Nigeria Protests: Amnesty International urges police restraint

BOSTON — As Nigeria's protest strikes against fuel price rises continue, Amnesty International Wednesday repeated its call for the Nigeria police force to stop shooting at protesters.

The human rights organization urged President Goodluck Jonathan to protect civilians after at least three more people were killed and 25 injured in the past two days.

Amnesty also called on the Nigerian authorities to reform Nigeria’s police regulations in line with international standards, to prevent additional loss of life and ensure that the police only use firearms when it is strictly necessary to protect life.

The international group has repeatedly called on Nigeria to repeal Police Force Order 237, which is so broad that it permits police officers to shoot protesters, whether or not they pose a threat to life.

Amnesty International considers it unacceptable that force order 237 instructs police officers in “riot” situations to “single out” and fire at “ring-leaders in the forefront of the mob.” The definition of riot is so vague, that all protesters, however peaceful, are at risk. The force order also directs officers to fire “at the knees of the rioters” and explicitly prohibits firing in the air. Shooting at people, regardless of where an officer aims, is likely to result in death. 

With more protests announced, President Goodluck Jonathan must demonstrate a commitment to protect the people, said Amnesty.

The President must also set up an independent commission of inquiry to investigate all reports of use of force by the police against protesters. International standards require that any use of force or firearms resulting in death or injury is investigated to ensure that the use of force was not arbitrary or abusive.

The police must be provided with non lethal equipment to properly manage public order situations, including protests even if they turn violent.  

Since January 9, tens of thousands of Nigerians across the country went on strike to protest the removal of the fuel subsidy and to demand good governance. The protests are generally peaceful, however in some instances violence has been reported.

The protests started on January 2, after President Jonathan announced the removal of the fuel subsidy. This more than doubled the price of gasoline from 40 cents to 86 cents per liter. Transport costs have consequently doubled and other essential daily expenses are expected to rise considerably. 

Amnesty lists several instances of suspected police brutality when attempting to control the demonstrations.

In Kaduna, on Tuesday a man was seriously injured after he was shot in the head by the police. The state government subsequently imposed a 24 hour curfew and the police have threatened to arrest any protesters.

In Benin City, the capital of Edo State, according to unconfirmed reports, three people were injured on Tuesday after the police shot in the air. Some of the leaders of the protests in the state are currently in hiding and fear for their safety.

In Kano, on Monday at least one person was killed and 22 people were injured when the police fired live ammunition at demonstrators in an attempt to disperse the crowd near the gates of Government House. Unconfirmed reports suggest another two persons may have been killed. The police issued no warning before using lethal force, but opened fire and used teargas simultaneously. At least one bystander who was not participating in the protest was shot and injured. According to eyewitnesses, the protesters were unarmed. Following the incident, the union in Kano state halted further public protests and asked people to strike by staying at home. The government has put in place a curfew from 6 pm till 8 am.

On Monday, at least five people were shot; three were reportedly injured and two were killed in Lagos. The police announced the arrest of one police officer suspected to have fired at demonstrators.

Intentional use of lethal force against people in a public order situation violates the right to life as guaranteed by Nigeria’s Constitution, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

According to Amnesty, the Nigeria Police Force is responsible for hundreds of unlawful killings every year. The majority of cases go uninvestigated and unpunished. The families of the victims usually have no recourse to justice or redress. Moreover, some relatives are threatened if they seek justice.

Many Nigerian relatives do not even find out what exactly happened to their loved ones. In most instances, officers’ accounts are unchallenged and complaints are unprocessed. Investigations are rarely carried out, said Amnesty. When investigations do take place, they do not comply with international standards. Internal investigation by the police lack independence and transparency, alleged Amnesty. 

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.