A non-governmental organisation, Amnesty International has alleged that the #EndSARS Judicial Panel of Inquiry dashed hopes of victims rather than providing restitution to them.
On October 19, 2020, the Lagos state government set up a nine-man Judicial Panel of Inquiry to investigate cases of brutality and human rights violations perpetrated by operatives of the Nigeria Police Force and the dissolved Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
The panels, which were also established in other states of the country were mainly set up as a response to one of the demands of youth during the #EndSARS protests.
A statement issued by the organisation explained that despite promises of reform, police impunity continues.
It stated partly, “One year after peaceful #EndSARS protests ended in a brutal crackdown by Nigerian security forces in Abuja, Lagos and other parts of the country, no one has been brought to justice for the torture, violence, and killings of peaceful protesters, while reports of human rights violations by the police continue, Amnesty International said today.
“An investigation by the organization found that Nigerian army and police killed at least 12 people on 20 October 2020 at Lekki toll gate and Alausa in Lagos.
”Amnesty International was able to establish that pro-government supporters instigated violence at many of the demonstrations, providing cover for the police to use lethal force against peaceful protesters.
“The organization also found that detained protesters were tortured and refused or denied immediate access to lawyers.
“A year on, despite the gravity of these human rights violations, not a single member of the security forces has been prosecuted while judicial panels of inquiry set up to investigate abuses by officers have made little progress.”
Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria was quoted as saying: “President Muhammadu Buhari must fulfil his promise of reforming the police to end the reign of impunity Nigerians have been protesting against for many years.
“Failure to bring to justice those suspected to be responsible for the torture and killings of #EndSARS protesters on 20 October 2020 is yet another indication that Nigerian authorities lack the political will to ensure accountability for these atrocities, and end police brutality.
“Under the pretext of restoring order, horrific injuries were inflicted on hundreds of people and at least 56 people were killed, among them dozens of young people lost their lives as Nigerian security forces used unnecessary and excessive force to disperse peaceful protesters across the country.
“It is unacceptable that despite overwhelming evidence, the government continues to deny the use of live ammunition on protesters at Lekki toll gate exactly a year ago.”
The organisation further said it documented incidents at Lekki Toll Gate Lagos and other parts of Nigeria, showing the violent response of the Nigerian security forces to peaceful protests.
It explained that the aim of the crackdown by security agents on protesters was to instil fear, discourage peaceful protests and punish those demanding an end to widespread human rights violations by the police.
“While most of the #EndSARS protesters were peaceful, there was violence, mostly instigated by pro-government supporters.
”After reviewing videos and photos of the protest sites, Amnesty International found that in nearly 21 incidents where violence occurred between peaceful protesters and pro-government supporters, security forces not only failed to take preventive measures
to avoid peaceful assemblies from being disrupted, but they also failed to protect protesters from violent attacks,” the statement added.
Ojigho added, “In many instances, the police and other security agents watched as apparently government-backed armed thugs attacked peaceful protesters. In some cases, these thugs were brought to the protest sites in government vehicles. On at least two occasions, these attacks resulted in the death of protesters.”
Amnesty International further said almost every person arrested during the protests were beaten with the butt of a gun, whips and fists during their arrests.
Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said at least 12 journalists were attacked during the #EndSARS protests by security forces and unidentified perpetrators.
Amnesty International further said many of those detained said that they were tortured by police officers while in detention in police stations and other holding facilities, and on the way to detention, in police vehicles. Several cases like that amount to torture and other ill-treatment.
Other victims narrated how they were denied or delayed access to lawyers and medical care.
This was despite repeated requests from detainees to see or call a lawyer – and repeated requests from lawyers at
places of detention to have access to the detainees.
According to the organisation, several lawyers and human rights defenders explained that they spent days moving from one police station to another trying to find out where those who had been arrested were being held.
“One person arrested during a protest on 18 October 2020 and held at Lagos state Criminal Investigation Department (CID), Panti, said he repeatedly asked to call a lawyer. He was told by a police officer to shut up. While in detention, he was denied access to a lawyer who had come to see him and was unable to meet with a lawyer until a week after being arrested.
“Providing timely access to lawyers is an important safeguard for many human rights, such as the right to a fair trial and ensuring the detainee’s rights are respected in custody, including the right to access medical care when needed, as well as protection from coerced confessions and torture and other ill-treatment," the statement said.
It said from observer reports, the investigative panels set up to look into police brutality have been marred by prolonged adjournments, intimidation of witnesses by police lawyers and the failure of police officers to appear as witnesses.
The report added that panels have failed to sit in some states, and in others have gone on an indefinite break.
“What we observed at these panels is discouraging and clearly shows there is no real commitment to ensuring justice for victims of police violence across Nigeria. These panels raised hopes of getting justice but in some states, this is quickly vanishing,” said Ojigho.
Amnesty International urged the Nigerian authorities to decisively end police impunity. It stated that the use of pro-government thugs to violently disperse and undermine peaceful #EndSARS protests must be thoroughly, independently, impartially, and transparently investigated and suspected perpetrators brought to justice in fair trials.
It said Nigerians must not be denied the constitutionally and internationally guaranteed right to peaceful protest.
It added that all those detained or missing since the #EndSARS protests must be immediately released or reunited with their families.
Nigerian authorities must
ensure access of victims and their families to effective remedies, including adequate compensation, restitution, and guarantee of non-repetition, it also said.
“The #EndSARS movement was met with the same use of excessive force by the police it was set to fight against. It is time for the authorities to ensure accountability and end impunity for police violence in Nigeria,” Ojigho added.
The #EndSARS protest was a nationwide protest demanding an end to police impunity in Nigeria. In October 2020, a video went viral showing SARS officers dragging two men from a hotel and shooting one of them outside. A few days later, protests erupted across Nigeria.
On 11 October, SARS is disbanded. But it was the fifth time since 2015 that the Nigerian authorities pledged to reform the police and disband SARS. Protests continued demanding more than empty promises.