Human rights watchdog, Amnesty International (AI) has lamented that nobody has been brought to justice for the torture, violence, and killings of peaceful #EndSARS protesters by Nigerian security personnel, one year after massive protests by youth against police brutality gripped the country.
The peaceful #EndSARS protests that peaked on 20th October, 2020 ended in a brutal crackdown by Nigerian security forces in Abuja, Lagos and other parts of the country. It however, culminated in the eventual scraping of the indicted police unit – Special Any Anti Robbery Squad (SARS).
At a press conference in Abuja on Wednesday to mark the first anniversary of the protests, Amnesty International, also noted that reports of human rights violations by the police have continued to be received nationwide.
Despite Federal Government’s denial, the Amnesty InternationaI said that its investigation 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 organization also found that detained protesters were tortured and refused or denied immediate access to lawyers, it said at the conference during which some of the victims recounted their experiences.
Also, the organisation noted that 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.
“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.
“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”, said Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojigho.
She stated that Amnesty International had documented incidents at Lekki Toll Gate 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”, she argued.
“In many instances, the police and other security agents watched as apparently government-backed armed thugs attacked peaceful protesters. In some cases, these thugs were brought to the protest sitesin government vehicles. On at least two occasions, these attacks resulted in the death of protesters,” said Osai Ojigho.
She further noted that “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.
“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.”
“Amnesty International is calling on Nigerian authorities to put words into action and decisively end police impunity. Use of pro-government 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”, she added.
The #EndSARS protest was a nationwide protest demanding an end to police impunity in Nigeria. On 3October 2020, a video went viral showing SARS officers dragging two men from a hotel and shooting one of them outside.
A few days later, protests erupted across Nigeria. On 11 October, SARS was disbanded, but it was the fifth time since 2015 that the Nigerian authorities pledged to reform the police and disband SARS.