By Okechukwu Keshi Ukegbu
By extension, security is not restricted to protection of lives and property, but protection of information.Unfortunately in the Nigerian context, security agents who are deployed to perform these emergency periods, discharged these functions to the contrary.
A typical example is the current Coronavirus pandemic where the number of Nigerians who are felled by happy- trigger agents between 30th March to date have surpassed deaths recorded as a result of the pandemic itself as it has comfortably crossed 20 and the list is continuing.
The current trend has reinforced how unprofessional our security agents conduct themselves in and outside emergency periods.
Unarguably, law enforcement agents have turned this period where humanity have come together to proffer a way forward to extort innocent and helpless Nigerians. This, in most cases, according to investigations, have accounted for the increasing number of deaths.
The position advanced by the Civil Liberties Organisation’s (CLO’s) 2004 Year Book – chronicling the state of human rights and governance in the year under review entitled Clear and Present Danger – aptly captures the condition Nigerians are facing in the hands of security agencies in this pandemic era. It is a classical expose on the excesses of our security agencies. “If the government failed in 2004 to advance the democratisation process in the political sector, it also failed in the civil and social sectors. The government failed to curb the excesses of the public and other security agencies. The Police remained the usual self and continued to maim and kill citizens in extra-judicial circumstances. This was quite apart from extorting money from motorists and arresting innocent citizens for ransom. There is little doubt that the police and other security agencies are the source of the most egregious violations of civil rights, both in their political role as protectors of state security and their civil role as protectors of peace, law and order. These violations include not only those that occur in the streets, such as extortion, illegal arrest, and the use of undue force against citizens, but also detention without trial, torture and inhuman treatment, and extrajudicial killings.”
Unfortunately, 2004 is a decade plus, and nothing has changed; rather, the situation has degenerated abysmally. Deaths of innocent Nigerians in the hands of security agencies have continued unabated in geometric progression. Few years back, seven passengers and the driver were sent to their untimely graves by the excesses of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) in Enugu.
Although the story slightly changed in form and narrative, all the facts point to the unethical conduct of the security agents. The common thread in the incident is that “seven persons were reportedly burnt to death after operatives of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps opened fire on a commercial bus on Milikin Hill Road, Enugu.”
The story continued: “It was learnt that the bus had barely left Enugu New Market, located a few kilometres from Milikin Hill, when armed civil defence officials asked the driver to stop. The Enugu headquarters of the NSCDC is near the New Market. The driver reportedly refused to stop and sped away, as the NSCDC men chased the bus in a Hilux van. It was gathered that some other agents of the security agency boarded a tricycle to join in the chase along Milikin Hill Road, which is bordered on both sides by a deep valley.”
It was alleged that the commercial bus was getting to the end of the road, when the NSCDC operatives opened fire on the vehicle, causing it to veer off and crashed into the valley and reportedly burst into flames, instantly.
It was also alleged that what provoked the hot chase was the driver’s refusal to part with N50 bribe. What a shame! Even the defence from the Public Relations Officer of the NSCDC, Enugu State Command, Mr Denny-Manuel Iwuchukwu, that the bus driver “abducted” a civil defence officer who entered the vehicle to force the driver to stop for violating traffic regulations, and the bus fell into the valley and burst into flames while running away from the NSCDC men, who were chasing the vehicle to rescue their colleague, could not hold water; it rather added salt to the injury.
The Enugu Eight has added to the list of Nigerians who have lost their lives in extrajudicial circumstances by security agents. They include Chinwendu Micah, a final year student of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, from Ugwunagbo, Abia State, who was felled by the bullets of one ASP Ben Alifi in Ebonyi State sometimes in 2004; seventeen-year-olds, Izuchukwu Ayogu and Nnaemeka Ugwuoke whose mutilated bodies with eyes, brains, and reproductive organs removed and dumped in a forest, after the Police in Nsukka arrested them on Sunday March 2001.What of the Ughelli Six in 1983, Apo Six in 2005; over 20 persons killed at Afiesere-Ughelli in 2006, Waliyu Abudu in 2008, Ramoni Balogun in 2013, Suzanna Alamagani in 2013, Ogbe Onokpite in November 2011, Aisagbonbuan Osagie, a truck driver, on February 4, 2014 in Benin City, and Femi Awoyale in February, 2014.
It is common knowledge that security agencies’ response to threats should be proportionate to the threat. The operatives threw professional caution and rules of engagement to the wind, and used live ammunitions on defenceless citizens in a densely populated market. It was reported that the casualty rate escalated when soldiers who were drafted to put the situation under control arrived the scene. One would have expected the operatives of NDLEA to study the situation and design the best approach for handling it. The lives of innocent civilians were worth more than whatever operations they went for in the market, and no amount of provocation could justify their use of live ammunition in a densely populated environment.
The argument of why our security agencies are still using live ammunition in the 21st century to demobilise mobs, while pepper spray and synthetic ammunition can serve the same purpose, still begs for urgent response. If the argument is stretched further, the reason why government does not deem it fit to expose security agents to trainings to meet emergency situations, such as the current situation, demands urgent resolution.The reason why security agents do not comply with rules of engagement, equally demands explanation from their hierarchy.
An article entitled Weapon Handling and Phantom Discharge vested the security agents with the responsibility of keeping the weapon pointed in a safe direction (where there would be no injuries to persons or damage to property in the event of a discharge); keeping the finger off the trigger until the gun is on a target and the decision to shoot is made; be sure of the target and the target backstop.
Recently, there have been calls to redesign the training of our security agencies to expose them to academic work on human psychology, human rights, and the Constitution. The proponents of this arrangement also advocate a review of academic entry requirements of the security agencies. They are of the view that the proposal, if implemented, would go a long way in enhancing the security agencies’ performance and respect for the civil population.
There is a dispassionate appeal to our security agents not to stretch, any bit further, the fragile security situation in the country occasioned by the Coronavirus pandemic.