#ENDSARS PROTESTS 2020: ONE YEAR AFTER
October 20, 2021
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Action Group on Free Civic Space (AGFCS) once again condemns in very strong terms the brutal attacks launched on thousands of unarmed young protestors demonstrating against police brutality during the October 2020 #ENDSARS protests, particularly at the Lekki Tollgate Plaza in Lagos on the dreadful night of October 20, 2020. Indeed, forensic experts engaged at the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Police Brutality have confirmed that live military-grade bullets were fired at protestors and the cartridge casing obtained from the Lekki Tollgate are of the same calibre as the Nigerian Army’s live ammunition. What is most worrying is that one year later, despite overwhelming evidence gathered from earlier on-ground investigations, video footage, eyewitness testimonies, hospital reports, and most recently forensic reports that Nigerian security forces opened fire on protestors, no one has been held accountable. We hereby demand the immediate arrest and speedy prosecution of every person responsible for perpetrating the horrid crime of police brutality in Nigeria and most importantly, the murderous attacks of October 20, 2020, now referred to as the Lekki Tollgate Massacre.
A year ago today, we witnessed the eruption of one of the most powerful mass movements in the history of our nation – despite the turbulent start of last year which was marked by the coronavirus pandemic, our country, confronted head-on, another pandemic within the coronavirus pandemic – the pervasive menace of police brutality mostly perpetrated by the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of the Nigeria Police Force. First mobilised through social media, the #EndSARS protests shook major cities in the country for days in October until the demonstrations were murderously aborted when unknown soldiers opened live fire on peaceful protestors at the Lekki Toll Gate, Lagos State – a day we will never forget!
The National Executive Council (NEC) had in the wake of the violent dispersal of peaceful protestors in 2020 directed states to constitute judicial panels of Inquiry to investigate complaints against SARS and other police units. However, the spate of events that have assaulted public consciousness since the demise of the protests in 2020 challenges the sincerity of Nigerian government’s promises to address the legitimate demands of Nigerian youths as per, initiate far-reaching reforms addressing police brutality and other ingrained structural problems in the security sector, and engage in constructive dialogue with citizens to find lasting solutions to other social injustices prevalent in the country.
For instance, security operatives have continued to criminalise and brutalise protestors, engage in extra-judicial killings and offensive shoot-on-sight rhetoric despite the passionate marches against police brutality last year. In similar context is the matter of the Judicial Panel of inquiries constituted in the aftermath of the #ENDSARS protests, despite the conclusion of panel proceedings across 28 states in the country bar Lagos State and submission of recommendations to the Federal Executive Council and state governments, nothing tangible been done to implement the recommendations of the panel reports – consequently, compensations due to many victims of police brutality have remained unpaid with guilty officers like James Nwafor and Ugochukwu Ozuode amongst other security operatives indicted for their legacies of cruelty at the various panels, still roaming free, unaccountable for their many crimes against humanity.
If there was anything beyond the nauseating horror of police violence that the flood of protests exposed last year, it is indeed the frightening reality that constitutionally protected rights and civil liberties once enjoyed by Nigerians have deteriorated to the lowest points. As of today, the digital database – www.closingspaces.org – records an alarming number of 435 incidents of crackdowns on civic actors and Nigeria’s civic space with vicious attacks directed at freedom of expression, association, and assembly, and most significantly in recent times, media and digital rights.
Furthermore, preliminary findings from The Security Playbook, a soon-to-be-released report of the AGFCS, reveal that we have now progressed into a dangerous era of digital unfreedom unmatched by any period in the history of our democratic journey as a country. This much we have seen with consistent censorship of internet and media freedoms in the country, the unconstitutional ban of Twitter and many draconian policies aimed at gagging the press. Perhaps, a more troubling knowledge is the fact that Nigeria has now become a surveillance state judging from its misuse of digital laws, technologies, and importation of sophisticated hacking tools to arbitrarily intercept communications of targeted civic actors, illegally monitor opposition voices in government, silence dissent and, generally restrict people’s right of free expression and access to information, especially on cyberspaces.
At this juncture, the AGFCS will like to remind the Nigerian government that democratic freedoms are not gifts bestowed to people by illiberal state actors but fundamental rights guaranteed to every citizen under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended. Accordingly, the Nigerian government must recommit to its sacred trust of duty by upholding the rights, dignity, freedoms and well-being of every Nigerian above all parochial interests. Finally, the AGFCS continues to stand in firm solidarity with victims and survivors of police brutality and other heinous crimes against humanity in Nigeria and once again urge the Nigerian government to seize the moment of this significant day to:
Divorce itself from the undemocratic and despotic inclination to target and oppress individuals, activists, dissenting voices and civil society when they speak up, advocate for accountability from government or organise for lawful demonstrations.
Fulfil its promises to citizens by bringing to book all erring security officers indicted at the various Judicial Commissions of Inquiry
Restore hope in victims of police brutality by fully implementing the recommendations for compensation submitted by all Panels of Inquiry set up in the country
Engage in dialogue with all aggrieved parties and all stakeholders to chart a new path to resolve the insecurity challenges and ethnic discontent that ails the country
Release all #ENDSARS protestors still unlawfully imprisoned for daring to challenge an oppressive status quo
Unconditionally lift the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria and commit to opening up space for citizens to participate in governance and engage in constructive dialogue
ON ENUGU JUDICIAL PANEL OF INQUIRY
Enugu Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Police Brutality and Other Related Extra Judicial Killings in Enugu state was inaugurated on 21st October, 2020.
- The Enugu State civil society community observed that the panel has not submitted any report.
- That no petition was impressed and no witness was heard by the panel
- Panel members have been directed to submit record books without concluding hearing of all petitions.
- 147 petitions were received, out of which only 64 were adopted, about 26 were transferred to Administrative Panel, over 40 who submitted their Petitions were not mentioned by the Secretary before the panel, and hence they are not contained in the record of the panel.
- Petitions submitted through the email addresses were not printed and presented to the panel members by the secretary.
- The chairman refused the panel to rule on petitions where there were questions of jurisdiction to enable aggrieved party appeal if deemed necessary and receive judgment before the panel winds up.
- Funds approved and released to the Secretary for logistics and publicity were not properly accounted for.
- Many petitioners and respondents were not served with processes for complaints of lack of money while money and vehicle were provided for them.
- Therefore, any report submitted by Enugu Judicial Panel without investigation will run contrary to the terms of reference of the Panel
The Enugu State civil society community completely frowns at the desperate effort of the state security operative in influencing the cancellation of the scheduled physical event of the group in Enugu today in commemoration of ENDSARS protests.
We strongly condemn such action by the state actors which is tantamount to the shrinking of civic space and violation of the rights of citizens and civic groups to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly as enshrined and guaranteed in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
We also believe that the action of the security operative is a complete affront to democracy in Nigeria, and further allude to fact that Nigerians are yet to truly benefit from democratic dividends from their government as obtained from the saner climes.
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