Nigeria - One Year Since #EndSARS Protests, No Justice for Victims of Police Brutality

Protesters at an #EndSARS protest in Lagos in mid-October, 2020.

One year after peaceful #EndSARS protests ended in a brutal crackdown by the Nigerian security forces in Abuja, Lagos and other parts of Nigeria, not a single member of the police or military has been brought to justice for the torture and killings of peaceful protesters, and fresh reports of human rights violations by the police continue to emerge, Amnesty International said today.

An investigation by Amnesty found that the Nigerian army and police killed at least 12 people on 20 October 2020 at Lekki toll gate and Alausa in Lagos. Amnesty researchers established that pro-government supporters instigated violence at many of the demonstrations, providing cover for the police to use lethal force against peaceful protesters. Amnesty 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.

Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, said:

"President Muhammadu Buhari must 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 of being responsible for the torture and killings of #EndSARS protesters is yet another indication that the 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 - 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 that live ammunition was used against protesters at Lekki toll gate exactly a year ago. It is time for the authorities to ensure accountability and end impunity for police violence in Nigeria."

Use of pro-government supporters to whip up violence

While most of the #EndSARS protesters were peaceful, there was violence, mostly instigated by pro-government supporters. After reviewing videos and photos of the protest sites, Amnesty 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.

Excessive use of force

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, at least 12 journalists were attacked by the security forces and unidentified perpetrators during the protests

In many cases, police abuse continued in detention, in police stations and in police vehicles, with some cases clearly amounting to torture.

No access to legal counsel or medical care

Amnesty has also documented numerous cases in which police denied or delayed access to lawyers and medical care to detainees.

One person arrested during a protest on 18 October 2020 and held at Lagos state Criminal Investigation Department, Panti, said he repeatedly requested that he be allowed to contact a lawyer. He was told by a police officer to shut up. He was then denied access to a lawyer who had come to see him and was unable to meet with a lawyer until a week after his arrest.

Investigative panels set up to investigate police brutality have 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. In some states, panels have failed to sit, and in others they have gone on an indefinite break.

Amnesty is calling on the Nigerian authorities to 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. All those detained or missing since the #EndSARS protests must be immediately released or reunited with their families. The Nigerian authorities must ensure access of victims and their families to effective remedies, including adequate compensation and restitution.

#EndSARS

The #EndSARS protest was a nationwide protest demanding an end to police impunity in Nigeria. On 3 October 2020, a widely-distributed video showed 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 - the fifth time since 2015 that the Nigerian authorities pledged to reform the police and disband SARS. Protests continued, demanding concrete reforms. On 20 October, the Nigerian army and police violently repressed peaceful protests and killed at least 12 people at Lekki toll gate and Alausa in Lagos.

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