The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has called on the Nigerian authorities to take urgent steps in dealing with the underlying problem of violations committed by the security forces.
Bachelet made the call in on Thursday in Lagos, saying that after years of reported violations being inadequately dealt with, there needed to be “a root and branch re-examination of the entire security sector and its civilian oversight’’.
She said this should include a full-scale review of rules of engagement and training systems and methods.
According to her, the way to restore trust and bring back peace to the streets of Nigeria is for the authorities to take immediate concrete steps to show they are genuinely committed to tackling impunity, after years of inaction.
Bachelet condemned the use of “excessive and disproportionate force’’ by Nigerian forces in Lagos on Tuesday, and urged the government to make stronger efforts to bring security officers guilty of crimes against civilians to justice.
“While the number of casualties of the shooting at the Lekki toll plaza in Lagos is still not clear, there is little doubt that this was a case of excessive use of force, resulting in unlawful killings.
“Reports that CCTV cameras and lighting were deliberately disabled prior to the shooting are even more disturbing as, if confirmed, they suggest this deplorable attack on peaceful protesters was premeditated, planned and coordinated.
“Nigeria was already at boiling point before this shooting because of the revelations about years of unchecked violence, including alleged killings, rape, extortion and other violations by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
“While the authorities have now dissolved SARS and announced a series of inquiries at both federal and state levels, there have still been few if any charges leveled against its members,” she said in a statement.
Bachelet noted that many Nigerians appeared not to trust the inquiries and other measures that had been announced by the authorities, and had continued to take to the streets in several cities to protest.
According to her, the immediate creation of another elite police SWAT to replace the SARS without first addressing some of the root causes of police violence has eroded the public’s trust even further.
She added that the latest event in Lagos was like “wantonly” adding fuel to a fire that was already starting to rage out of control.
“There needs to be immediate, independent, transparent and thorough investigations, not just into Tuesday’s night’s killings, but also into all the previous violations committed by security forces.
“Those appointed to carry out such investigations must not only be independent and impartial but must be widely perceived as such.
“Where sufficient evidence already exists to warrant charges, immediate suspension of officers suspected of committing serious crimes should take place long before the conclusion of such investigations,’’ she said.
Bachelet said that Nigerians, like everyone else, had a fundamental right to peaceful assembly and protest.
The government, according to her, has a responsibility to take positive measures to ensure the realisation of this right, including deterring others who intend to prevent them from protesting peacefully.
She urged authorities to grant reparations to the victims and to open extensive dialogue with youth leaders, students and other groups who had been prominent among the protesters.
“The world’s attention is now focused sharply on how Nigeria’s government and security forces react over the coming days and weeks.
“In a population with such a young median age, it is important to listen to the grievances of the younger generation and make an effort to address the multiple problems they face, which include police brutality and violations,’’ Bachelet said.