The U.S. government says it cannot confirm the accurate figure of casualties from last October’s Lekki tollgate shooting in Lagos during a protest against police brutality.
The U.S. Department of States said this in its 45th annual human rights report.
The report said “accurate information on the fatalities” from the shooting remain fuzzy because apart from “Amnesty International which reported 10 persons died during the event, no other organization was able to verify the claim.”
“One body from the toll gate showed signs of blunt force trauma. A second body from another location in Lagos State had bullet wounds. The government acknowledged that soldiers armed with live ammunition were present at the Lekki Toll Gate. At year’s end the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution continued to hear testimony and investigate the shooting at Lekki Toll Gate,” the report noted.
The U.S. report, now in its 45th edition, examines the human rights standing of 198 countries with a focus on seven sections, including press freedom, corruption and transparency.
U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, announced the publication of the report Tuesday, saying that his country acknowledges the “work ahead and expects all nations to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
Honored to release the 45th annual Human Rights Report. It demonstrates that human rights, transparency and accountability are at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy. We acknowledge the work ahead and expect all nations to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms. #HRR2020 pic.twitter.com/G7BO475AoG
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) March 30, 2021
Despite media reports and investigations, the Nigerian government had strongly pushed back at the claims that the shooting led to massive death tolls.
An investigation by this newspaper, which involved on the ground reporting and interviews with eyewitnesses and residents at adjoining communities at the site of the event, detailed how authorities tried to cover their trails including dumping bodies inside a nearby lagoon.
Other media investigations also told stories of protesters who went into hiding after they received strange calls and death threats if they spoke. The report went further to identify 20 victims and their families, including those who died as a result of the event.
The protests, tagged #EndSARS, which preceded the shooting, had sparked unprecedented agitation across Nigeria as young citizens hit the street due to years of arbitrary abuse in the hands of the notorious police unit, SARS, which was later scrapped during the protest.
The agitation ushered in five-point demands from the protesters, one of which included setting up judicial panels across states to investigate past cases of right abuses.
While some panels are yet to conclude their sittings, some have ordered the payment of damages to some victims.
The report said there were instances where the Nigerian government and its agents committed arbitrary, unlawful, or extrajudicial killings.
“At times authorities sought to investigate, and when found culpable, held police, military, or other security force personnel accountable for the use of excessive or deadly force or for the deaths of persons in custody, but impunity in such cases remained a significant problem. State and federal panels of inquiry investigating suspicious deaths did not always make their findings public,” the report read.
“The national police, army, and other security services sometimes used force to disperse protesters and apprehend criminals and suspects. Police forces engaging in crowd-control operations generally attempted to disperse crowds using nonlethal tactics, such as firing tear gas, before escalating their use of force,” it added.