Obaseki-led administration has faced another indictment of its management of COVID-19 in Edo state after a committee of the state’s chapter of the Nigerian Bar Association monitoring the conducts of the government’s mobile court trying offenders of enforced measures to slow the spread of coronavirus in Benin City condemned its observed violation of human rights and ‘obnoxious’ fines imposed on the people, most of whom are the poorest of the poor.
The Mathew Edeghese-led NBA Benin Committee, in an interim report sent in yesterday, the 27th of April, said that the mobile courts treated residents of the state inhumanly and issued fines that were both high and in contravention of the limit set by the laws.
It said in the report: “The Committee observed that persons were asked to sit on the bare floor. The Committee questioned the propriety of such inhuman treatment and asked why they were not given chairs to sit on as they were not criminals. The restrictions were released thereafter.”
In an observation that brings into question the integrity and motive of the government’s mobile court officials, the committee also recorded cases where residents were arrested even though they had the recommended face masks – and the imposition of fines that far exceeded what was recommended, pointing out a possible case of sanctioned extortions.
“The Committee observed in some cases that indicted persons had face mask, they just did not wear them and were arrested. The Committee frowns at the arresting of citizens that have face masks and demands that forthwith they should not be arrested but asked to wear them.”
“The Committee states that the fines being imposed by the Moblie Courts are obnoxious ranging from Three Thousand Naira to Five Thousand Naira. The Committee condemns the Commercial Nature of the Mobile Court and asks it to stick to the 200 naira the Officials indicated earlier they fine Citizens.”
To further make the case of the inhumanity displayed by officials of Obaseki’s mobile court, the committee cited the instance of a case involving one Blessing Igbinosa who was arrested and fined despite the fact that she had an emergency that was verified. Out of pity, the committee admitted to paying the fine of the woman and criticized the officials for their cruel conduct even as the government failed to provide residents with the face masks.
According to the Committee, the majority of the indicted citizens are the poorest of the poor who couldn’t afford the obnoxious fines and were thus detained for hours, in addition to being asked to carry out grueling community service. This echoes earlier criticism of the government’s enthusiasm to set up courts to try and deliver harsh judgment on the people even though it has fallen short in its own responsibility to provide basic needs and protective equipment for the people.
Across the state, thousands of residents have complained of hunger due to the insufficiency of the food palliatives distributed by the state government. In a bitter war of words, the NMA also previously faulted the government’s medical preparation, bemoaning the fact that several health workers lack personal protective equipment and are forced to work in unconducive facilities. All of these informed the outrage that trailed Obaseki’s claim that his administration had spent over a billion naira on COVID-19 as many wondered where the huge sum went.
It remains unclear what the official response of the state government would be to the indicting findings of the NBA as the administration is presently submerged in a political in-fighting after the sudden resignation of Obaseki’s Chief of Staff, Taiwo Akerele, sparked a purge of aides and appointees from the government house.