Amid rising insecurity in Nigeria, the country now risks an arms embargo following the indictment of the Nigerian Army and the Nigeria Police Force by the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Restitution for Victims of SARS Related Abuses and other matters, which states that at least nine persons were confirmed dead at the Lekki toll plaza when soldiers stormed the tollgate to disperse #EndSARS protesters on October 20, 2020.
The 309-page report stated, “The atrocious maiming and killing of unarmed, helpless and unresisting protesters, while sitting on the floor and waving their Nigerian flags and while singing the National Anthem can be equated to a massacre in context.”
While indicting the soldiers and the police, the panel stated that it unravelled the fact that after the personnel of the Nigerian Army exited the scene, the Nigeria Police Force followed up with the killing of the protesters, shooting directly at those fleeing, who ran into shanties and the lagoon.
It recommended that all army officers, excluding Major General Omata, and men of the Nigerian Army deployed in the Lekki tollgate should be made to face appropriate disciplinary action, stripped of their ranks and dismissed as they were not fit and proper to serve in any public or security service of the nation.
Already, the United States, the United Nations, the United Kingdom and Amnesty International have called on the Nigerian government to ensure that the panel’s report is handled transparently even as the military and the Federal Government await the release of the White Paper.
The Nigerian military and its current use of arms are subject to the Leahy vetting, an American rights law that prohibits the United States government from providing military assistance to foreign security force units that violate human rights with impunity.
An arms embargo had earlier been placed on Nigeria, which prevented the country from effectively pursuing the war against terror during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
However, during the administration of former American President, Donald Trump, the embargo was lifted and the US began selling arms to Nigeria, including 12 Super Tucano aircraft.
The US, however, warned that the arms and the soldiers being trained would be subject to Leahy vetting, meaning that military assistance could be discontinued.
Earlier in the year, Reuters had reported that the United States Congress had initiated plans to impose an arms embargo on Nigeria.
In an email chat with The PUNCH on Wednesday, the Deputy Director for Advocacy and Government Relations for Amnesty International USA, Mr Adotei Akwei, said he had written to the US Congress to implement the Leahy laws against Nigeria.
Akwei welcomed the report of the panel, adding that it confirmed what Amnesty had always been saying about the #EndSARS protests.
He said, “While we welcome this report, we are also painfully aware that other investigations into abuses by the Nigerian security forces have also confirmed abuses, called for reform and accountability and have resulted in no action whatsoever.
“We will wait to see what the response is from the Buhari administration, but until then, we still call for robust implementation of the Leahy laws in regards to the Nigerian military.”
In an interview with The PUNCH, a former Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Prof Bola Akinterinwa, said Nigeria could face not just an arms embargo, but sanctions.
Akinterinwa stated, “It goes beyond an embargo. There are many ways foreign countries respond to situations like this. If you use the US as an example, I can assure you that all those suspected government officials will be sanctioned in different ways, either by visa bans, withdrawal of privileges, or initiate a trial for them abroad.
“Some months ago, some US congressmen said they should not supply the Tucano ordered by Nigeria and they should stop selling arms to Nigeria. In this kind of situation, the likelihood of further sale of arms to Nigeria is remote. They are currently considering that.”
A retired Nigerian diplomat, Ambassador Joe Keshi, who served in the US, Togo, Ethiopia, Belgium, the Netherlands, Namibia and Sierra Leone, said indeed, Nigeria risked another arms embargo with the damning report on the killing of the #EndSARS protesters.
Keshi stated that the Nigeria police needed urgent reforms, including learning how to handle protesters.
He said the Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor, goofed by calling on Nigerians not to disparage the military when he could have just promised to investigate the issues raised in the report.
The retired diplomat said the Federal Government should admit that mistakes were made and apologise rather than attempting to pick holes in the panel’s report.
“That is true (arms embargo). And that is why it is so sad the way the authorities are reacting to this report. There should be a simple admission that a mistake was made,” Keshi said.
However, a former Deputy Director of the Department of State Services, Mike Ejiofor, said it would be too early to say if Nigeria would face an arms embargo.
Ejiofor said the international community would be watching to see how Nigeria would react to the report.
“Let us keep our fingers crossed. Let us wait to see how things go,” he said.
PDP Reps ask Blinken to probe violence against #EndSARS protesters, others
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party caucus in the House of Representatives has said the planned visit by the United States Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, to Nigeria is to address corruption, insecurity and human rights abuses under the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.).
It urged the visitor to ask questions about abuse of state power and use of violence to suppress peaceful protesters, particularly activists of the #EndSARS movement and campaigners for self-determination.
The leader of the PDP caucus, Kingsley Chinda, in a statement on Wednesday, also called on the Federal Government to assure Blinken that it would not use facilities provided by the US against Nigerians agitating legitimately.
Chinda in the statement titled, ‘PDP Reps Caucus says Blinken’s visit to Consider Human Rights Abuses, Insecurity and Corruption…Visit to Address Government’s Failure to Curb Terrorists Attacks’, added that the opposition lawmakers welcomed the visit of the US top official to Nigeria.
The caucus noted that the visit was timely, adding, “It is our expectation that he (Blinken) would use his visit to address the growing human rights abuses, increasing threats to democracy, insecurity and corruption in Nigeria.
“Just this week, a Brigadier-General was killed by ISWAP and this is in addition to the countless numbers of soldiers, who have been killed or grievously injured with the weightless and worthless remark of getting to the root of the matter.
“Our country cannot afford the luxury of losing military officers to terrorists when it can seek strategic military and counter-insurgency assistance from the United States that has for many years built strategic and sustained military and intelligence frameworks for fighting terrorism.
“We note that the insistence of the Government of the United States that all strategic military, anti-terrorism and counter insurgency engagements must be in accord with the Leahy laws.”
The caucus further urged the US, through Blinken, to “impress on the Nigerian government, as an act of principle, to stay within the realm of prohibition by not deploying received military assistance against citizens, who embark on legitimate and constitutional agitation, including agitation for self-determination and secession, which are legitimate aspirations under our laws and treaties entered into by Nigeria.”
The statement further read, “Secretary Blinken should as a matter of urgency hold the Nigerian government to account for the wanton assaults on rights, abuse of state power, systematic use of state violence to suppress peaceful protesters, particularly activists of the #EndSARS movement and campaigners for self-determination, extrajudicial killings, intimidation of the judiciary; and declare to this government that abuses of human rights have consequences.”
5,000 sign petition to jail Buhari in one hour
A petition by bestselling author, Reno Omokri, on the change.org platform received 5,000 signatures in just one hour.
The petition, which was filed on Wednesday, was directed at the International Criminal Court and comes after the Lagos #EndSARS panel indicted the Buhari administration in its report.
At 5,000 signatures, the petition is the first of Nigerian origin to hit that number in an hour.
The petition is titled, ‘A Petition to The International Criminal Court to Arraign Muhammadu Buhari for Crimes Against Humanity’.