Both the United Nations high commissioner for human rights and Amnesty International demanded investigations and accountability after the advocacy group said Nigerian forces opened fire and killed at least 12 protesters of police violence on Tuesday at two locations in Lagos, the African nation's largest city.
"Soldiers clearly had one intention—to kill without consequences."
—Osai Ojigho, Amnesty International Nigeria
Amensty, which conducted its own on-the-ground investigation into the killings in Lekki and Alausa, said in a statement Wednesday that "evidence gathered from eyewitnesses, video footage, and hospital reports confirm that between 6:45 pm and 9:00 pm... the Nigerian military opened fire on thousands of people who were peacefully calling for good governance and an end to police brutality."
"As in previous cases," the group said, "some of those killed and injured at both grounds were allegedly taken away by the military." At least 56 people have died across Nigeria since the demonstrations began on October 8, according to Amnesty, which has been monitoring conditions in the country over the past few weeks.
In response to the latest findings, Osai Ojigho, country director of Amnesty International Nigeria, declared that "opening fire on peaceful protesters is a blatant violation of people's rights to life, dignity, freedom of expression, and peaceful assembly. Soldiers clearly had one intention—to kill without consequences."
"These shootings clearly amount to extrajudicial executions," added Ojigho. "There must be an immediate investigation and suspected perpetrators must be held accountable through fair trials. Authorities must ensure access to justice and effective remedies for the victims and their families."
— Amnesty International Nigeria (@AmnestyNigeria) October 21, 2020
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement Wednesday that "while the number of casualties of yesterday's shooting at the Lekki toll plaza in Lagos is still not clear, there is little doubt that this was a case of excessive use of force, resulting in unlawful killings with live ammunition, by Nigerian armed forces."
"Reports that CCTV cameras and lighting were deliberately disabled prior to the shooting are even more disturbing as, if confirmed, they suggest this deplorable attack on peaceful protestors was premeditated, planned, and coordinated," added the U.N. human rights chief, before putting the killings into the broader context of the nation's law enforcement history.
"Nigeria was already at boiling point before this shooting because of the revelations about years of unchecked violence, including alleged killings, rape, extortion, and other violations, by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS)," she said. "While the authorities have now dissolved SARS and announced a series of inquiries at both federal and state levels, there have still been few if any charges leveled against its members despite abundant evidence against various members of the squad, as well as members of other security forces and the army."
Soldiers in Nigeria reportedly fired on protesters in Lagos suburb Lekki, with 20+ wounded and unknown deaths.@Amnesty reports "disturbing" proof soldiers fired. The governor, who imposed a curfew to silence anti-police protests, denies any deaths and called it "unfortunate." pic.twitter.com/9wpkvVT4jX
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"There need to be immediate, independent, transparent, and thorough investigations, not just into last night's killings, but also into all the previous violations committed by security forces," Bachelet continued. "Those appointed to carry out such investigations must not only be independent and impartial but must be widely perceived as such. And, where sufficient evidence already exists to warrant charges, immediate suspension of officers—including senior officers—suspected of committing serious crimes should take place long before the conclusion of such investigations."
Further, "after so many years of reported violations that have not been adequately dealt with, there also needs to be a root and branch re-examination of the entire security sector, and of its civilian oversight. This should include a full-scale review of rules of engagement and training systems and methods," she said, emphasizing that the eyes of the international community are now fixed on how the Nigerian government and military are responding to citizens' demands for broad reform.
In addition to urging the government to protect Nigerians' "fundamental right to peaceful assembly and protest" and demanding probes of any violence against demonstrators by the military and police, Bachelet called for also investigating reports that unidentified groups carrying cudgels, cutlasses, sticks, and guns are attacking protesters, sometimes with the support of security forces.
According to the Associated Press:
Lagos governor Obajide Sanwo-Olu has ordered an investigation into the military's actions at Lekki plaza. He said that 25 people were injured and one person had died from blunt trauma to the head.
President Muhammadu Buhari—who has said little about the protests engulfing his country—did not mention the Lekki shootings in a statement Wednesday but issued a call for calm and vowed police reforms.
Buhari's statement said the dissolution of the SARS unit "is the first step in a set of reform policies that will deliver a police system accountable to the Nigerian people."
The news agency noted that "despite the growing violence, the Nigerian protesters defied a curfew and faced off with security forces Wednesday as gunfire rang out and fires burned in Lagos." The AP added that "police also fired tear gas at bands of demonstrators and smoke was seen billowing from several areas in the city's center."