Amnesty International (AI) says one year after the #EndSARS protests no security operative has been made to face justice for the “brutal crackdown” on peaceful protesters.The human rights watchdog said instead, reports of human rights violations by the police have continued.
In October 2020, youths across the country took to the streets to demand an end to extrajudicial killings by the disbanded special anti-robbery squad (SARS), police brutality, harassment and bad governance.
The demonstration reached its climax on October 20, 2020, when security operatives reportedly opened fire on the protesters at Lekki tollgate in Lagos.
According to a statement issued on Wednesday, Osai Ojigho, director of Amnesty International Nigeria, said the judicial panels of inquiry set up to investigate abuses of security operatives have made little progress.
“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,” Ojigho said.
“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.
“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 instil fear, discourage peaceful protests and punish those demanding an end to widespread human rights violations by the police.
“After reviewing videos and photos of the protest sites, Amnesty International found that in nearly 21 incidents where violence occurred between peaceful protesters and pro-government supporters, security forces not only failed to take preventive measures to avoid peaceful assemblies from being disrupted, but they also failed to protect protesters from violent attacks.
“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 sites in government vehicles. On at least two occasions, these attacks resulted in the death of protesters.
“Almost every person arrested during the protests described being beaten with the butt of a gun, whips and fists during their arrests. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 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”.
The group said the arrested protesters were denied access to lawyers and medical care by the police.
“Several lawyers and human rights defenders said they spent days moving from one police station to another trying to find out where those who had been arrested were being,” AI said.
“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”
“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,” said Ojigho.
AI asked President Muhammadu Buhari to fulfil 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,” AI said.