© Reuters. Adebanjo Akinwunmi holds his flags as Nigeria marks the primary anniversary of the EndSARS anti-police brutality protests in Lagos, Nigeria October 16, 2021. Picture taken October 16, 2021. REUTERS/Nneka Chile
By Libby George and Nneka Chile
LAGOS (Reuters) – One year in the past, Adebanjo Akinwunmi gleefully waved a Nigerian flag on the Lekki Toll Gate, a stretch of tarmac in entrance of toll cubicles on a freeway on the outskirts of Lagos. Joined by 1000’s of his countrymen, he demanded an finish to what demonstrators mentioned was endemic police brutality.
But the ebullient protests, which had taken place in cities throughout the nation of some 200 million, ended on the toll gate in a hail of gunfire.
Demonstrators mentioned troopers and police opened fireplace on Oct. 20, although each denied utilizing stay rounds. Rights group Amnesty International mentioned 12 protesters had been killed in two districts that evening, triggering the worst road unrest since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999.
At the toll gate on Wednesday, police forcibly dispersed lots of of protesters in autos and dozens on foot who tried to mark the anniversary of the capturing, firing tear gasoline and detaining not less than 5, in accordance with Reuters witnesses.
The largely peaceable protesters waved Nigerian flags and held placards studying: “Say no to oppression”.
Police slapped one man as he resisted efforts to bundle him right into a safety car, and one other man inside had seen wounds to his head.
Dozens had been additionally marching in Abuja, the capital, amid a heavy police presence.
The authorities has by no means acknowledged the extent of the violence. But it has promised to remodel policing, together with assembly the demonstrators’ demand to close down the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a unit activists blamed for a marketing campaign of extortion, violence, kidnapping and intimidation.
Activists say these authorities promises have confirmed hollow. SARS has largely been reconstituted underneath one other identify, and abuses are being perpetrated by different items with impunity.
“It is very disappointing,” Akinwunmi mentioned, including: “There’s no account on anything, any human life or property.”
On Wednesday, Information Minister Lai Mohammed mentioned authorities and police had been taking steps – some not publicized – to deal with police brutality. These embody establishing judicial panels and promises that states would indict police for crimes.
“We are committed to ensuring a comprehensive police reform,” Mohammed mentioned.
Rinu Oduala, who served on a panel investigating police brutality in Lagos, stop in February in frustration as a result of the physique was failing to sort out the issue.
“While these panels were sitting, there were ongoing cases of police violence,” she mentioned. “The government has turned a blind eye to it all.”
Far from changing into a extra open society, Nigeria has slipped two factors, to 45 out of 100, on the Freedom House index of world freedom. The watchdog cited extrajudicial killings, torture, and different abuses by navy and law-enforcement businesses. Human Rights Watch mentioned hopes for accountability “remain inconclusive and bleak”.
In June, Nigeria banned Twitter (NYSE:) after it deleted tweets by President Muhammadu Buhari. Activists say that makes it more durable to organise.
Still, Akinwunmi is hopeful that the anniversary of the protests can once more unite the nation.
“We will be able to remember the time that there was a time like this that we had one goal, one voice,” he mentioned.