RIVERS STATE REPORT
The ONELGA Security Peace and Advisory Council, popularly known as OSPAC, has been accused of illegally detaining and torturing innocent persons in Rivers State, on suspicion of being connected to cultism and kidnapping in the State. There have been several reports of human rights violations perpetrated by members of OSPAC, a vigilante group set up in 2016 at Omoku, capital of Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni LGA (ONELGA) in Rivers State. The civilian militia group which was brought into existence, following the increase in crime rate and the failure of the state security agencies to successfully tackle the insecurity, has since expanded to other parts of the State including Emohua and Ikwerre LGAs. The Social Development Integrated Centre, Social Action, in collaboration with the Civil Rights Council (CRC), have noted that the mode of operation of OSPAC included the arrest, detention and torture of persons suspected to be cultists or criminals. However, many persons have been wrongly arrested, detained and treated in an inhumane and degrading manner by the civilian militia. This deliberate violation of the presumption of innocence of an accused person, constitutes an abuse of human rights and a violation of Section 36(5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) which states that an accused person shall be deemed innocent until proven guilty. Sadly, not much attention has been paid to the illegal activities of OSPAC by security agencies in the State.
CRC reports that in May 2020, some men of the OSPAC invaded Isiokpo in Ikwerre LGA and arrested innocent youths and Ogoja labourers who were returning from the farm. Those arrested were subjected to inhumane treatments, including physical torture and starvation. On June 7, 2020, it was reported that men of OSPAC stormed Isiokpo and arrested innocent citizens who were going about their lawful duties, while acting on a tip-off that some members of a criminal gang were taking refuge in the community. Innocent persons were allegedly arrested alongside some confirmed members of the criminal syndicate. It was further learnt that the leadership of OSPAC and several community groups have expressed their support for the crude methods deployed by OSPAC and deemed such human rights violations, a necessary evil, in order for kidnapping to be stopped and peace restored to the communities. It is widely believed that their extra-judicial methods, despite being against the fundamental principles of human rights, produce the desired results. Hence, the human rights violations could be condoned in the interest of maintaining security. It has been accepted by several communities where OSPAC operates, that human rights abuse and unwarranted arrest of innocent citizens cannot be ruled out in such operations.
Social Action decries the wrongful normalisation of human rights violations as a sad commentary, resulting from the systemic failure of the government to provide security and the decades of communal wars, violence and inhumane, degrading treatment meted out on people extra-judicially. Several community folks regard violence, jungle justice and extra-judicial killings as immediate punishment to be justifiably meted out on suspected criminals, without recourse to a proper trial by a court of law. They fail to avert their minds to the rule of law which stands to protect innocent citizens. This ugly trend, if not urgently checkmated, could lead to an extra-judicial killing of people, reminiscent of the horrific incident which occurred in Rivers State in 2012, involving four students of UNIPORT, popularly called ALUU 4, who were tortured and lynched in Aluu community over wrongful allegations made against them for which they weren’t allowed their rights to a fair trial.
Social Action and CRC therefore call on the Rivers State Government to immediately bring an end to the violation of human rights perpetrated by OSPAC. Rather than turn a blind eye to the impunity and lawlessness demonstrated by members of OSPAC in addressing insecurity in the State, the State Government may wish to legitimately adopt the group as a State-owned vigilante group via the instrumentality of a law which must be duly passed by the Rivers State House of Assembly. In addition, there ought to be an adequate and regular training of all members of OSPAC. OSPAC must be made to complement the efforts of the Police, and not replace the Police. Arrested persons suspected to be criminals, should be handed over to the Police for proper investigation and prosecution, if deemed necessary. OSPAC as a group, must not be allowed to continue as a law on to itself, as such impunity, in addition to the human rights abuse, could lead to extra-judicial killings and communal clashes, given the fragile peace and volatility of some communities in the State.