At least 18 people in Nigeria have been killed by security forces during the enforcement of measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, a figure higher than the documented toll inflicted by the disease, the country’s human rights body said.
In a report released late on Wednesday, the National Human Rights Commission said it had received and documented “105 complaints of incidents of human rights violations perpetuated by security forces” in 24 of Nigeria‘s 36 states and Abuja, the capital.
Of these complaints, “there were eight documented incidents of extrajudicial killings leading to 18 deaths”, it said.
Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris, reporting from Abuja, said “eight of those killed were by correctional officers in the northwest Kaduna state. The police were accused of killing seven and the army were allegedly responsible for two deaths. A local committee enforcing the lockdown in the southeast was responsible for killing one individual.”
The commission noted the tally of killings was higher than the recorded toll from COVID-19, the highly infectious respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus – according to official figures, the country has registered more than 400 confirmed cases, including 12 deaths.
“Law enforcement agents extrajudicially executed 18 persons in the cause of the enforcement regulations,” it said.
It accused the security agents of “excessive or disproportionate use of force, abuse of power, corruption and non-adherence to national and international laws, best practices and rules of engagement.”
“Security forces in Nigeria have been accused severally by individuals of harassment during the lockdown in several states. We’ve seen security officers mounting roadblocks, checking cars, identities and there reports from various parts of the country alleging that several abuses have been carried out by these security officers. Apart from the usual demand for bribes, people were harassed,” Idris added.
Nigeria has imposed a total lockdown in Abuja, the commercial capital Lagos, and neighbouring Ogun state. It has also set restrictions in other regions in a bid to contain the virus.
Security forces, including police and the army, have been deployed to enforce the restrictions, sparking deadly confrontations in some states.
Police spokesman Frank Mba told the AFP news agency that police authorities would not condone any abuses or infractions against its officers, adding that recently an officer who extorted money from a civilian was punished and made to refund it to the owner.
He said the police would continue to enforce the lockdown measures “professionally and in line with international best practices”.
Local and international rights bodies have long accused Nigerian security forces of abuses against civilians, but they have denied the charges.
There have been growing fears of a rise in crime and unrest due to the virus restrictions, especially in Lagos, as millions of people living in poverty have been cut off from vital income.