NOPRIN, the Network on Police Reform In Nigeria, has condemned in the strongest terms what it calls the continued unwarranted and brutal crackdown by the military on unarmed members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
In a statement today signed by its National Coordinator, Okechukwu Nwanguma, the group called on the President to order military and other law enforcement authorities to act professionally and humanely and desist from the use of excessive and lethal use of force to suppress peaceful protests.
It cited a crackdown yesterday morning in Aba when it said military men who arrived in several Hilux vans opened fire on members of IPOB as they were conducting prayers at the National High School, killing nine unarmed members instantly, and bundling away several injured ones.
According to the statement, “One of the IPOB members who witnessed the attack informed NOPRIN: ‘we gathered at National High School when Police men came with up to fifteen Hilux. They were outside, and before we know it, the military men came with (another) five Hilux Vans and a Jeep. They surrounded us as if we are criminals. We were singing and praying. They took six of our coordinators and three others away and started shooting at us. Nine people died instantly. They took them away with those with gunshot (injuries). Two died on our way to the hospital. Four in one hospital have no hope (of survival) with many others. All there Hilux Vans were filled with our men…’”
NOPRIN described the conduct of the military as a heinous crime and human rights abuse against a group conducting itself peacefully, stressing that the attack was unprovoked and unjustified as the IPOB members were neither armed nor posed any threat to the military or to anyone else.
“This latest merciless shooting and abduction of members of IPOB by the military is one too many,” it said.
It recalled that on December 18, a coalition of human rights groups in Anambra State had written to Governor Obiano to express concern over the practice of those armed with instruments of coercion repeatedly mowing down in cold blood innocent and unarmed citizens he had sworn to protect.
“The use of excessive force and firearms by security and law enforcement agencies in responding to civil situations is unprofessional and a violation of the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Agencies,” NOPRIN pointed out. “In this instant case, there was even no need, in the first place, to use firearms at all. In many previous instances of shootings at protesters by the military, the protesters were not armed or violent. The firing of live bullets at groups of unarmed protesters appears to be motivated by hate. There were shocking instances when soldiers went to hospitals where victims were taken to for treatment and inexplicably bundled them away.”
NOPRIN underlined that there are civilized and legally established ways and procedures of dealing with public disorder, especially in a democracy.
“There are also mechanisms for reviewing the actions of security forces in such circumstances,” it said. “Even where it is found that a protest was violent, a case of disproportionate use of force and firearms could still be established.”
It regretted what it identified as a clear lack of professionalism and lack of restraint by Nigeria’s security agencies, stressing that they must adhere to the provisions of the constitution as well as domestic and international human rights and humanitarian standards which Nigeria subscribes to.
It called on the government to lead by example by demonstrating its full commitment to protecting human rights, adhering to due process and promoting the rule of law in order to deepen and strengthen, rather than undermine, democracy.
“The Nigerian Government, as a signatory to regional and international human rights treaties, must fulfill its obligation to ensure the protection of the human rights of its citizens, and in particular, to prevent, investigate and punish all cases of extrajudicial killings and to ensure adequate compensation for the victim,” NOPRIN declared.