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One Year after Nigeria’s deadly #ENDSARS protests, police still accused of brutality

LAGOS, Nigeria

(Edited)


Joshua Samuel recalls the day, one year ago, when Nigerian soldiers opened fire in Lagos while he and thousands of others were protesting police brutality.

“People were running and some were falling,” the 23-year-old said of the Oct. 20th shootings at the Lekki toll gate plaza in Lagos, last year. “I was shot in the back.”


Still recuperating from his injuries, he’s now out of work and homeless and says he has not received any help from the government.


Credit: AP

“I am not OK. Every single word I am speaking, I am feeling pain,” he told reporters.

Samuel is among more than 100 Nigerians awaiting rulings on their petitions seeking compensation and justice for what they allege are abuses by police. They made their applications to a government panel reviewing both the Oct. 2020, shootings and earlier allegations of police brutality that inspired the protests.


The protests erupted in Lagos against a police unit known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, or SARS, which faced widespread accusations of brutality, unwarranted arrests, and bribery. Dubbed the #EndSARS movement, they climaxed a year ago when 38 protesters were killed nationwide, according to Amnesty International’s Nigerian office.


Another 69 protesters and police were killed in the unrest that preceded the Oct. 2020, killings, and lasting over a week, with many government facilities and police stations set on fire, according to President Muhammadu Buhari.


Buhari vowed his government would not allow such a breakdown of order again, and police deployment was heavy on Wednesday’s anniversary, with hundreds turning out to demonstrate and police firing tear gas. At least four people were arrested, and others picked up during the chaos.


The anti-robbery squad was accused of illegally arresting, torturing and extorting mostly young Nigerians, according to court hearings and victims’ testimonies. From 2017 to 2020, Amnesty International said it uncovered 82 cases of torture and killings of suspects by anti-robbery squad personnel, with little or no action from authorities.


In response, Nigerian authorities scrapped the police unit and announced they would pursue police reforms and ensure justice for victims.


However, Damian Ugwu of Amnesty International’s Nigerian office, said he believes authorities have no “intention of fulfilling those promises.”


In Nigeria, court actions seeking justice for victims of alleged police brutality are usually slow, while many officers accused of abuse are not prosecuted or face any other repercussions.

And while the SARS unit has been disbanded, many Nigerians say police brutality continues.

More than 200 #EndSARS protesters are still in prison in Lagos and some have not been charged with any crime or even had a court appearance, according to Nicholas Mba, who was released on bail after spending eight months in prison accused of arson during the October 2020 protests. He still faces trial.


“The first night of being in prison was the worst day of my life,” he said. “We were more than 1,000 arrested over #EndSARS and some have not been taken to court, while some do not even know how to communicate with their families,” the 33-year-old said.


Oke Ridwan, a lawyer who offered legal services to arrested protesters, said he helped win the release of at least 70 people whose charges were later dropped.


After the protests, Nigerian authorities set up judicial panels in every state and the capital, Abuja, to address the widespread allegations of police brutality and calls for compensation for those shot or arrested during the demonstrations.


In Lagos, the panel has considered over 235 grievance petitions, according to Tony Eze, who represents the Nigerian Bar Association at the hearings.


At least $637,470 has been awarded to 47 petitioners, but many, are still awaiting the panel’s decision.


Full story Source: AP

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