he belongs to the opposition PDP. The Governor through his Information Commissioner, denied the allegations.
The misconduct of the members of the armed forces and Police, particularly, their penchant for extrajudicial killings of citizens and the infliction of torture on suspects, go contrary to the Nigerian Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and all other global human rights laws which Nigeria is a signatory to.
Indeed, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a key component of the Nigerian Constitution. What is particularly worrying, is that the Central and Imo State governments have failed to bring perpetrators of human rights violations to trial, and therefore, what is in place in Imo State is official impunity and lawlessness.
Asari Dokubo, a former Niger Delta militant recently stated that his private army operates in Imo State, and there are widespread allegations that he may be behind the phenomenon of unknown gunmen who are responsible for so much of the instability and killings in Imo State. Dokubo has yet to be arrested, and probed for the bloodshed in Imo State. Many stakeholders, including law experts and civil rights practitioners, have severally advocated the arrest and prosecution of Asari Dokubo over the killings in Imo State. So, the attack on the President of the NLC is just one of the series of a well targeted campaign of violence against any presumed opponent of the Imo State Governor, whose desperation to win the re-election is overbearing and frightening.
Travails of Comrade Ajaero
Comrade Ajaero was picked up from the NLC State Council Secretariat by heavily armed Policemen in Owerri, and taken to an unknown destination. The Head of Media at the NLC Headquarters, Benson Uper, stated this via a WhatsApp message which most media outlets immediately picked up and circulated around the World.
The NLC was reportedly leading a statewide protest and strike in Owerri over what it described as lack of respect for workers, unpaid salaries and pensions, amongst others.
According to reliable information at the disposal of this writer, the labour leader was arrested at the Secretariat of the NLC in Imo while he was about to lead an ‘Occupy Imo’ protest slated for that same day being the beginning of the day and a clear eleven days before the off-cycle Governorship poll in Imo alongside Bayelsa and Kogi States. It must be noted that the visit of the NLC leader, has absolutely nothing to do with the politics of the Governorship poll. However, the Imo State Governor who is known to be so desperate to win his re-election bid by all means, resorted to allegedly arming political thugs to invade the vicinity of the NLC, to interrupt their long scheduled Industrial dispute related activity. Imo State is a flashpoint of several politically motivated killings and violence, blamed by some analysts on supporters of the Imo State Governor, and a series of other amorphous well- armed non-State actors clamouring for several demands.
The source who confided in this writer, said the Police arrested Ajaero giving reasons that the labour leader has disobeyed an existing court order by the National Industrial Court restraining the NLC and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) from carrying out any protest in the State.
When the media reporters contacted the Police spokesperson in Imo, Henry Okoye, he said he had no information on the arrest of the NLC leader, yet, he stated that he would make the information available as soon as he got a clear picture of the situation. However, as the day neared evening, it was then made known belatedly by the Police that Comrade Joe Ajaero was in a so-called Protective Custody – a term used by the Police to try to dodge responsibility for the brutality and physical torture the NLC President suffered in the hands if the lawless Police operatives. Besides, the Police took over six hours before it could come up with their lie concerning what they did to Comrade Joe Ajaero openly, before the full glare of the media and members of the NLC.
Persisting in the dissemination of the falsehood, a statement by the Police Command’s spokesperson, Okoye Henry, the Police said, “In the course of their (labour’s) planning, it was reported that suggestions arose for the lockdown of some essential facilities particularly the airport, which led to some workers and other individuals resisting the picketing process leading to scuffles and heated arguments and an eventual attack on the person of the NLC President by a mob.
“Upon receiving this report, the Imo Police Command swiftly deployed Police operatives to the scene, where the Officer in Charge exercised his operational discretion by taking the NLC President into protective custody at the State Command Headquarters, to ensure the protection of his life and that he was not lynched in the scuffle that followed.
“The Commissioner of Police thereafter, directed that he should be taken to the Police Medical Services, Owerri, where he would be accorded medical attention as a result of the attack. He has therefore, been accorded adequate security cover to proceed on his other legitimate engagements for the day.
“It is however, necessary to emphasise the existence of a court injunction from the National Industrial Court of Nigeria holden in Owerri with Suit No. NICN/OW/41/2023 dated 27th October, 2023, barring the NLC from holding the intended protest rally in Owerri.”
Organised Labour Fingers Imo Government
In a statement on Wednesday, the NLC and TUC national leaderships in Abuja, accused the Imo State Government of intimidation against trade unions in the State. However, the Imo State Government said it had no hand in Ajaero’s arrest.
The State’s Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Declan Emelumba, wondered what Ajaero was doing in Owerri in defiance of the order of the court, which warned of severe consequences against disobedience. He said information at the disposal of Government indicated that there might have been a fiasco between lawful workers of Imo State and “lawless invaders” from Abuja, which led to Police intervention to maintain the peace. Developments around the personal safety and the whereabouts of Comrade Joe Ajaero, took a frenetic dimension.
The entire scenario of brazen Police brutality and physical torture of Comrade Joe Ajaero, culminated in him been rushed to the Federal Medical Centre, FMC, Owerri with his right eye completely shut.
The NLC Head of Information and Publicity, Comrade Benson Upah, described what happened to Ajaero as an act of abduction that degenerated into attempted murder.
He said that “contact has been made with Congress President, Comrade Joe Ajaero this afternoon around 15:30 hours at the Police Hospital in Owerri from where he was taken to Federal Medical Centre, Owerri where he is receiving medical attention”.
“Thoroughly brutalised, his right eye at the time of contact, was completely shut.”
He further said, “Ajaero, who said little, stated that immediately after his arrest, he was beaten up and blindfolded and taken to an unknown destination where more brutalisation took place, sometimes with bottles.
“His phones, money and other personal effects were taken off him, and have not been returned to him.” On the 3rd of November, 2023, the NLC and sister unions vowed to take action against the Imo State Government of Governor Hope Uzodinma, following the brutalisation of NLC President, Joe Ajaero, in Owerri, the Imo State capital on Wednesday.
This was as Uzodinma, while reacting to the Wednesday crisis and had accused the NLC President, who is an indigene of Imo State, of meddling in the State’s politics.
Uzodinma said Ajaero must learn to draw a line between his role as a NLC leader, and being a partisan Imo State indigene. The Governor accused the leader of trying to blackmail his Government over non-payment of salaries, insisting that all Imo workers have been paid their due wages. The truth is that Comrade Ajaero was brutalised by Policemen in Owerri, when he went to mobilise workers for a strike, which is clearly a legitimate duty.
The NLC President, Mr Ajaero had, during a press briefing on Sunday, prior to the November 1st attack, accused the Imo State Government of “violating the rights of the Nigerian workers in the State” and therefore, vowed to mobilise members of the Union in the State for a strike.
The Head of Information of the NLC, Benson Upah, said Ajaero was picked up at the State Secretariat of the NLC in Owerri and taken to an unknown location, after which he reappeared hours later, brutalised.
The NLC accused the State Government of masterminding the attack on Ajaero, who was injured and hospitalised. But, Uzodinma attempted to refute the claim while speaking to State House Correspondents in Abuja after meeting with President Bola Tinubu to receive the APC flag as the ruling party’s Governorship candidate for Imo State.
Uzodinma said, “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
“I understand the sensitivity of this event (protest). But, I want you people to be very careful because there is an attempt to mix up partisan politics, or an attempt to blackmail my Government.
“I can tell you that my people are already aware; that was why the NLC Imo State chapter addressed a world press conference that what their national leadership is doing is not correct, and that they are not going to join any strikes or protests.
“And in the process, they decided to dissolve them to put in a caretaker. Of course, I’m the chief security officer and I have a responsibility to intervene. I encourage the national leadership not to dissolve a management team that their tenure had not expired, and that was what they did.”
The Governor, who said he does not interfere with labour matters. Uzodinma argued that, his administration did not owe workers’ salaries.
Meanwhile, the Imo State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Declan Emelumba, on Thursday, said that those accusing the State Government of having hands in Ajaero’s travails, were mischief makers.
A statement by the Government said, “Imo State Government has washed its hands clean concerning the arrest of the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Joe Ajaero”.
As aforementioned, the brutality and bloody attacks on the person of the NLC President who is still hospitalised, is an egregious attempted murder and a serious violation of his constitutional rights to personal liberty, right to life and his right to the dignity of his human person, which are core human rights that citizens are entitled to and the government is obliged to observe, protect and promote. The Imo State Government, therefore, failed to protect Citizen Ajaero, only because the Imo State Governor presumed that, as a Labour activist, he, the official of the NLC may have sympathy for the candidate of the Labour Party in the Governorship poll, Senator Athan Achonu. The NLC and TUC have however, denied the allegations, and have proceeded with their preparations for strike which has began, to protest the attack on Ajaero in Imo State blamed on the Imo State Governor. The attacks offend the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and several global human rights laws.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a milestone document in the history of human rights. Drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, the Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December, 1948 (General Assembly Resolution 217 A) as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations. It sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected, and it has been translated into over 500 languages. The UDHR is widely recognised as having inspired, and paved the way for, the adoption of more than seventy human rights treaties, applied today on a permanent basis at global and regional levels (all containing references to it in their preambles).
The Preamble goes thus: Whereas, recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
Whereas, disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,
Whereas, it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,
Whereas, it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,
Whereas, the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women, and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,
Whereas, Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,
Whereas, a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realisation of this pledge,
The General Assembly,
Proclaims this Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.
The first three articles of this Universal Declaration of Human Rights are key to our discussion today, because these are the basic rights of Comrade Ajaero that were violated in the Imo State attacks on him and the Labour Centre.
Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Article 2: Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
Then, importantly, Article 3 states thus: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
To conclude, I hereby on behalf of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) calling on the relevant authorities at the Federal Government level, to arrest, prosecute and sanction severely, all the armed thugs, and armed Police including the then Police Commissioner who led the assault on the person of Comrade Joe Ajaero. There must be no cover up, of this dastardly crime against humanity. Enough of this official impunity.
Emmanuel Onwubiko, Head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria; former National Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria
Attack on NLC President: A Red Flag for the International Community
State-Sponsored violence and Imo State Governorship Election on November 11, 2023: A predictable outcome that will further damage Nigeria’s depreciating image.
Eye Witness Accounts
On Wednesday November 1, 2023, the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Joe Ajaero was accosted on his way to the NLC State Secretariat, Owerri, Imo State. He was, according to reports and eye-witness accounts, dragged and attacked by thugs accompanied by armed Police officers. The assailants also descended on other NLC leaders, attacking them with various weapons.
Witnesses further revealed that they blind-folded and continued to brutalise Ajaero, and dragged him away to the Tiger Base where he was subjected to further brutality in Police custody. He was left with bruises and a swollen face, leaving him nearly blinded and having to be hospitalised.
Media reports, quoting a statement jointly signed by General Secretary of NLC, Ugboaja, and his TUC counterpart, Mr Nuhu Toro, alleged that Ajaero was arrested by the Police, accompanied by thugs led by Special Assistant to the Governor of Imo State on Special Duties, Mr Chinasa Nwaneri, and others, like Tapey and Madoka.
“They inflicted heavy injuries and blows to his head and body and kicking him in the process, while dragging him on the ground, while the Polic supervised the mayhem.
“They eventually bundled the NLC President into their waiting van, and whisked him away to unknown destination…”
During a television interview, an official of the TUC said that the Area Commander, Owerri Area Command participated in the assault on Ajaero, which led to the serious injury to his eyes and has put his life in danger. I recall that the Area Commander Owerri was recently in the news for allegedly ordering the assault, detention and torture of an Owerri-based Lawyer who had gone to the Area Command to secure bail for his client. No known action has been taken, in response to public outrage and demand for the Area Commander to be accordingly disciplined.
On the day of the incident, Ajaero was driving, along with other Labour leaders, to the NLC Secretariat in Owerri Imo State from where he was to lead a planned Imo State workers’ protest against the maltreatment of workers in Imo State by the State Government.
The Imo State workers have been at loggerheads with the State Government over many issues: they say the State owes workers and pensioners over 42 months’ salary arrears; the State has declared thousands of workers and pensioners as ghost workers; and not properly implementing the national minimum wage.
The workers also accused the State Government of trying to use the courts to stifle a lawful protest, and attempting to break the ranks of the unions in the State; interference in the affairs of the State NLC and repression of workers rights to speak up or protest against their deprivation, neglect and oppression.
Sometime in 2020, pensioners who were peacefully protesting several months of non-payment of their pensions and gratuities by the State Government were flogged and brutalised by hoodlums whom the pensioners described as agents of the Uzodinma Government, among other issues, have lingered necessitating the intervention of the National leadership of the NLC. There have been interfaces between the national leadership of the NLC and the State Government, which led to agreements that the State Government has refused to honour. .
A Journalist who was covering the pensioners’ protest in 2020, was also brutalised and bloodied. Therefore, Ajaero’s experience is not new. Many political opponents, critics and civic actors have suffered violence, in the hands of agents of Uzodinma’s repressive Government. What is rather new, is the fact that no one expected that the Governor and his agents would have the effrontery to attack the leader of the national workers union. It is unprecedented in the current ‘democratic’ era. An attack on Ajaero, is an attack on workers and on workers’ rights and freedoms. It should be challenged, and the perpetrators should not get away with their impunity.
Uzodinma’s Legitimacy Crisis
I locate the brutal and barbaric attack on Ajaero by agents of Governor Hope Uzodinma, within the context of the Governor’s legitimacy crisis. On account of the route through which he came to office, and unable to enjoy public acceptance, Uzodinma resorts to violently asserting his authority, imposing his will on the people through the diabolical scheme of intimidation and violence, silencing all voices of opposition and dissent. This is why all acts of State terror in Imo State have been carried out by thugs operating from the Government House, working in concert with Police operatives from particular units under the Imo State Police Command, who are part of the terror architecture of the State.
In a Report ‘Pre-Election Assessment of the 2023 Imo State Governorship Election’, the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room captures the point about ‘Uzodinma’s Legitimacy Crisis’. The report noted:
“The emergence of Hope Uzodinma as Governor of Imo State in January 2020 following a Supreme Court ruling was upsetting to many, considering that he secured a distant 4th position in the result declared by INEC and that the basis for the Supreme Court decision is perceived to be unconvincing”.
“The judicial route through which Governor Uzodinma emerged, poses a serious question to the legitimacy of his administration”.
“For many, Governor Hope Uzodinma’s rise to power, was not on account of the popular mandate handed to him by the people of Imo State. Rather, he is seen to have been imposed on the people of the State by the Supreme Court. Consequently, in the forthcoming election, Governor Hope Uzodinma will be under immense pressure to demonstrate that he actually enjoys popular support, and that he rightly won the 2019 election”.
“On the contrary, the opposition parties will strive to show that they have stronger control of the State, and that the emergence of Uzodinma was a legal ‘mishap’ that should not have occurred in the first place. The effort by the incumbent and the opposition to exert political control in the State, has the potential to negatively affect the process and outcome of the election”.
Alleged Criminal Activities of Imo Police Command
Hope Uzodinma’s desperation, propensity for violence and his determined use of the instrumentality of terror to achieve his objectives, raised serious doubts about the possibility of having a credible Governorship election in Imo on November 11.
Although Mohammed Barde’s removal as CP is welcome, there remain other mindless, unscrupulous and partisan- minded Police operatives in the State whose roles, in addition to that of Prof Sylvia Agu as the State REC, will undermine the electoral process and its outcome.
The activities of operatives at Tiger Base, speak more of rogue policing than professional policing. Their activities are directed by the Imo State Government House, who are the direct beneficiary of most of their unprofessional conducts and excesses.
During the last House of Assembly elections in Imo State, the Police deployed Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC) for the purpose of compromising election in favour of Governor Uzodinma. The videos abound online, of Policemen hijacking electoral materials with APCs. The Police under Barde, also deployed an APC to a private individual who was also a candidate in the election on election day.
It has been a pattern with the Imo Police Command to try to frame opponents of the Governor with criminal charges, to put them out of circulation. Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere, Emeka Ihedioha, Gerald Irona, and even Uche Nwosu, have all been victims of this Police brigandage.
Allegations of Compromise on the Part of the Imo REC
Prof Sylvia Agu is roundly compromised, and has unsuccessfully tried to hide that in her usual excuses of being “helpless” or blaming electoral fraud on INEC adhoc officials in the field. She supervised the worst election in the 2023 election cycle, and was not ashamed to direct the declaration of many atrocious results and candidates.
Everyone in Imo knows places where no elections held, but Madam Agu shamelessly allowed her adhoc staff, all of whom were answerable to her, to manufacture results for those volatile areas.
Parts of Orsu, Orlu, Okigwe, Oguta, Ohaji Egbema and other hot spots where no elections held, were declared in favour of the Governor’s party. Even Ohaji-Egbema where some Adhoc staff even did videos from their locations and on arrival that there were no elections due to heightened fear of insecurity, all got results manufactured to favour the Governor’s party.
So, beyond the alleged relationship between Madam Sylvia and the APC Deputy National Chairman for the SouthEast, Chief Emma Eneukwu, the antics of the REC in the past election has given valid grounds for concern and will be difficult, if not impossible to convince Imo people that she will deliver a credible election on November 11.
The integrity and impartiality of virtually all other INEC officials assigned and deployed to Imo State for the purpose of the November 11 Governorship election, have been questioned. The same for the security personnel, except for just a few who may be unable to prevent anything.
Considering that President Tinubu is a member of the APC and will favour his party’s candidate in Imo; and considering his own legitimacy crisis, the similar moral attribute that he shares with Hope Uzodinma, it will be wishful thinking to expect him to do anything to ensure that the Imo election is free, fair and credible.
In all of this, my fears are no more about the process and outcome of the Imo election than they are about the future of Nigeria, the image of the country in the international community and the discriminatory and humiliating experiences that Nigerians suffer abroad on account of the character of leadership we have in Nigeria, and the way they have continued to conduct the affairs of the country.
The Police continue to undermine, rather than support, democracy. They continue to serve as tools of repression and oppression, brutalising, torturing and impeding the work of civic actors and opponents of the ruling powers and shrinking the civic space.
If after #EndSARS, our Police have not learned any lessons, then we are preparing for yet another people’s rebellion which may be more cataclysmic than the former.
Okechukwu Nwanguma, Human Rights Defender; Executive Director, RULAAC, Lagos