The Rule of Law And Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC) has become known for fighting for checking insecurity in different parts of Nigeria, issues relating to human rights violations, and ensuring justice for aggrieved police personnel, among other issues.
On the 14th of June 2023, RULAAC, with other concerned stakeholders were at Harriet Suites, Umuahia, Abia State, brainstorming on how to check escalating incidents of insecurity and injustices in the Southeast.
The event was organized by RULAAC with support from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA). It was a one-day event tagged, Police-Stakeholders Dialogue on Security and Justice in the South-East: Tackling the root causes of Insecurity and Injustice.
The purpose of the dialogue was to provide a platform for interaction and dialogue between the police, which is the lead internal security agency, and representatives of civil society and community stakeholders including religious and traditional leaders, women and youth groups as well as people living with disabilities, to fashion out ways to create an atmosphere of mutual trust, understanding and enduring partnership towards tackling the root causes of insecurity and injustice and finding enduring solutions.
The dialogue was also part of the one-year project being implemented by RULAAC on the ‘Community Access to Justice and Criminal Justice Interactive Project’ with support from OSIWA, which is aimed at promoting partnership between the police and citizens, projecting the voices of communities affected by insecurity and to enhance access to justice for the poor and most vulnerable.
The dialogue brought together University Scholars, representatives of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Community-based and other Non-Governmental Organisations, Media practitioners, as well as representatives of the Solicitor-General of Abia State and the Assistant Inspector General of Police, Zone 9, Umuahia.
Participants observed, with serious concern, the increasing spate of police brutality and human rights violations in the South-East in the last two years, as well as attacks on security agencies and formations by hoodlums who are trying to seize control of the social space across communities in the South-East.
Participants observed further the disturbing dynamic between attacks on security personnel and installations by criminal groups, and human rights violations by law enforcement agencies which has created a vicious cycle of violence in the South-East.
Participants noted that the vicious cycle of bloodletting in the South East may be attributable to the unmitigated cases of injustice and dehumanizing incidents of wanton human rights violations the people of the South East are subjected to on a regular basis.
Participants observed a dysfunctionality in the governance system in the states in the South-East that has led to apparent ‘state capture’ by the governors, who have appropriated every institution and regulatory organ of government to personal use. Of particular interest is the takeover of the leadership of communities in the South-East by the state governors, which has plunged many communities into chaos and reinforced insecurity and injustice in the zone.
Participants observed the increasing challenges that police officers face in the line of duty such as poor welfare, lean logistics and equipment.
Participants observed the incessant transfer of police chiefs and its disruptive effect on planning and operations. This, it is believed, does not give room for them to handle certain cases properly as their successors equally abandon such cases due to lack of proper handover procedures and the penchant for non-continuity of policy actions.
In the same vein, participants also observed the 25 years mark for the recruitment of certain categories of policemen as a major policy defect that conflicts with Nigeria’s school culture and graduate age range.
Participants observed the high level of injustice being meted out against some exemplary security and judicial officers in various states in the region, leading to the elevation of corrupt officers, who perpetrate human rights abuses in various states of the South-East.
Participants further observed that there is an increase in incidents of illegal arrests of innocent citizens, detention and life-threatening torture in inhuman detention facilities, and labelling of innocent citizens as IPOB/ESN members often leading to their execution or forced disappearances. This has been prevalent in some especially notorious police units or formations in the states of the South-East, particularly Imo, Anambra and Enugu States.
Participants observed with dismay that even state actors who are well-trained in human rights principles, still continue to engage in human rights abuses in the South-East.
Participants further observed the wide gulf existing between the security agencies in the South East and residents because of mutual distrust, noting that law enforcement cannot work without the citizens’ support.
Participants equally observed that the security architecture in the South-East, as presently structured, can only lead to more violence because the policing model in the region does not encourage any mutually beneficial citizen-police relationship.
Participants also painfully observed that among the drivers of the growing insecurity in the South-East are the government’s and security agencies’ high-handed and brute force approach to addressing insecurity and the likely involvement of external interests in the escalation of insecurity in the South-East.
Participants recalled IGP Baba Alkali’s directive to police officers in Enugu in 2021 when he visited the state to launch a special security operation for the South-East, asking the police officers to go after IPOB members, kill them and not bother about complaints of human rights violation. Participants noted that this particular order led to the escalation in cases of killings in the South East, especially Imo State.
Participants also recalled the mass movement of people in trucks from some parts of the country to the South-East during Covid-19 Lockdown despite the lockdown and ban by the federal government on interstate movements across the country.
Participants further recalled the incident of an arms and ammunition-laden truck that fell somewhere between Onitsha and Awka in Anambra State sometime in 2021. The source and destination of the arms were never disclosed despite Anambra State Police’s promise to do so after the investigation.
Participants considered these factors and incidents as some of the sources and drivers of the escalating insecurity in the South East.
Participants observed with deep sadness that because of the lack of trust, victims of crimes no longer trust or have confidence in the system to report even life-threatening cases at police stations; and the police are also reluctant to respond to complaints, petitions and distress calls in many communities, especially in rural area.
It was further observed that the level of impunity by non-state actors has created an atmosphere in which residents live in perpetual fear and anxiety, a development that has largely whittled down investment portfolios in the South East. The sad fact that every Monday has turned out to be a permanent seat at home in the South-Eeat, sometimes violently enforced by splinter separatist groups, with citizens still afraid to come out despite IPOB and the government’s assurances of safety is illustrative of the fact that criminals are in charge in the South-East.
Participants, while noting that security is tied to governance, regretted that good governance in its real sense, doesn’t exist in the South-East because of the erosion of all the ideals of democratic governance, and the seeming hijack and appropriation of relevant organs of government to serve the purposes of individuals (Governors) rather than the state.
Participants unequivocally accused the South-East governors (with the exception of the newly elected ones) of being largely responsible for the insecurity in the South-East because of their total control and overbearing influence over the various organs and institutions of the government as well as the imposition of traditional rulers and community leadership in the states.
Participants unreservedly condemned attacks on police, INEC and other government installations in the South-East and observed with regret that almost all the police stations destroyed by hoodlums in most parts of South East have remained not rebuilt or rehabilitated.
Participants commended some police officers for making efforts to perform their duty legally under the difficult circumstance
Participants expressed serious concern about the existence of numerous security checkpoints along major interstate roads in the South-East. Apart from being rather too many and at a very short distance apart, the activities of the operatives at the ubiquitous checkpoints constitute more of a menace than checking crimes or protecting road users from insecurity.
At the end of the deliberations and based on the above observations, participants recommended the following to respective duty bearers:
Participants called on the Police and police oversight authorities to take seriously the need to restore trust between the police and the community/citizens, ensure that police officers act in accordance with the law and professional standards and treat citizens with dignity in order to improve their relationship with the citizens. This is the only way to invite public support and partnership.
While noting that insecurity has always been with us at various degrees, participants called for total overhaul of the security architecture in the South-East, in view of the fact that dysfunctional security infrastructure has been the major driver of insecurity and gross violations of human rights in the South-East.
In view of the above, while vehemently condemning the killing of security operatives and attacks on security formations and government installations in the region, participants called on security agencies in the South-East to stop mass arrests, mass burning of people’s property, illegal arrests and willful tagging of innocent citizens as IPOB/ESN members in order to exploit or victimise them. Security agencies should always bear in mind that they have a mandate to secure the citizens, who are usually major victims of insecurity.
Participants called on the security agencies in the South-East to desist from going outside the law to enforce the law by resorting to committing human rights violations, such as burning properties belonging or linked to suspects, in order to maintain control. Law enforcement agents cannot behave like the criminals or deviants they are expected to checkmate. Human rights violations arising from such unprofessional conduct add more pain and sorrow to the victims of insecurity in affected communities.
Participants called on the federal government to remove the age barriers when recruiting new officers as this will help them recruit capable officers who will help in the fight against insecurity and be human rights conscious.
Participants called for a review of the implementation of NPF’s community policing policy in some communities. This is because the Community Policing Officers and Special Constables are poorly regulated and are now being used by some community leaders to attack perceived enemies in communities.
Participants called on the politicians and people in government to stop their sponsorship and patronage of cultists as these same cultists they use will eventually turn around, like monsters to hunt them
Participants called for the reconstituting of human rights committees chaired by the highest-ranking officers in various security formations in the South-East. The senior officer should periodically facilitate meetings of stakeholders to discuss the operation of officers as it concerns human rights in the formation. This will help mitigate the issues of human rights violations in various parts of the South-East.
Participants tasked civil society organisations to remain vigilant and actively monitor compliance with operational and ethical codes for law enforcement and security agencies. There should be some major form of advocacy highlighting the issue of criminal liability for officers who violate human rights in the course of their duty. Efforts should not also be spared in the issue of civil liability. There is a need to begin to push that every obstruction to such powers be removed
Participants urged the state governors in the region to stop further interference in community leadership and to stop using handpicked community leaders to haunt perceived enemies.
Participants called on the people and the government in the South-East to commit to free and fair elections as mindless rigging of elections which imposes unpopular and unaccountable leaders in public offices contributes to insecurity in the zone. It is the belief of participants that only leaders that emerge through a free and fair electoral process can be accountable and capable of engendering inclusion, peace, stability and progress in the South-East.
Participants urged state governments in the South-East to support the police in rebuilding the destroyed police stations especially those in communities where operatives have returned to work. Their presence in such recovered stations will bring a semblance of security in the communities.
While acknowledging the need for security checkpoints in major inter-state roads in the South-East, participants called for a reduction in the number of checkpoints and to put in place a mechanism for monitoring the activities of the operatives at those checkpoints in order to checkmate their excesses and protect road users against harassment, extortion and brutality.
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