Nigeria: Threats and attacks against members of the #EndSARS movement (joint communication)

The following is based on a communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and other UN experts to the Government of Nigeria on 30 March 2022. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public. The Government sent an initial response on 13 April 2022, informing that the communication has been forwarded to to relevant Government agency and a reply may be forthcoming. If and when a substantive reply is received it will be published on the UN Special Procedures’ database.

This is a shorter version of the original communication.

Read the full communication Read the Government's initial response

BACKGROUND

Topic: threats and attacks against survivors of the Lekki shooting of 20 October 2020, including against witnesses in the Judicial Panel of Inquiry (JPI), Ms. Ibeh Kamsyochukwu (‘Kamsi’) and Ms. Dabira Adeyinka.

Ms. Ibeh Kamsyochukwu and Ms. Dabira Adeyinka are human rights defenders and members of the #EndSARS movement. Ms Adeyinka is also the coordinator of the support group for the victims of the Lekki Tollgate shooting.

#EndSARS is a decentralized social movement and series of mass protests against police brutality in Nigeria. Their slogan calls for the disbanding of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).

Special Procedures mandate holders have previously raised their concerns with the Government of Nigeria concerning the excessive use of force by police and soldiers against individuals protesting police brutality leading to the deaths and injuries of protesters, as well as the lack of investigations into human rights violations allegedly committed by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in communication NGA 6/2020, dated 28 October 2020. We regret that no response has been received to date to this communication. Special Procedures mandate holders also sent a communication about the threats made against Amnesty International Nigeria, that has documented the crackdown on the #EndSARS movement and the Lekki Toll Gate shooting, in communication NGA 7/2020. No response has been received yet to this communication either.

ALLEGATIONS

In the evening of 20 October 2020, at around 18:50, as peaceful and unarmed end-SARS protesters gathered and sang the national anthem, they were reportedly barricaded by Nigerian armed forces at Lekki Toll Gate, in Lagos State. The armed forces then opened fire at the unarmed protesters. At least 12 protesters were reportedly killed during the shooting. The Nigerian Army initially denied the shooting but later stated that it had deployed soldiers at the toll gate on the orders of the governor of Lagos State. It is reported that pro-government supporters instigated violence at many of the demonstrations, providing cover for the police to use lethal force against peaceful protesters.

The aim of the crackdown was reportedly to instil fear, discourage peaceful protests and punish those demanding an end to widespread human rights violations by the police.

Despite witnesses and evidence about the shooting, government officials allegedly continued to deny that it had taken place. The Nigerian government issued a directive to all the states to set up judicial panels of inquiry to investigate complaints against SARS. The Lagos State Government eventually opened a Judicial Panel of Inquiry (JPI) to investigate the allegations, along with other documented abuse committed by the SARS. However, government officials and the military continue to deny that anybody was killed during the protests while restating their resolve to punish leaders of the #EndSARS movement against police violence.

It is reported that the investigation of the JPI has been repeatedly impeded by both the government and the army. The Nigerian Army has disbanded its legal team for the Lagos State Judicial Panel, effectively pulling out of the investigative hearing as more evidence surfaced indicating that Nigerian soldiers shot at peaceful protesters in October 2020. On 23 January 2021, the Nigerian Army, for the third time, failed to honour the summons issued to its officers by the Judicial Panel to appear before it. The Nigerian Army have also failed to present the officers involved in the shooting of the protestors.

In November 2021, the JPI released a detailed report, detailing the violations that took place, and supporting the accounts of witnesses, as well as the repercussions that some of the witnesses have experienced. Following the release of the JPI report, one of the survivors of the Lekki Toll Gate shooting, Ms. Ibeh Kamsyochukwu (‘Kamsi’) who testified before the panel, was attacked by a group of men with machetes. She survived this attack but has since feared for her life. A fellow survivor of the Lekki shooting, Ms. Dabira Adeyinka, took Kamsi to the hospital, recounting that “Kamsi was butchered. Her bones were showing.”

As Ms. Adeyinka exited the hospital, she found a note on her car, stating “You’re next. Game on.” The note was accompanied by an image of her giving testimony to the JPI panel, but with the head removed from the photo. So far no member of the army or security forces have been prosecuted for the human rights violations committed, while the judicial panels of inquiry set up to investigate abuses by officers have made very little progress. At the same time, witnesses to the inquiry panel proceedings, including Ms. Kamsyochukwu and Ms. Adeyinka, have been the subject of physical attacks and serious death threats.

CONCERNS

In the communication we expressed our most serious concerns about the threats and attacks, including death threats, against human rights defenders and activists of the #EndSARS movement, especially against those providing witness statements and evidence to the Judicial Panel of Inquiry. We are alarmed by the numerous alleged incidents of excessive use of force by the Nigerian armed forces, including violations that have reportedly led to the deaths of at least 12 protesters.

We also express concerns that so far no prosecutions of convictions have taken place neither with regards to the excessive use of force by the police and the military, nor regarding the threats and attacks against witnesses of the JPI proceedings.

We are troubled by the reported use of lethal force against unarmed protesters. In this regard, we would like to draw the attention of your Excellency’s Government to the statement made by the then Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions at the conclusion of the visit to Nigeria on 2 September 2019, which highlights that the legislation governing the use of lethal force, including the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, and the Police Order 237, are troublesome as they authorize the use of force without adequately restricting the nature of the force and setting out the principles of necessity or proportionality.

We are further concerned by the alleged denial of the existence of shootings and the failure to carry out prompt, effective and ex officio investigations into incidents of shootings and to bring the alleged perpetrators to justice. We note that it has previously been observed by United Nations human rights mechanisms that there were frequent complaints of arbitrary and excessive use of force, but few, if any, investigations or prosecutions (E/CN.4/2006/53/Add.4, para. 60).

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