Journalism in the service of society

The aftermath of #EndSars: A call for social justice

The Fundamental Human Rights of citizens in any country are considered inalienable. When these rights are violated by those meant to ensure their protection sacrilegiously, it behooves on the international community to step in and ensure an erring member state is brought to justice. Otherwise, it makes a huge mockery of the purpose of these international organisations

NIGERIA, Africa’s most populous country and so-called “Giant of Africa,” makes periodic headlines every four years for bad democratic practices with its election malpractices in the form of widespread rigging and violence. It is widely believed to be one of the most unforgivable and corrupt countries and is often mentioned as the world’s poverty capital despite sitting amidst plenty.

These notorieties that my home-country is globally reputed for perhaps have a worthy challenger, long-standing but not given adequate attention since the duckling return of democracy, or if you permit me, the ceremonial switch in a garment from the soldiers’ khaki uniformsto civilians’ regalia agbada garbs, which has not dramatically impacted governance. And this notoriety is in the form of forces (police and army) for the brutal suppression and bloody engagement of unarmed civilians who dare oppose the Federal Government or any of its policies in any open mass movement.

Not only does this violate Nigerians’ right to free expression and association, but in the process, many lose their rights to life amidst extra-judicial killings in the hands of the very people paid to protect them. At other times, they vandalise property, which makes you wonder if these forces were truly established for the ordinary people of Nigeria to save their lives and said property.

If these examples do not show the terrible state of the force—the gross lack of accountability on the active perpetrators of these dastardly acts, their superiors, or the apogee of authority on these forces, that is — then the presidency does. Neither was there ever justice for victims of these inhuman actions. As has become a trend, judicial panels of inquiries were often formed to investigate atrocities committed by these state actors, and that has always been the end of it. It is pathetic, very pathetic!

To provide context on perhaps the last time international attention was drawn to gross violations of civil and human rights in Nigeria, the Abacha junta hanged the “Ogoni 13,” which invited sweeping international condemnation and sanctions. If that was described as the worst case of human rights violation in Nigeria, I beg to strongly assert that this record has been smashed repeatedly, the latest being the October 20 cold-blooded massacre of young Nigerians at Lekki Toll Gate who were peacefully demanding that the government do what is expected of it naturally, which should need no asking to begin with, let alone, to protest about. These were young men and women carrying their nation’s flag and singing their national anthem. How better could one define a peaceful demonstration?

On this list of gross state violations of human rights and extra-judicial killings is the famous but gradually forgotten three-day massacre of Shia Muslims from December 12 to 14 in 2015. Following the three-day crackdown was another reported by Amnesty International in which more than 110 persons were killed to add to the number in excess of 347 previously stated. Hurriedly, the armed forces had conducted a mass burial for these victims while giving little or no treatment to the injured to show their desperate attempt to cover up their inhuman crimes, and contrastingly, show their vicious nature. In what perhaps made matters worse, rather than prosecute soldiers as recommended by the Kaduna State Judicial Commission of Inquiry set up to look into the case, charges were leveled against 177 members of the group and blamed them for the death of one Corporal Dan Kaduna Yakubu, the only military casualty. Also, the federal government defied several court orders to free the wrongly imprisoned El Zakzaky since 2016.

In 2016, there was another violent and bloody military crackdown on civilian members of IPOB. They had demanded referendum, having been dissatisfied by the Nigerian polity and the continuous marginalization of the Igbo in the Buhari regime. These violent and bloody repressions of agitations, expressions, and non-violent movements coupled with the lack of accountability on the part of the government are antagonistic of the Federal Constitution of Nigeria, democratic principles, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights charter as signed by Nigeria, like other sovereign states. If both stated above could be wrongly overlooked for their religious and ethnic colorations, the most recent represents everything wrong with democracy in Nigeria.

Recently, the Premium Times conducted an investigation with disturbing videos that not only corroborated the Amnesty International and Human Angle’s analysis and investigation (timeline) of the tragedy, it also disproves the army and the governor’s many false claims with regards to who was responsible for what represents one of the darkest hours in Nigeria’s history.

While October 20, 2020 will give many Nigerians the feeling of déjà vu, this is by no means comparable to what has existed in the past. The execution method irrefutably shows it was meant to be a covert, sinister operation. After opening fire on the citizens they were supposed to protect, they carted away bodies of those who died, thereby making it impossible to ascertain the accurate number of fatalities. The manner of execution also did little to suggest otherwise than the fact that the army set out initially to embark on a shooting spree on its innocent civilians.

First, we all have to admit that this was a covert operation masterminded with the sole aim of killing innocent protesters. If not, why were the lights at Lekki Toll Gate turned off shortly before the massacre and turned on when the deed had been done as proven by the reports? There is only one answer: the army carried out this dastardly act with the sole aim of committing this heinous crime and covering up their tracks from being identifiable. There is little to wonder and even the governor denied allegations that people died. The army took a screenshot of 12 different media reports of the massacre and tagged it with #fakenews (as still displayed on their Twitter page). Neither President Buhari nor his vice credibly acknowledged the killings. Based on the above, I firmly state that this is a carefully planned and executed evil that needs to be investigated. Based on the above, I submit the following:

  • According to Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the governor of Lagos State, the military was not expected until around 10 pm when the curfew was set to begin. Well, the question is this: if it is true that he summoned the army and gave them a specific time to arrive, why were the soldiers already present three hours earlier? As seen in verifiable videos by the news media recognised above, the army moved out of their Bonny Camp (less than 10 minutes’ drive to Lekki Toll Gate) at around 6:29 pm, and shooting commenced 6:45 pm.

Reiterating the poser of Bola Ahmed Tinubu, “If he [Sanwo-Olu] didn’t order the attack, who ordered the attack (at the time it occurred)?” This, perhaps, would lend a level of credence to Sanwo-Olu’s feeble claim that there were forces beyond his control, an allusion to the Federal Government, the only authority over a sitting governor or the Army Chief of Staff whose forces the governor cannot control. Thus, I ask that international bodies, such as the United Nations, ECOWAS, and the AU wade in with their international investigative teams to provide answers to genuine questions of who ordered the now-undeniable hit. The army and police (implicated through the investigations of Premium Times) are exclusive functionalities of the Federal Government with the apogee of powers residing with the president.

Given that the president, in his speech, has failed Nigerians and clearly insulted democracy by failing to acknowledge this heinous crime against humanity properly, he cannot be trusted. Neither can the judicial panel set up by the governor be trusted. Besides the fact, what would be released would be in accordance with what the government dictates; after all, what would the governor do if the report faults his “ogas at the top” having hitherto admitted that it is beyond his control. Hence, there is a need for an independent international team set up to re-examine the crime, facts, and to release the truth of their findings to the public domain.

  • Next, all culpable military, para-military, and civilian personnel should be made to stand trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC), which Nigeria ratified as a member state on the 27th of September in 2001. The ICC was established for crimes against humanity and as such, should act accordingly to ensure social justice for victims of inhumane killings across the country.
  • It is also worthy to note that it has almost been two weeks since the infamous incident, yet no one has been held responsible. To begin with, a man like T.Y. Buratai, the Chief of Army Staff, should have lost his job for his many failings, especially for failing to book the soldiers who executed the evil on that now-infamous Tuesday night.
  • President Buhari needs to disclose what he knows. He is the Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces. If two weeks after the dreadful event he has neither succeeded in prosecuting the criminals in the army (through the AGF), sack Buratai who directs the army on his behalf, shown the least of concern for those who lost their lives in the massacre, I repeat, Buhari must be held responsible as well. The National Assembly has lost its integrity right from the day Lawan was sworn in to lead the Senate; if not, a sane Senate should put Buhari on his toes and should have sanctioned his government. Babajide Sanwo-Olu is not to be left out. He has miserably failed to protect the people of Lagos and their properties, both of which he swore to protect. He is just as guilty for the death of Lagosians under his watch. He should be impeached.
  • When the country (and Lagos State) ought to be seeking solutions to the country’s problems, they are more committed to stifling its citizens more with the #SocialMediaBill. The crop of leadership across the country is a total failure, and they all represent an embarrassment to democratic principles. Citizens can no longer trust a leadership lacking in empathy and human feeling, and thus, I implore the international community to proactively intervene to ensure that there is no cover-up for the death of innocent lives.
  • Worthy of note is the fact that Nigeria, although sovereign, is a party to many international bodies and signatory to several charters of human rights besides ICC, as mentioned above.  The protest began to protect citizens’ right to live and own properties (both of which were being violently abused by SARS)—both enshrined in the UDHR articles 3, 5, and 12. Rather than efficiently address this, the government’s response instead brazenly violated articles 3, 9, 12, 17, 18, and 19 of the UDHR.

Also, these human right abuses violate the rights of the people as protected by the Nigerian constitution, African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights (of the AU ratified by Nigeria), Declaration of Political Principles of the ECOWAS (A/DCL. 1/7/91) agreed and signed at Abuja between July 4th and 6th in 1991 and the United Nations founding charter. Sequel to all mentioned above, I join all Nigerian citizens who seek justice to call on the ECOWAS, African Union, ICC, the United Nations, and other bodies (i.e., CCPR, ICESCR, CAT, etc.) affiliated to Nigeria or ratified by the Nigerian government to exert productive pressure on the Nigerian government with stifling measures personally targeted at government personnel and officials to enforce compliance. The aim of this is to ensure that the perpetrators of this heinous crime do not go unpunished while guilty leaders should be held accountable.

The Fundamental Human Rights of citizens in any country are considered inalienable. When these rights are violated by those meant to ensure their protection sacrilegiously, it behooves on the international community to step in and ensure an erring member state is brought to justice. Otherwise, it makes a huge mockery of the purpose of these international organisations.

  • Falola is University Distinguished Teaching Professor and Humanities Chair, The University of Texas at Austin
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