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Police, health workers bicker over alleged harassment on movement restrictions

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Officers of the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) enforcing the lockdown

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The Lagos State chapter of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and the Medical Guild have raised the alarm over an alleged “undue” harassment of health workers by men of the Nigerian Police Force. The NMA in a release signed yesterday by its chairman, Dr. Saliu Oseni, said the statement made by the Lagos Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu, on Tuesday, was exposing its members and other healthcare workers to unwarranted harassment by the police.

“The attention of the association has been drawn to the comments made by the Commissioner of Police in Lagos aired on TVC News on March 31. The CP said, amongst other things, that health workers, in addition to carrying valid means of identification, must show evidence of being on duty whenever they move around the state.

“Is the CP suggesting that health workers engage in ‘illegal duty’ or wander about aimlessly? Perhaps, the CP underestimates the enormity of the work at hand. For the avoidance of doubt, all hands are needed on deck at this critical time. Several countries have already called thousands of health workers out of retirement.”

In a related development, the Medical Guild leadership said its members are being harassed by the police on their way to attend to sick patients in the hospitals. Chairman of the Guild, Dr. Oluwajimi Sodipo, said: “The Medical Guild wish to call on Lagos State Government to prevail on the security operatives to allow all health care workers through the roads to provide services in our hospitals.”

But in a swift reaction yesterday, the Lagos police command denied the allegation by some health workers that they were harassed by security personnel while discharging their duties, stating that it has only arrested a police inspector and two others for violating the movement restriction order in the state. The command said the only health worker that was questioned was a medical doctor who was on leave from another state but was on personal business with two others.

The Lagos Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), DSP Bala Elkana, said: “The allegation is completely false and misleading. The Commissioner of Police personally went round to monitor compliance across the state. Reports received from Area Commanders, Divisional Police Officers and Officers from the field shows a high level of compliance. Few cases recorded have to do with some individuals intercepted on the roads who claimed to fall under the categories of persons exempted but turned out to be false.

“Some could not provide any means of identification while others who actually belong to the professions mentioned were hiding under the cover to carry out their private businesses. An example is a medical doctor serving in another state but on annual leave in Lagos, intercepted with three other passengers in his car going on private mission. A Police Inspector was also arrested with two passengers in his vehicle going on a private assignment in total violation of the restriction order.

“It is pertinent to state that the exemption given to certain categories of persons is not absolute. The order states that, ‘Although these establishments are exempted, access will be restricted and monitored’. To ensure that persons who are not on essential duties are restricted, the Command insists that apart from occupational ID Card, there must also be a document to prove that the person is on essential duty.”

Unlike what happened on Day One of the lockdown on Tuesday, some Lagosians were seen moving round the city yesterday while youths were playing football on the highways. A few tricycles were seen conveying passengers from one place to another.

Residents of Mushin in the Lagos metropolis have however expressed dissatisfaction with the actions of some of the military security outfits. The residents said the military officials harassed and beat up some of them up. One man was reported to have sustained an injury on the head while trying to flee for his life. Another resident at Idi-Oro area said the military officers allegedly shot into the air twice, making people scamper for safety.

Meanwhile, there have been videos and unverified reports emerging on social media showing alleged police and military brutality in the enforcement of the COVID-19 lockdown. Since the lockdown directive by the president, there have been videos showing policemen, military officers and other security agents, whose identity cannot be ascertained, flogging, harassing and humiliating citizens for straying outside.

It was reported that a guy was allegedly killed yesterday by soldiers at Ayorinde Street, Tolu road in Olodi-Apapa area of Lagos when the soldiers were trying to disperse a crowd fighting over a football game. The soldiers were shooting into the air and a stray bullet hit the young man, who died instantly.

Another viral video shows a man who reportedly went out to buy food for his pregnant wife but was allegedly beaten to death by policemen in Abuja. In the video, the police officers and the man got into a heated argument, which elicited rage from the police officers and they beat him till he collapsed and died.

A human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, noted that it was unconstitutional for security officers to engage citizens in such a degrading manner. “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. We should not tolerate barbaric and abusive conduct and actions by law enforcement agencies because of COVID-19 pandemic.”

Also, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has called on the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, to immediately instruct reopening of the courts to hear cases of human rights violations and abuses linked to COVID-19.

“COVID-19 doesn’t mean suspension of the Nigerian constitution. The president’s plan to use the military to police any public security challenges in the context of COVID-19 lockdown in some parts of the country is wrong and unconstitutional. Deploying military in this context will lead to widespread human rights violations,” it said.

The police spokesman in Lagos however denied reports of police brutality in the state, saying: “I can confirm that the police have not beaten anybody in Lagos and am also not aware of any reports of soldiers brutality.”


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