COALITION of Civil Society Organisations on Thursday condemned the Nigeria Police for allegedly attacking office of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Abuja.
The coalition which consists of 20 Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) across the country stated that such an attack could demean the country before the United Nations Human Rights Council.
The NHRC is an agency of the Federal Government established by the constitution to promote human rights and check harassment, intimidation and all forms of human rights abuses in the country.
The CSOs noted that police men reportedly shot at the agency in an attempt to disperse members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (Shiites), who were on peaceful assembly around the commission to demonstrate against the continued detention of their leader, Ibrahim El Zakzaky, and his wife in clear violation of court orders to release them.
They condemned the use of force and live weapons by the police on the protesters who were not armed, noting that such action violated the rights to peaceful assembly and expression.
The organisations also expressed worry about alleged prior harassment and intimidation of staff of the Commission while carrying out their constitutionally empowered functions which dwell on probing human rights abuses.
“The attack is dastardly and desecrates the sanctity of the Commission as a state institution established to promote, defend and expand the frontiers of human rights in Nigeria. National human rights institutions are independent institutions bestowed with the responsibility to broadly protect, monitor and promote human rights in a given country under the Paris Principles.
“Attack on such an important institution is a threat to the human rights of citizens and residents of the country who depend on the Commission for the protection, defence and enforcement of their human rights guaranteed under the constitution as well as under regional and international human rights standards which Nigeria subscribes to,” the group stated in the jointly signed statement.
“The premises of National Institutions, the world over, are hallowed grounds, like the courts. This desecration has significantly diminished the esteem of Nigeria in the comity of nations and it is capable of crashing Nigeria’s status before the United Nations Human Rights Council.”
However, the coalition called on the Federal Government to deploy every legal means to investigate the matter and sanction police officers involved in the act.
They also challenged Office of the Attorney General of the Federation, the National Assembly to probe the officers with a view to making them face severe penalties that would serve as a deterrent to others.
“We condemn in totality this act of audacity and impudence and call on both the Inspector General of Police and the Federal Attorney General to carry out a prompt, exhaustive and effective investigation to identify those responsible and to bring them to account.
“The Inspector-General of Police must give an assurance that the Commission and it’s staff will henceforth be protected from any further attack from police or other quarters and that such reckless action will not repeat again.”
The group called on the Senate Committees on Human Rights and Police Affairs to jointly conduct an investigation using parliamentary mechanisms to hold the Nigerian Police to account.
“While it is important that police officers who abuse or misuse force and firearms are brought to account, this recent shameful conduct by the Police highlights the need to create awareness among Police officers of the newly reviewed Force Order 237 which regulates the use of Force by police personnel. Force and firearms must be used in legal and responsible ways and must be proportionate to the objective sought to be achieved.”
The statement was signed by Adedeji Adeleye, Independent Advocacy Project (IAP) Lagos; Arthur Judah Angel, Life Wire International Foundation, Lagos State; Walter Duru, Media Initiative against Injustice, Violence and Corruption, Rivers State and Bankole Solomon , People Against Corruption and Injustice, Ogun State.
Others are Segun Awosanya, Social Intervention Advocacy Foundation (SIAF), Lagos; Ngozi Nwosu-Juba, Project Director, Vision Spring Initiative, Lagos; Comrade Obasanni Jude PhD; Josemaria Escriva Foundation among others.