THE United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has joined the international condemnation of the shooting of defenceless protesters in Nigeria and called on the government to address the matter.
Last Tuesday, men of the Nigerian Army opened fire on protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos, killing scores, although the actual death count has still not been ascertained. It is believed that the soldiers took the corpses of the deceased away with them, making it hard for there to be a definitive body count.
However, the shooting has led to widespread condemnation both home and abroad, with demands for an inquiry into what happened. Following the incident, there has been widespread rioting and looting across Nigeria, with government facilities being targeted by angry youths.
Ms Bachelet has now added her voice to the condemnations, strongly condemning the use of excessive and disproportionate force by the Nigerian security operatives. 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 shooting 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. Reports that CCTV cameras and lighting were deliberately disabled prior to the shooting are even more disturbing as, if confirmed, they suggest this deplorable attack on peaceful protesters was premeditated, planned and coordinated.
“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). While the authorities have now dissolved Sars and announced a series of inquiries at both federal and state levels, there have still been few if any charges levelled against its members despite abundant evidence against various members of the squad, as well as members of other security forces and the army,” Ms Bachelet added.
Many Nigerians appear not to trust the inquiries and other measures that have been announced by the authorities. As a result the protests continued even after the government announced that it was dissolving Sars and replacing it with a new team to be known as the Special Weapon Tactical Team (Swat).
Ms Bachelet said: “I appreciate that the government has taken a number of measures to address the protesters’ demands but 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.”
She added that 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. Ms Bachelet also 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 protesters.