(Abuja) – Nigerian authorities have made no effort to secure justice for the killing of protesters in Lagos State in 2020, six months after a judicial panel implicated security forces in the abuses, Human Rights said Watch today. Authorities should act on the panel’s recommendations and hold those responsible to account.
“The Judicial Commission report should not be swept under the rug without consequences for those responsible for killing and injuring protesters,” said Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Failure to act on the panel’s recommendations will send a painful message to victims and risks encouraging more violence from security officers.”
In October 2020, young people across Nigeria took to the streets to demand the dismantling of an abusive police unit known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and to end the brutality, in a move using the hashtag #EndSARS. Security forces responded with excessive force, including fire. One of the worst crackdowns took place at the Lekki tollgate in Lagos on October 20, when army and police opened fire on a crowd of protesters, killing and injuring them.
In response, the Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwolu appointed a Judicial Commission of Inquiry to investigate the incident and make recommendations for justice and accountability.
The panel heard testimony for a year from victims and from representatives of the military, police and hospitals who treated the victims. He found in November 2021 that security forces shot, wounded, and killed unarmed protesters at the Lekki toll, corroborating Human Rights Watch’s findings.
The panel also presented a list of at least 48 victims, including nine dead, four missing and presumed dead, and 21 with gunshot wounds. The panel recommended appropriate disciplinary action and the dismissal of army officers implicated in the abuses. The panel also recommended prosecuting the police officers involved in the indiscriminate shooting and killing of protesters at the toll and prompt payment of the compensation the panel awarded to the victims.
The Nigerian police and military authorities took no further steps to independently investigate or respond to the panel’s findings and recommendations. The Nigerian federal government, which oversees these institutions, rejected the panel’s recommendations. The Governor of Lagos State, who called for the investigation and gave assurances that the victims would get closure, also remained silent on the issue of liability.
Nigeria has a bad history with judicial commissions of inquiry, whose recommendations do not have the force of law and often depend on the responsible authorities to implement the recommendations. A lack of political will for justice and accountability has meant that previous judicial commissions, including those set up to investigate extrajudicial mass executions in other contexts, have made no progress in ending impunity for abuses by the security forces.
Serah Ibrahim, coordinator of the EndSARS Survivors’ Group, made up of victims of the Lekki Toll Gate incident and their families, told Human Rights Watch that she and other members of the group, including those dealing with injuries serious following the shooting, are following up with Lagos State government officials. She said they want justice and compensation paid, but that seems futile as state government officials have told them it is not for them to determine what happens next.
“They don’t want to fish [identify] the people who shot us and they also don’t want to pay compensation for what happened because it would be an admission of guilt,” she said. “Sometimes I just want to move on because seeking justice in Nigeria seems pointless, but I can’t because I know what happened and the impact it had on the lives of the victims and their families. families.”
Following the submission of the Lagos Judicial Panel report to Governor Sanwolu, he set up another committee to review the contents and come up with a white paper to chart the way forward. The white paper, published in November 2021, rejected the panel’s key findings, including the death toll of nine, saying there were substantial inconsistencies and a lack of adequate evidence to support the claim.
But the Lagos State government has said it fully or partially accepts all but one of the expert panel’s recommendations which relate to its own authority and has indicated it will forward other recommendations to the relevant authorities, including Federal Government, Police Service Commission, Nigerian Police. , and the Nigerian Army.
The federal government, represented by Information Minister Lai Mohammed, however, rejected the panel’s findings and recommendations and maintained the position it had taken since the incident that reports of beatings of fire and killings by security forces at the Lekki toll gate were “untrue”. news.”
Justice and accountability should not be determined by the opinions of individual ministers or government officials, but rather should be ensured for all Nigerians through independent systems and authorities mandated to investigate and act on allegations of abuse, Human Rights Watch said.
Within the Nigeria Police Force, there are several units including the Force Criminal Investigation Department (FCID) X-Squad Unit and the Provost Department which are responsible for investigating offenses committed by officers and to recommend disciplinary action and criminal prosecution, where appropriate. The Police Services Commission, which provides external oversight, also has the power to investigate complaints and impose disciplinary measures, including dismissal.
Similarly, military police can investigate the actions of army officers directly or indirectly involved in abuses against protesters. An internal board of inquiry or regimental inquiry may also be set up to uncover the facts surrounding their involvement and a court-martial process may be convened to discipline officers who commit misconduct and ensure accountability.
The executive secretary of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission, Tony Ojukwu, told Human Rights Watch it’s because of the failure of various internal accountability systems to do their jobs properly over the years. that police and military officers continued to act with impunity. .
“The Nigerian authorities have shied away from their responsibilities to identify, discipline and prosecute security officers implicated in abuses,” Ewang said. “Unless this changes, violence by security forces against ordinary citizens will continue. »