The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet has strongly condemned the use of excessive and disproportionate force by Nigerian armed forces on peaceful protesters in Lekki, Lagos.
She called on the Nigerian authorities to take urgent steps to deal decisively with the underlying problem of persistent violations committed by the security forces, and make a far stronger effort to bring police and army personnel guilty of crimes against civilians to justice.
“While the number of casualties of the shootings 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,” Bachelet said.
“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),” the UN Human Rights Chief continued.
Bachelet also noted that the replacement of SWAT with SARS should not have been immediate, “I appreciate that the Government has taken a number of measures to address the protestors’ demands.
“However, the immediate creation of another elite police SWAT team to replace the SARS — without first addressing some of the root causes of police violence and putting in place sufficient safeguards to prevent future violations — has eroded the public’s trust even further. This latest terrible event in Lagos is like wantonly adding fuel to a fire that was already starting to rage out of control.”
Bachelet said the way to restore trust and bring back peace to the streets of Nigeria is for the authorities to take immediate concrete steps to show they are genuinely committed to tackling impunity, after years of inaction.
“There need to be immediate, independent, transparent and thorough investigations, not just into Tuesday nights’ killings, but also into all the previous violations committed by security forces,” Bachelet said.
Bachelet also called for immediate investigations into reports of violent and provocative attacks on peaceful protestors by unidentified groups armed with cudgels, cutlasses, sticks or guns, in some cases apparently with the overt backing of police or other security forces.
“Nigerians, like everyone else, have a fundamental right to peaceful assembly and protest,” Bachelet said. “The Government has a responsibility to take positive measures to ensure the realization of this right, including deterring others who intend to prevent them from protesting peacefully. The world’s attention is now focused sharply on how Nigeria’s Government and security forces react over the coming days and weeks.”
The High Commissioner urged the authorities to grant reparations to the victims and to open extensive dialogue with youth leaders, students and other groups who have been prominent among the protestors.
“In a population with such a young median age, it is important to listen to the grievances of the younger generation and make an effort to address the multiple problems they face, which include, but are far from confined to, police brutality and violations.”