Reflecting upon President Biden’s Democracy Summit, held virtually in December 2021, civil society organizations in Nigeria and the United States have released a joint statement calling upon each government to take specific actions to defend democracy and human rights. During a virtual press conference organized by the Washington-based Nigeria Working Group, signatories explained their reasons for signing and outlined recommendations for the follow-up summit in 2022.
CSOs from both countries called on the Nigerian government to: –Sign the Electoral Act into law, in advance of the 2023 elections –Investigate attacks on members of the judiciary –Ensure independence of local governments, and end illegal caretaker governments –Implement the findings of the Judicial Panels of Inquiry investigated abuses by SARS –Guarantee freedom of religion –Ensure transparent budget monitoring with civil society oversight
Some of the requests directed towards the US Government include: –Implementing travel bans against Nigerian officials guilty of electoral malpractices –Use the Global Forum on Asset Recovery principles as a framework for return of recovered assets (such as “Abacha loot”) –Vigorously enforce the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and press the Nigerian government on the implementation of the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative –Making human rights the centerpiece of US foreign relations with Nigeria
As the Trump administration nears its end, U.S. foreign policy must prepare to reset and revitalize relations with Nigeria. Americans have an opportunity to repair the harm done by leadership that drew upon crude, racialized stereotypes of Africans and that coddled dictators. In the context of a reckoning with police violence against American minority communities, and a movement in Nigeria challenging serious and widespread abuses, it is urgent for the United States to recommit to global democracy and human rights. Yesterday, Chiedo Nwankwor, Patrick Ukata and I joined other African studies professors in a letter to the incoming Biden/Harris administration urging specific policy actions in response to the #EndSARS movement in Nigeria. Our goals closely align with those in an open letter to the international community recently published by NGOs and faith-based organizations, and are crafted to stand in solidarity with core demands of Nigerian protestors.
We are writing to condemn the violent crackdown on non-violent protests in Nigeria, and in support of US assistance for police reform and accountability. As longtime scholars of Nigeria, we have been appalled by the government’s reckless use of violence and disproportionate force against peaceful civilians. We believe these abuses demand unequivocal diplomatic condemnation from the United States. Moreover, such gross human rights violations require additional action by the United States to eliminate any complicity with official actions blatantly at odds with American foreign policy principles, to advance the work of democratic reform in Nigeria, and to reinforce our shared obligations to international human rights agreements. On 8 October, demonstrations erupted across Nigeria when a video surfaced showing officers from the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) shooting an unarmed man. Nigerian youths organized peaceful protests across the country, uniting around demands known as “5for5,” calling for: the release of protestors being held, justice for victims of violence and their families, the formation of an independent body to oversee investigation and prosecution of perpetrators, psychological evaluations and retraining of officers formerly in SARS, and increasing police salary. On 20 October 2020, in what has become known as the “Lekki Toll Gate Massacre” or “Black Tuesday,” the Nigerian army shot and killed at least 12 unarmed protesters singing the national anthem and holding the Nigerian flag while over 120,000 people worldwide witnessed this brutality on social media live streams. This pattern of violence by security forces, resulting in the deaths of at least 56 peaceful protestors in different incidents across Nigeria, obligates the international community to act. For years, SARS has committed systematic human rights violations. Even before the protests erupted in October, Amnesty International documented at least 82 cases of torture, ill treatment and extra-judicial execution by SARS between January 2017 and May 2020. Such abuses continued despite the passage of Anti-Torture Legislation by Nigeria’s National Assembly in 2017. Recurring failures to reform the police over the last two decades have fostered an overall climate of impunity. President Muhammadu Buhari has neither responded to the 5for5 demands, nor taken adequate steps to stop the unwarranted killing of peaceful protesters. In a recent letter to President Buhari, the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus urged him to do so. The Nigerian government is obligated to uphold the right to non-violent protest and ensure the safety of protestors in accordance with Chapter IV, Section 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights also guarantees the right to peacefully assemble, and Article 5 prohibits torture and cruel and degrading treatment of persons.
We therefore urge the United States to:
Use the authority granted under the Global Magnitsky Act to place targeted sanctions, including asset freezes and travel bans, on politicians, officials and other Nigerians implicated in recent human rights abuses. These incidents should include but not be limited to the Lekki Toll Gate Massacre, various attacks on protestors since October 8, and other abuses of Nigerians engaged in peaceful free speech activities. Consistent with the December 2017 Executive Order on “Blocking the Property of Persons Involved in Serious Human Rights Abuse or Corruption,” the sanctions should apply to SARS and other special police units determined “to be responsible for or complicit in, or to have directly or indirectly engaged in, serious human rights abuse.” As scholars of Nigeria, we believe such steps would advance democratic reform efforts and hold abusive security services accountable. As the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States has poignantly reminded us, democracy and rule of law cannot flourish amidst impunity.
Suspend security assistance and military sales to the Nigerian police and security forces implicated in or broadly culpable for violence utilized against #EndSARS protesters until the Buhari administration fully complies with relevant laws and policies to ensure accountability for human rights violations.
Support the authorization of a panel of experts under the United Nations Human Rights Council. The panel could investigate human rights violations by the Nigerian security services, identify alleged perpetrators and hold them accountable. Such a process could broadly engage Nigerian authorities alongside other stakeholders in order to achieve a public accounting that would promote truth, healing, and democratic reform.
Support the International Criminal Court’s ongoing preliminary examination in Nigeria by offering assistance to a widened inquiry that includes the Lekki Toll Gate Massacre and SARS-related atrocities. A critical first step in providing such support is for the administration to immediately rescind the June 2020 Executive Order used to sanction the ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and one of her senior officials. Thereafter, the U.S. should offer in-kind support to the Office of the Prosecutor at the ICC in its efforts to gather evidence about individual perpetrators accused of atrocity crimes arising out of SARS abuses.
We, the undersigned scholars, stand in solidarity with the people of Nigeria in their quest to strengthen rule of law and advance democratic reform. We hope your incoming foreign policy administration will fully commit to the above requests, which we believe will both strengthen Nigerian democracy and America’s enduring friendship with a critical African ally and friend. We look forward to hearing from you soon. Institutional affiliations are listed for identification purposes only and do not indicate an organizational endorsement.
A. Carl LeVan, American University Chiedo Nwankwor, Johns Hopkins-SAIS Patrick Ukata, Halsik Group Rita “Kiki” Edozie, University of Massachusetts – Boston Olufemi Vaughan, Amherst College John Campbell, Council on Foreign Relations Steve Feldstein, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Mojubaolu Olufunke Okome, Brooklyn College – CUNY Onwubiko Agozino, Virginia Tech Matthias Chika Mordi, Johns Hopkins – SAIS Brandon Kendhammer, Ohio University Omolade Adunbi, University of Michigan – Ann Arbor Shobana Shankar, Stony Brook, SUNY Hilary Matfess, Yale University Cajetan Iheka, Yale University Adrienne LeBas, American University David Laitin, Stanford University Judy Byfield, Cornell University Richard Joseph, Northwestern University Matthew T. Page, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Amina Mama, University of California, University of Ghana, Feminist Africa Deborah Brautigam, Johns Hopkins University – SAIS Cheryl O’Brien, San Diego State University Larry Diamond, Stanford University Daniel Jordan Smith, Brown University Nathan Hosler, Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, Church of the Brethren Faith I. Okpotor, Moravian College Abosede George, Barnard College – Columbia University Farooq Kperogi, Kennesaw State University Hannane Ferdjani, former Nieman Fellow at Harvard University Bobby Digi Olisa, Nigerians In Diaspora Organization New York /Canvas Institute INC Kara Roop Miheretu, Pennsylvania State University Rebecca Rwakabukoza, Northwestern University Beth Evans, Brooklyn College, City University of New York Jacqueline Copeland, Black Philanthropy Month and The WISE Fund Chenise Calhoun, Tulane University Gretchen Bauer, University of Delaware Oyeronke Oyewumi, Stony Brook University Funmilayo Agbaje, University of Ibadan, Nigeria Ousseina Alidou, Rutgers University Peyi S Soyinka-Airewele, Ithaca College, Ithaca NY Modupe Oshikoya, Virginia Wesleyan University Namulundah, Brooklyn College, CUNY Mònica Cejas, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Xochimilco (Mexico City) Carolina Bank Muñoz, Brooklyn College Elias Bongmba, Rice University Rose Ndengue, Université de Rouen Zola Makosana, University of the Western Cape Kathleen Barker, City University of New York: Medgar Evers College Chika Okoye, Rutgers University Prudence Cumberbatch, Brooklyn College Jill M. Humphries, University of Toledo Mark Ungar, Brooklyn College Mobina Hashmi, City University of New York Zachariah Mampilly, City University of New York Therese McGinn, Self-employed Amy Kraizman, CUNY The Graduate Center Anita Plummer, Howard University Anene Ejikeme, Trinity University Adryan Wallace, Stony Brook University Jean Eddy Saint Paul, City University of New York: Brooklyn College Nasim Almuntaser, City University Of New York: Brooklyn College Saheed Aderinto, Western Carolina University Emmanuel Balogun, Skidmore College Gabriel Bámgbóṣé, Rutgers University-New Brunswick Naluwembe Binaisa, University College London Ifeoluwa M. Olawole, American University Aderonke Adesola Adesanya, James Madison University T.D. Harper-Shipman, Davidson College Oceane Jasor, Concordia University Zandi Sherman, Rutgers University Rose Ndengue, Université de Rouen Jacob Olupona, Harvard University Judith Van Allen, Cornell University Aderonke Adesola Adesanya, James Madison University Professor Stella M. Nkomo, University of Pretoria, South Africa Omowumi Olufunbi Elemo, James Madison College, Michigan State University Candy Dato, Retired Laurel Lesio Kevin Mcgirr, UCSF Pauline Halpern Baker, The Fund for Peace Darren Kew, University of Massachusetts, Boston Barbara M. Cooper, Rutgers Meredeth Turshen, Rutgers University Clovis Bergere, University of Pennsylvania Justin Mullikin, Rutgers University Oghenetoja Okoh, Loyola University Maryland Faith Adogame, Rutgers University – Newark Paul M. Lubeck, Johns Hopkins University – SAIS
Names added since November 13
Jon Kraus, SUNY at Fredonia Leonard Wantchekon, Princeton University Beth Elise Whitaker, University of North Carolina at Charlotte Jean Claude Abeck, Africa Center for Strategic Progress Susanna Wing, Haverford College Peyi Soyinka-Airewele, Ithaca College Nicolas van de walle, Cornell University Doyin Coker-Kolo, Indiana University Southeast Laura Thaut Vinson, Lewis & Clark College Leonardo A. Villalon, University of Florida Scott Pegg, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis Olajumoke Ayandele, Rutgers University
Globally, it is no longer news what the #EndSARS hashtag and protest represents, what is now making the news rounds is how the democratically elected Government of Nigeria responded to the peaceful protesters, and how the young Nigerians who led the protest will react. However, for the benefit of anyone who may be coming in contact with the subject matter for the first time, let me give a quick introduction of the #EndSARS protest in Nigeria.
What Is SARS?
The Nigeria Police Force in late 1992 established a Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit to specifically focus on crimes associated with robbery, motor vehicle theft, kidnapping, cattle rustling, and firearms. Aside the general decay, bribery, torture tactic and associated corrupt practices of extortion of motorists and individuals by operatives of the Nigeria Police, the last decade witnessed an alarming surge in cases of SARS wrong profiling and brutality of especially young Nigerians.
What triggered the #EndSARS Protest
In early October 2020, a video emerged showing police officers; thought to be from the notorious SARS allegedly shooting and killing a young man in Delta state. Although Nigerian authorities denied the reports, young Nigerians were enraged as once again, the authorities failed to take any concrete steps in addressing police brutality. There was an initial call for protest by a Nigerian Musician by name Naira Marley, after what was believed to be an act of intimidation from some the security operatives, the artist called off the protest. However, on 8 October 2020, nationwide peaceful protests erupted and were peaceful. The Lagos protest was again led by some other top music icons like Falz and Runtown with solidarity from other big Nigerian celebrities like Burna Boy, Wizkid, Davido, Tacha, MI, Tuface, Ebuka. Almost every social media influencer as well as other Nigeria pro Athletes identified with the protest. The protesters all along maintained two characteristics; to be leaderless and nonviolent.
What the Protesters Demanded
The embodying demand of the protest was a call to disband the SARS, but in details, contained five interrelated demands all aimed at reforming the Nigeria police. These were:
Attack on protesters and the knee Jerk SWAT Introduction
The #EndSARS protesters carried on while maintaining the nonviolent discipline. Suddenly, the media started reporting counter protests in support of the SARS unit even after the Federal Government agreed and disbanded the SARS unit. The counter protesters then changed their initial protest in support for SARS into attacking the #EndSARS protesters. These attacks all around the country including Abuja the federal capital territory where cars were burnt and a whole settlement razed. With the attacks on the peaceful protesters on the rise, rumours started filtering in that the attackers were being sponsored by some persons believed to be doing so in support of the regime. Momentarily, the Inspector General of Police announced the establishment of a new police unit called SWAT to replace the disbanded SARS. The protesters clearly saw the move as a knee jerk reaction and quickly doubled up and started a second hashtag #EndSWAT.
International Solidarity with #EndSARS Protest
By day 6, the #EndSARS protest had gained global attention and solidarity from top music icons like Cardi B, P-Diddy, Beyonce, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Meek Mills, and other US and UK politicians, diplomats and professionals. Once the #EndSARS hashtag started trending globally, a lot more people started following the conversation and showing solidarity with the protest given that police brutality is not new to citizens of the world. Nigerian celebrities went a step further in crowd funding to cover supplies for the protesters. Other men and women of goodwill also would buy meals and take to the protesters in support. The entire time, Government of Nigeria never came out to engage the protesters nor issued an official statement.
Spread of the #EndSARS Protest
The protest which initially erupted in just Lagos and Abuja quickly replicated across other Nigerian cities and soon spread to other cities around the world; all calling for #PoliceReformsInNigeria and an #EndToPoliceBrutality. Typically, similar protests or agitations of such proportion in the past never lasted more than a week. That the #EndSARS protest was waxing stronger, rumours started filtering in that security operatives were being moved around the country to some of the major hubs of the protest, preparatory for a crackdown. These rumours grew stronger on the strength of the continued attack on the peaceful protesters by hoodlums; believed to be sponsored by supporters of the regime. There was even a prison break in Edo state which many believed was staged to give the #EndSARS protest a bad name and warrant the use of lethal force. How could unarmed protesters overrun a prison facility successfully without fatalities?
The Lekki Toll Gate massacre
On day 12 of the #EndSARS protest, events unfolded routinely across the various protest grounds until about 8:pm on 20.10.2020 when Twitter spiked with cries in short video clips of shooting at the #EndSARS protesters at Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos. This was the most peaceful and organized protest ground. For this reason, it was puzzling what could have gone wrong to warrant the use of maximum force. Eye witness testimonies confirmed that at some point, the lights and the CCTV cameras at Lekki Toll gate were turned off. Momentarily About the time some security operatives in the Nigerian Army attire showed up. On sighting the armed military personnel, the protester started singing the Nigeria National Anthem while taking a kneel. This was when the soldiers opened fire on the protesters. A video surfaced on social media in which protesters being shot at were heard telling the other protesters to sit down and scamper about.
The Ensuing Reaction
The morning after the shooting, and the entire day went by without as much as a statement from the Presidency. While the government of Nigeria was silent, some world leaders, past and present reacted on social media in condemnation of the shooting and called on the Government of Nigeria to open investigation and bring culprits to book. Former president Olusegun Obasanjo even issued a press statement in which stated that use of brute force is historically proven to be unviable in addressing citizen agitations. He called on President Buhari to act fast and not let the situation to degenerate any further. Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, UN Secretary General, minsters and foreign secretaries all sent strong condemnation of the shootings which according to Amnesty International claimed 12 lives and injured several others. The governor of Lagos state is his press address mentioned visiting 24 injured protesters. He declared that there were no fatalities but later apologized and confirmed one fatality.
President Buhari’s Address
It was nearly after 48 hours since the shooting, that the President of Nigeria made a broadcast in which he acknowledged the fundamental right of citizens to protest as enshrined in Section 40 of Nigeria’s Constitution and other enactments. In the same breath, President Buhari quickly changed tone and dared the young citizens protesting to not misconstrue his swift response in announcing disbandment of SARS as a weakness. The speech further spiralled into stating the empowerment measures and initiatives principally targeted at youths, women and the most vulnerable groups in Nigeria. Suggestive of the fact that the youths should be grateful and not dare to demand police reform in Nigeria. The incoherence did not fail to add that his administration will continue to improve good governance and the democratic process, including sustained engagement. And how the liberty and freedom, as well as the fundamental rights of all citizens shall be protected under his watch.
President Buhari: re-elected in 2019. His 2015 victory was the subject of my most recent book, Contemporary Nigerian Politics.
To the international community, Mr President called off their ignorance and advised them to seek all the facts available before taking a position or rushing to judgment and making hasty pronouncements. On this note, he told the protesters to go and apply for Farmermoni, Tradermoni, Marketmoni, N-Power, N-Tech and N-Agro. That to do otherwise will amount to undermining national security and the law and order situation which he will not tolerate. Just after issuing the threats, Mr President asked the protester to clear out the streets and find constructive ways of engaging government.
Next, the President paid tributes to the police officers who lost their lives, and thanked youth leaders who have restrained their followers from taking the law into their hands. he asked all Nigerians to go about their normal lives. No acknowledgement of the shooting at protesters by the security operatives and the victims of the shooting.
Like many others who have tried to make sense of the events around the shooting of peaceful protesters and the corresponding response of the Government of Nigeria, three questions come to mind that President Buhari needs to answer; either for himself or for Nigeria:
There is a sense in how and why nations exist sovereign yet go into bilateral relations with other nations. And also belong to regional and global communities. Not long ago, Nigeria dominated the debate in calling on Malians military to order. Can the same Nigeria kill its citizens in cold blood and tell concerned potential allies like Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton to back off?
Can Nigeria kill its citizens and tell Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton to back off?
Is Buhari expecting a return to normalcy, or is he postponing “the evil”?
Is a reformed Nigeria – the aim of these youth led protests – still possible?
Abuja protesters (photo by Laz Apir)
Nigeria demographics paints a picture of a youth dominated population wallowing in abject poverty as sustained by joblessness. A situation former president Obasanjo once described as Nigeria sitting on a keg of gunpowder. By Mr. President’s address, is he expecting that the balance is restored and normalcy will return or he is simply holding on to anything and postponing the evil for another day?
The sheer commitment, intensity and passion displayed by young Nigerians in the period of the #EndSARS protest; is an eye opener to the power the youths wield collectively. For the moment, it is safe to say these young Nigerians are nursing their wounds and trying to make sense of how a peaceful protest with clearly achievable demands, warranted the raining of live bullets on them. The question on the minds and lips of many others is how the momentum, collaboration and shared vision to see a reformed Nigeria can be further channelled. Or is this the end?
Whilst we await what happens in the next days, weeks or even months, it will be impulsive for anyone to imagine we have seen or heard the last of the #EndSARS agitation which encapsulates an emerging third force in young Nigerians towards galvanizing support to see far reaching reforms across Nigeria. Only time will tell what happens next.
Laz April is an election expert and civil society activist. He writes from Abuja, Nigeria. Follow him on Twitter @lazapir.
As Fela Anikulapo Kuti once said, music is the weapon. But how harmful is it?
In Kano, Nigeria’s second most populous state, the authorities apparently consider songs very dangerous. For the second time over the last two months, a singer has been arrested for the content of his lyrics. In the first incident, on June 17, Mohammad Yusuf Yakasai, popularly known as A.G.Y. was arrested and accused of releasing a song and video without the approval of the Kano State Board and criminal defamation of Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje. Some of the song’s lyrics criticized Ganduje, who had been surreptitiously filmed numerous times apparently taking bribes from public works contractors. Here is one the videos circulating. (I would welcome questions or comments regarding its authenticity or translation of specific comments.)
Leading human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and PEN (Nigeria), as well as think tanks such as the Centre for Democracy and Development in Abuja and the Center for International Policy in Washington criticized the sentence and his year-long detention. Article 39 of the Federal Constitution states “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.” I was honored to join the writer Wole Soyinka and the musician Femi Kuti in a letter calling for his unconditional release. The public pressure campaign worked, and he has been released.
In the second major incident in Kano, Yahaya Sherif Aminu was recently sentenced to death by hanging for insulting the Prophet Muhammad in a song he shared on WhatsApp. In the song, he praises an imam with the Tijaniya Muslim brotherhood. Salafi Muslims have often clashed with Tijaniya Sufi followers in Nigeria.
“Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.”
Article 39, Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended
Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Jama’atu Ahlussunnah Lid Da’awati Wal Jihad (aka Boko Haram) quickly released a video where he condemned the singer’s right to appeal the sentence. “He should just be killed. If you really sentenced him, we should only hear that you slaughtered him,” says a report by Aliyu Dahiru Aliyu in HumAngle analyzing the broadcast. Shekau criticized Kano as a den of infidels that should not be mistaken for an Islamic state, since it practices democracy. The sentence, carried out by a Shari’a court, is complicated since the constitutionality of state laws passed in 1999 and 2000 that extended Shari’a to criminal law, rather than limiting it to civil affairs, have never been decisively ruled upon by the Supreme Court.
Article 10 of the Constitution states, in full, “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion.” The application of Shari’a law to civil matters stems from a political compromise dating back to the colonial era. During the drafting of the 1979 constitution, northerners famously walked out over the Shari’a issue and nearly derailed the transition to the Second Republic. David Laitin analyzed this in a classic article in The Journal of Modern African Studies, and I discussed the compromise, revisited in 1999, in my book, Dictators and Democracy in African Development.
A historic symbol of northern unity, which I photographed in 2003.
A press statement by Amnesty International on August 13 called the sentence “a travesty of justice. There are serious concerns about the fairness of his trial; and the framing of the charges against him based on his Whatsapp messages. Furthermore the imposition of the death penalty following an unfair trial violates the right to life. Yahaya Sharif Aminu must be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Osai Ojigho, the Nigeria country director. Where does Mohammed Lai stand on Article 39? And how can Kano reconcile popular support for Shari’a (of some sort) with Article 10?