Amnesty International says the Nigerian government has failed to bring perpetrators of violence and killings of peaceful protesters during the October 2020 #EndSARS protests to justice.
The protests were led by the youth across many Nigerian cities and towns against rights violations and brutality perpetrated by the operatives of the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), and other police tactical units.
The global human rights body said it found out that the Nigerian army and the police murdered 12 people at the peak of the protest on October 20 at Lekki Tollgate in Lagos.
Today, the historic protest and the chain of events that led to the alleged killings at Lekki Tollgate and protests are being commemorated, one year after.
The Lagos State #EndSARS panel that was meant to unravel the the circumstances that culminated into the shootings on October 20 at Lekki has said it will submit its findings to the state government, despite the demand for justice for victims of the incident.
#EndSARS panel is the common name referring to the various panels of inquiry set up in about 28 states and Abuja to investigate cases of rights infringements and brutality unleashed on Nigerians by the personnel of the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), and other police tactical units.
The federal and state governments had resolved to set up the panels in response to the demands of the #EndSARS protests.
In a statement commorating the protests, Amnesty International said despite claims of broad reforms by the Nigerian government, the police operatives continue to violate the rights of citizens with impunity.
It lamented that in spite of the establishment of #EndSARS panels across the country, victims of police brutality were yet to get justice.
In a desperate move to quell the protests, the government recruited hoodlums who unleashed violence on peaceful protesters with a view to discrediting the genuine concerns raised by the demonstrators.
Lekki Tollgate shooting
As the various panels turn in their findings, Amnesty International says, “One year after peaceful #EndSARS protests ended in a brutal crackdown by Nigerian security forces in Abuja, Lagos and other parts of the country, no one has been brought to justice for the torture, violence, and killings of peaceful protesters.
“An investigation by the organisation found that Nigerian army and police killed at least 12 people on 20 October 2020 at Lekki toll gate and Alausa in Lagos. Amnesty International was able to establish that pro-government supporters instigated violence at many of the demonstrations, providing cover for the police to use lethal force against peaceful protesters.
“The organisation also found that detained protesters were tortured and refused or denied immediate access to lawyers.
“A year on, despite the gravity of these human rights violations, not a single member of the security forces has been prosecuted while judicial panels of inquiry set up to investigate abuses by officers have made little progress,” the statement said.
‘Fulfil promise to reform police’
Osai Ojigho, director of Amnesty International Nigeria, said President Muhammadu Buhari must fulfill his promise of reforming the police to end the reign of impunity Nigerians have been protesting against for many years.
“Failure to bring to justice those suspected to be responsible for the torture and killings of #EndSARS protesters on 20 October 2020 is yet another indication that Nigerian authorities lack the political will to ensure accountability for these atrocities, and end police brutality,” Mr Ojigho was quoted as saying in the statement.
“Under the pretext of restoring order, horrific injuries were inflicted on hundreds of people and at least 56 people were killed, among them dozens of young people lost their lives as Nigerian security forces used unnecessary and excessive force to disperse peaceful protesters across the country.
“It is unacceptable that despite overwhelming evidence, the government continues to deny the use of live ammunition on protesters at Lekki toll gate exactly a year ago,” Mr Ojigho added.
Amnesty International said it had documented incidents at Lekki toll gate in Lagos and other parts of Nigeria, showing the violent response of the Nigerian security forces to peaceful protests.
“The clear aim of the crackdown was to instill fear, discourage peaceful protests and punish those demanding an end to widespread human rights violations by the police,” it said.
Excessive use of force
In tracking the use of excessive force, Amnesty International said “almost every person arrested during the protests described being beaten with the butt of a gun, whips and fists during their arrests.”
The organisation referenced the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), as saying that “at least 12 journalists were attacked during the #EndSARS protests by security forces and unidentified perpetrators.
“Many of those detained interviewed by Amnesty International said that they were tortured while in detention. In many cases, police abuse continued in detention, in police stations and other holding facilities, and on the way to detention, in police vehicles.
“Several such cases amount to torture and other ill-treatment. Delayed or no access to legal counsel.
Amnesty International revealed that it also documented numerous cases in which police denied or delayed access to lawyers and medical care to detainees.
“This was despite repeated requests from detainees to see or call a lawyer – and repeated requests from lawyers at places of detention to have access to the detainees. Several lawyers and human right defenders said they spent days moving from one police station to another trying to find out where those who had been arrested were being held.
“One person arrested during a protest on 18 October 2020 and held at Lagos state Criminal Investigation Department (CID), Panti, said he repeatedly asked to call a lawyer. He was told by a police officer to shut up. While in detention, he was denied access to a lawyer who had come to see him and was unable to meet with a lawyer until a week after being arrested.
“Providing timely access to lawyers is an important safeguard for many human rights, such as the right to a fair trial and ensuring the detainee’s rights are respected in custody, including the right to access medical care when needed, as well as protection from coerced confessions and torture and other ill-treatment.
‘#EndSARS panels marred by prolonged adjournments’
The foremost human rights body in its assessment of the about 28 #EndSARS panels that were set up by various sate governments and another in Abuja, said there was no commitment to ensuring justice for victims of police violence.
“Investigative panels set up to look into police brutality have so far been marred by prolonged adjournments, intimidation of witnesses by police lawyers and the failure of police officers to appear as witnesses, according to observer reports verified by Amnesty International. Panels have failed to sit in some states, and in others have gone on an indefinite break,” the statement noted.
“What we observed at these panels is discouraging and clearly shows there is no real commitment to ensuring justice for victims of police violence across Nigeria. These panels raised hopes of getting justice but in some states, this is quickly vanishing,” Mr Ojigho said.
Amnesty International called on the Nigerian government to decisively end police impunity.
“Use of progovernment thugs to violently disperse and undermine peaceful #EndSARS protests must be thoroughly, independently, impartially, and transparently investigated and suspected perpetrators brought to justice in fair trials.
“Nigerians must not be denied the constitutionally and internationally guaranteed right to peaceful protest.
“All those detained or missing since the #EndSARS protests must be immediately released or reunited with their families. Nigerian authorities must ensure access of victims and their families to effective remedies, including adequate compensation, restitution, and guarantee of non-repetition,” Mr Ojigho demanded.