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Amnesty: Nigeria trying to cover up Lagos massacre

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Security officers stop and search a bus carrying passengers around the Lekki toll gate of Lagos State in last October. (Photo by AP)

Amnesty International says the Nigerian government is desperately attempting to cover up the killing of a dozen citizens during peaceful protests in Nigeria’s biggest city of Lagos last October.

In a statement on Thursday, the leading rights group held Nigeria's much-loathed Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) accountable for the brutality that resulted in multiple deaths and injuries in Lagos on October 20 last year. 

"Nigerian authorities have failed to bring to justice those suspected to be responsible for the brutal crackdown by security forces on peaceful #EndSARS protesters at Lekki toll gate and Alausa in Lagos in October 2020 and have brazenly attempted to cover up the violence," Amnesty said in the statement, released to mark 100 days since the shootings. 

Amnesty's country director Osai Ojigho also accused the Nigerian authorities of  persecuting and targeting members of the peaceful protest movement. 

"Since the assault by security forces, which killed at least 12 people, Nigerian authorities have targeted supporters of the protests against police brutality by the disbanded SARS," she said.

Some of the movement's supporters have had their bank accounts frozen, she added.

The Britain-based right group also challenged the Nigerian government to suspend accused officials and to ensure the victims' access to justice. 

Youth-led demonstrations in Nigeria began against police abuse, quickly spiraling in broader calls for reform. But they ended weeks later when security forces shot at demonstrators in Lagos, killing at least 12 people. 

Amnesty said nearly five dozen people had lost their lives across Nigeria since the protests began on October 8.

Nigeria is a tinderbox of deep economic and social grievances, and demonstrations have snowballed from anger over police violence to broader demands.

Heavy-handed crackdown on Shia Muslims  

The Nigerian police also maintain a heavy-handed crackdown on peaceful protests by the country’s Shia Muslims.

The demonstrators have been calling for the release of top cleric Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, who has been in detention since December 2015 when his residence in the city of Zaria was brutally raided by Nigerian forces.

In the most recent incident this week, police in Abuja shot dead at least two protesters demonstrating against the continued detention of Zakzaky and his wife, Mallimah Zeenat, who have been held for several years on trumped-up charges. 

The latest demonstrations erupted in response to the revelation that Zakzaky’s wife has contracted COVID-19 while in police custody.

Those attending the protests called for the immediate and unconditional release of Zakzaky, who is the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), and his wife.

London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) made a recent plea with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, reminding the illegal grounds on which the duo is being kept. 

“Mallimah tested positive for COVID-19 this week in Kaduna state prison,” the IHRC said, referring to the facility in the northwestern city of Kaduna where they are being kept.

Their release, it added, is necessary “to protect them from the spread of COVID-19 in the country’s jails.”

IHRC chief Massoud Shadjareh also said, “It is nothing short of scandalous that justice continues to be denied to both Mallimah and Sheikh Ibrahim al-Zakzaky even after six years in custody during which the authorities have failed to bring any conviction and in which scores have been murdered in cold blood for protesting the injustice.”

“How long is the international community going to allow the Nigerian government to continue murdering its own citizens?” he said.

In 2015, at least 348 people were killed and 347 bodies secretly buried in the Nigerian city of Zaria in police attacks on Shia mourners, according to the official account. The real death toll is said to have been much higher.

The massacre took place when the Nigerian army stormed a religious ceremony, organized by the IMN, which represents the Shia Muslim minority in the country.

Not only has the Nigerian government refrained from paying compensation for the lives it took, it has also incarcerated followers of the movement and their leader, Sheikh Zakzaky, whose health is deteriorating in prison.

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