Inquiry probes capturing of Lagos protesters, police abuses | Nigeria
Abuja, Nigeria – For the first time, a judicial committee has convened to investigate police brutality in Nigeria and the recent shooting of unarmed protesters in the country’s financial center in Lagos as accountability requirements rise.
The establishment of an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reported cases of police misconduct has been a key demand from peaceful protesters who took to the streets across Nigeria this month to protest police brutality and demand comprehensive reforms.
On October 20, almost two weeks after the protests began, witnesses and rights groups said soldiers opened fire on protesters who had gathered at a toll booth in Lekki, an upscale area of Lagos. The military denied its involvement in the attack, but Amnesty International said 12 people were killed by soldiers and police in Lekki and Alausa, another area of Lagos.
“How the government is handling the Lekki shooting incident would greatly dispel the concerns of many Nigerians,” said Ignatius Preye, a Lagos resident, who took part in the protests against police brutality.
“People should be held accountable and the victims rightly paid compensation,” the 31-year-old told Al Jazeera. “There is no justification for the level of violence against demonstrators who had no weapons and remained peaceful throughout the demonstration.”
The Inquiry Body set up by the Lagos State Government has my full support as it begins its session this week. I am confident that all government bodies will help ensure justice is done on behalf of the peaceful protesters and law enforcement officers who have sadly lost their lives.
– Muhammadu Buhari (@MBuhari) October 25, 2020
The Lagos panel, which has a six-month mandate, has received 15 complaints so far, none of which are reported to have anything to do with the Lekki shootings.
At least five other states have also set up similar investigative bodies to investigate police abuses, with more states expressing an interest in following suit.
“I am confident that all government bodies will help ensure justice is done on behalf of the peaceful protesters and law enforcement officers who have sadly lost their lives,” Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said late Sunday in a Twitter post.
On Friday, 51 civilians have been killed and 37 injured since the protests began, with violence attributed to “hooliganism”. He added that eleven police officers and seven soldiers were killed by “rioters”.
Doris Okuwobi, Chair of the Lagos Panel, has promised a speedy process and has asked the public to provide information.
Folorunsho Obafemi is a Lagos resident who is planning to do so.
The 24-year-old said he was preparing his petition to the panel in hopes of seeking justice for abuses allegedly suffered last year by members of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a notorious police force that has been Extortion, torture and even extrajudicial killings have long been accused.
“I was beaten, handcuffed, and thrown into a police car like a criminal. I wasn’t even allowed to defend myself when SARS officers came to arrest me, ”the seller said.
“I spent almost a week in detention and they refused to release me until I was able to raise some money with the help of some friends,” added Obafemi, who said he wanted compensation for the beatings and a public apology from the police .
Peaceful demonstrations against police brutality began on October 8 after a video allegedly showing a SARS officer killing a man was circulated widely online.
On October 11th, authorities announced the dissolution of SARS, saying its members would be transferred to other police units. However, the announcements failed to appease protesters who feared similar earlier pledges, leading many to demand a full police overhaul.
The demonstrators stayed on the streets of the big cities, barricaded streets and organized marches to establish business activity. However, as the demonstrations grew, gangs sparked a wave of violence in which protesters were attacked, vehicles were burned, private businesses were destroyed and public buildings were damaged.
The riots prompted several governors to put in place around-the-clock curfews last week in an effort to curb violence.
Amnesty said at least 56 people have been killed and hundreds injured since the protests began.
The victims include protesters and thugs allegedly hired by the authorities to confront the protesters. In many cases, the security forces used excessive force to control or stop the protests, ”the rights group said.