The Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (COHRD) has noted with dismay the forceful state wide sanitation exercise that took place in Akwa Ibom State on Saturday August 29, 2015 between the hours of 7 to 10 am sequel to a recent resolution by the State Executive Council declaring every last Saturday of the month a sanitation day which led to the disruption of business activities and restriction of free movement of persons and vehicles.
Acting on the directive of the state government, the Nigeria Police Force embarked on the indiscriminate harassment and arrest of residents of the state in a bid to enforce the directive. For the police, the sanitation exercise may just be an opportunity to recoup losses they suffered from the dismantling of road blocks in the state as ordered by the Inspector General of Police.
COHRD notes that there is at present no law enacted by the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly that allows for the closure of business premises, markets public places and facilities and restriction of movement for the purpose of sanitation and that even if such Law existed, it would be void and unconstitutional.
COHRD wishes to draw the attention of Mr. Udom Emmanuel to the fact that he lacks the legal power to restrict the right of the residents of the state to personal liberty and freedom of movement guaranteed under Sections 35 and 41 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), respectively.
It is on record that the Federal High Court in Lagos presided over by Justice Mohammed Idris on Monday March 16, 2015 declared restriction of movement during the monthly sanitation exercise in Lagos State unconstitutional for violating the right of the citizens to personal liberty and freedom of movement. There is no argument about the fact that the principle laid down in that case apllies to what is happening in Akwa Ibom State.
While we support the need for environmental cleanliness, we cannot continue to tolerate impunity, illegality and brazen violation of the rights of the citizens under any guise. As an alternative, we implore the state government to focus on the improvement of the welfare of staff of the State Ministry of Environment whose duty is to keep the state clean and equally employ more persons in this regard.
Apart from its unconstitutionality, the forceful sanitation exercise amounts to a dereliction of duty by the state government. It is wrong for a government compel citizens to clean the state after receiving huge monthly allocations and taxes for the same purpose. This amounts to a breach of the social contract.
COHRD demands the cancellation of the monthly sanitation exercise. If it must hold in the future, it should be without any form of encroachment on the constitutional rights of the citizens to personal liberty and free movement.
We call on the Nigeria Police Force to immediately and unconditionally release all those arrested in connection with the sanitation exercise as there is no penal legislation that makes the violation of the resolution of the State Executive Council an offence. The police should adhere to the dictates of Rule of Law in line with the vision of the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Convener, Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (COHRD).