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#EndSARS: Victims drag Nigerian government to ECOWAS Court over human rights violations 

The Nigerian government has been dragged to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court over alleged cases of human rights violations during the course of the EndSARS protests.  

Recall that in October 2020, thousands of Nigerians trooped out in Lagos and other cities to demand an end to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, or SARS, a police unit accused of extrajudicial killings and abuses.

The government announced the unit had been disbanded, but many Nigerians were sceptical, as officials have promised an end to the unit and its alleged abuses before.

On October 20, 2020, security forces opened fire at protesters in Lekki, killing at least 12 people according to Amnesty International, and other sources. 

Following the one year memorial of the Lekki Toll Gate shootings, four lawyers have announced the decision of three applicants to file human rights violations against the Nigerian government, 

The lawyers, Bolaji Gabari, Mojirayo Ogunlana-Nkanga, Gaye Sowe, and Nelson Olanipekun made the disclosure in a virtual press conference held on Thursday, October 21. 

They announced in a jointly signed press statement, “Three Applicants who witnessed and were victims of the military and police onslaught that occurred in the event popularly known as #EndSARS protests which took place on the 20th of October 2020 at Lekki Tollgate have filed an action before the ECOWAS Court seeking the enforcement of their fundamental rights.”

According to the lawyers who said they were working pro-bono, the applicants suffered untold psychological and mental trauma and threat to life since the protests. 

Hence, they seek justice before the regional court because the Nigerian state failed to ensure the protection of their lives in line with the Nigerian Constitution, International laws and most especially the African Charter. 

They added that the Nigerian government also failed to convict perpetrators of human rights violations in the years preceding the 20th and 21st of October 2020 Lekki Tollgate Shooting and till date.

So they want the “ECOWAS Court to ensure that the government of Nigeria is held to account for the killing of Nigerian citizens and the abuse of their rights as enshrined in the Nigeria Constitution, the African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights and other International Human Rights instruments that Nigeria is a signatory to.”

When quizzed on the reason the lawyers decided to drag the court to ECOWAS court instead of the Nigerian courts, the lawyers said the human rights violations falls into the jurisdiction of the ECOWAS court and the regional court unlike the Nigerian judiciary is devoid of institutional challenges like strikes and interference from other arms of the government,  

They said, “ECOWAS Court, known for its neutrality and adherence to international standards in adjudicating cases, to consider and hold that the rights of the Applicants and other peaceful protesters have been grossly violated by the Nigerian State and its agencies.”

Read the full press statement signed by their lawyers below:

Three Applicants who witnessed and were victims of the military and police onslaught that occurred in the event popularly known as #EndSARS protests which took place on the 20th of October 2020 at Lekki Tollgate have filed an action before the ECOWAS Court seeking the enforcement of their fundamental rights.

The Applicants, who continue to suffer untold psychological and mental trauma and threat to life, from that day, have approached the ECOWAS Court, known for its neutrality and adherence to international standards in adjudicating cases, to consider and hold that the rights of the Applicants and other peaceful protesters have been grossly violated by the Nigerian State and its agencies.

The Applicants seek amongst others, the declaration that the Nigerian State has violated her obligations under the Nigerian Constitution, International laws and most especially the African Charter; failed and fails to protect the lives of the Applicants and citizens; protect its citizens from extrajudicial killings, police brutality  and to promote and provide security for its citizens; that the State persistently tolerates and promotes a climate of impunity in the Country as a result of its systemic failure to condemn, effectively identify and secure accountability for a series of grave attacks against the Applicants and people of Nigeria and failure to convict perpetrators of human rights violations in the years preceding the 20th and 21st of October 2020 Lekki Tollgate Shooting and till date.

You will recall that a  year ago, on October 20, 2020, a detachment of the Nigerian army and police officers reportedly shot at  peaceful protesters, leaving several  injured and others dead in Lekki and other parts of Lagos. This was at the height of the #EndSARS protests led by young Nigerians, in several cities, across the country to demand an end to years of police brutality, particularly from the dreaded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigerian Police Force. 

Young people had accused the SARS unit of being responsible for an unprecedented number of gross rights abuses that range from profiling people based on their material possessions or looks, illegal dispossession of their property, to outright extrajudicial murders and mock executions. 

The call to end brutality and extrajudicial killings by the Police has been on since December 2017. The 2020 protests were triggered by a SARS official’s killing of a young man on October 3 2020, in front of Wetland Hotel, Ughelli, in Delta state. Young people trooped out in their numbers online and offline, demanding an end to SARS, a reform of the Nigerian Police Force, and a demand for good governance.

From the beginning of the peaceful protests on October 8th 2020, the protesters were consistently attacked and arrested by the Police and other security agents. The Government also employed strategies to disrupt protests, including sowing division and resorting to intimidation and disinformation tactics, deploying military forces to sites of peaceful demonstrations as is evident in the Lekki Shootings and attempts at social media regulation. The police and the military fired live ammunition, deployed tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters. 

Some people considered to be sponsors or leaders of the #EndSARS Movement have been profiled by Government authorities and had their bank accounts frozen, or their passports seized to prevent them from travelling out of the country.

Today, victims of police brutality are yet to be adequately compensated, and justice has yet to be served either for their families or on the perpetrators. Post the proscription of the protests by President Muhammadu Buhari, the online and offline attacks on human rights defenders, the arrests and illegal detention of protesters, the deregistration of organisations and blanket tag of terrorism on bank accounts belonging to protesters, etc. were some tactics the government and its agencies employed, presumably to silence the dissenting voices. All of these constitute a gross violation of fundamental human rights guaranteed by Sections 38 and 40 of the Nigerian Constitution and Articles 9 and 10 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.

Given this disregard for the rights of Nigerian people, we are commencing litigation against the Federal Government of Nigeria at the ECOWAS Court of Justice to seek redress for the victims and accountability against the  Government who through her agents were involved in the rights abuses that led to the #EndSARS protests and its aftermaths.

We will pursue our demands through the ECOWAS Court to ensure that the government of Nigeria is held to account for the killing of Nigerian citizens and the abuse of their rights as enshrined in the Nigeria Constitution, the African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights and other International Human Rights instruments that Nigeria is a signatory to.

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