* Asks state government to apologize
By Codratus Godson
The foremost human rights coalition in Rivers State has faulted the arrest and prosecution of over 100 persons alleged to have breached the order to stay at home. The group has also asked the state government to apologise for misleading the people only to turn round to arrest them.
The Rivers Civil Society Organizations- a coalition of responsible and non-partisan CSOs in Rivers State, calls on the Rivers State government to apologize to Rivers people for misinforming them on the ‘dusk to dawn’ curfew imposed in some part of the state as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the media is aware, the governor had vide a live media conference, declared a ‘dusk to dawn’ curfew in the state only for the Commissioner for Information to clarify later, the government intended a 24 hours curfew in the affected part of the state. RIVSCO therefore, calls on the Rivers State Government to direct it’s Attorney-General to release and discharge without conditions all those who were arrested and sent to the magistrate court for trial as result of this glaring mistake of government. Anything outside this, we will conclude that government wants to punish these citizens for obeying the governor’s directives.
We equally call on the Inspector-General of Police to instruct the police in Rivers State to be more professional in dealing with Rivers people. Without being in a war situation, Rivers people are hounded, beaten, arrested and asked to raise up their hands while walking past a police blockade. In a time when the IGP has ordered all police formations in the country except for grievous offences to decongest prisons/police cells to encourage ‘social distancing’, citizens numbering over hundred (100) were packed like sardines in police vans/buses in the name of merely disobeying government order. World over, security agents only flog or chase citizens indoors not to arrest them. The police were seen taking these actions without any personal protection equipment thereby putting nation, the citizens they’re packing together, and the police officers themselves at risk. It’s our view that the police should conduct short program on COVID-19 for it’s officers.
The said declaration of the Rivers State government equally contained a military barrack- style suspension of the Obio-Akpor local government chairman and his deputy by the Rivers State Governor. RIVSCO wishes to direct the mind of the Rivers State government to the Supreme Court judgment on the 11th of December, 2019, that barred state governor’s from suspending or removing local government chairmen and their councillors. In fact, the Supreme Court stated clearly that the local government is a tier of government of it’s own and no tier of government has the right to suspend or remove the other. Simply put; just as the president cannot remove the governors, the governors cannot remove the local government chairmen. We therefore call on the Rivers State government to follow the part of law and heed to the call of well meaning Nigerians to reverse it’s decision.
Our CSO coalition supports the Rivers State government on it’s decision to place curfew on some parts of the state as a means to tame the spread of COVID-19, especially as its decisions conform with the Quarantine Act. However, we must state that the Rivers State government once again has placed ‘the cart before the horse’ on the following grounds:
1. The Rivers State government is yet to state its palliative measures to cushion the effect of this curfew as more than 70% of it’s citizens are daily income earners.
2. The Rivers State government is yet to provide alternative markets for food and other essential goods, neither has the government regulated the prices of goods in shops nor opened a boundary corridor for food to come into the state.
3. The Rivers State government is yet to provide alternative means of transportation for essential workers without personal means of transportation but who will be affected as a result of this curfew. Providing vehicles at strategic points and time is necessary.
4. Government is yet to tell Rivers people on its level of preparedness to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of the number of verification/testing machines, number of isolation centers, training of health workers, and funding of the process.
Finally, we call on Rivers people to obey all government directives pending when it will review it’s earlier decision.
We shall overcome this pandemic!
Comrade Enefaa Georgewill (chairman, Rivers Civil Society Organizations)