Amnesty International says Nigerian security forces must immediately end the intimidation, harassment and attacks on protesters, after at least 10 people were killed and hundreds injured during ongoing nationwide protests demanding an end to police brutality and corruption.
Since 8 October, Nigerians have been occupying the streets of major towns and cities across 21 states of the country, demanding an end to police brutality, extrajudicial executions and extortion by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a unit of the Nigerian police tasked with fighting violent crimes.
Lagos state Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has said that criminals have hijacked the protests.
But Amnesty International says police have been responding with “excessive force, including firing live ammunition, water cannon, throwing tear gas into crowds, beating and arresting protesters”. The organization also says journalists have been beaten and their filming equipment confiscated or destroyed.
On October 20, the government extended curfews beyond the city of Lagos as anti-riot officers struggled to bring the protests under control and shootings were reported in Lekki.
Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, said:
“That police are still using excessive force on peaceful protesters – leading to injuries and deaths in Lagos, Ughelli, Abuja and Ogbomosho – throws through the window claims of any commitment to ending violations of human rights by Nigerian police.”
Amnesty International adds that rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are guaranteed by the Nigerian Constitution and it is completely unacceptable for the police – whose duty is to protect lives and property and uphold the rule of law – to use excessive force against protesters.
But there is confusion over how peaceful the protests are and whether others, perhaps not all that concerned with police reform, are using the protests as a cover for violent crime.
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu tweeted on October 20: “I cannot watch as arsonists, hoodlums and anarchists continue to hide under the #EndSars protest to unleash mayhem on the State and wantonly disrupt citizens lives and property.”
In response to the nationwide protests, the Inspector General of Police, dissolved the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) on October 11 and called for the immediate redeployment of all SARS officers to other units. Despite the pronouncement and repression of the demonstrations, thousands of Nigerians continue to protest.
Amnesty International says that over the past five years, the Nigerian government has promised to reform SARS several times. Despite these pledges of reform and accountability for violations, Amnesty’s June 2020 report says that SARS officers continue to commit human rights violations with impunity.