Nigeria risks an arms embargo following the indictment of the Nigerian Army and the Nigeria Police Force by the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Restitution for Victims of SARS Related Abuses and other matters.
According to the report, at least nine persons were confirmed dead at the Lekki toll plaza when soldiers stormed the tollgate to disperse #EndSARS protesters on October 20, 2020.
The 309-page report stated, “The atrocious maiming and killing of unarmed, helpless and unresisting protesters while sitting on the floor and waving their Nigerian flags and while singing the National Anthem can be equated to a massacre in context.”
While indicting the soldiers and the police, the panel stated that it unravelled the fact that after the personnel of the Nigerian Army exited the scene, the Nigeria Police Force followed up with the killing of the protesters, shooting directly at those fleeing, who ran into shanties and the lagoon.
It recommended that all army officers, excluding Major General Omata, and men of the Nigerian Army deployed in the Lekki tollgate should be made to face appropriate disciplinary action, stripped of their ranks and dismissed as they were not fit and proper to serve in any public or security service of the nation.
Already, the United States, the United Nations, the United Kingdom, and Amnesty International have called on the Nigerian government to ensure that the panel’s report is handled transparently even as the military and the Federal Government await the release of the White Paper.
The Nigerian military and its current use of arms are subject to the Leahy vetting, an American rights law that prohibits the United States government from providing military assistance to foreign security force units that violate human rights with impunity.
An arms embargo had earlier been placed on Nigeria, which prevented the country from effectively pursuing the war against terror during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
However, during the administration of former American President, Donald Trump, the embargo was lifted and the US began selling arms to Nigeria, including 12 Super Tucano aircraft.
The US, however, warned that the arms and the soldiers being trained would be subject to Leahy vetting, meaning that military assistance could be discontinued.
Earlier in the year, Reuters had reported that the United States Congress had initiated plans to impose an arms embargo on Nigeria.
The Deputy Director for Advocacy and Government Relations for Amnesty International USA, Mr Adotei Akwei, said he had written to the US Congress to implement the Leahy laws against Nigeria. PUNCH reports.
Akwei welcomed the report of the panel, adding that it confirmed what Amnesty had always been saying about the #EndSARS protests.
He said, “While we welcome this report, we are also painfully aware that other investigations into abuses by the Nigerian security forces have also confirmed abuses, called for reform and accountability and have resulted in no action whatsoever.
“We will wait to see what the response is from the Buhari administration, but until then, we still call for robust implementation of the Leahy laws in regards to the Nigerian military.”
In an interview with The PUNCH, a former Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Prof Bola Akinterinwa, said Nigeria could face not just an arms embargo, but sanctions.
Akinterinwa stated, “It goes beyond an embargo. There are many ways foreign countries respond to situations like this. If you use the US as an example, I can assure you that all those suspected government officials will be sanctioned in different ways, either by visa bans, withdrawal of privileges, or initiate a trial for them abroad.
“Some months ago, some US congressmen said they should not supply the Tucano ordered by Nigeria and they should stop selling arms to Nigeria. In this kind of situation, the likelihood of further sale of arms to Nigeria is remote. They are currently considering that.”
A retired Nigerian diplomat, Ambassador Joe Keshi, who served in the US, Togo, Ethiopia, Belgium, the Netherlands, Namibia and Sierra Leone, said indeed, Nigeria risked another arms embargo with the damning report on the killing of the #EndSARS protesters.
Keshi stated that the Nigeria police needed urgent reforms, including learning how to handle protesters.
He said the Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor, goofed by calling on Nigerians not to disparage the military when he could have just promised to investigate the issues raised in the report.
The retired diplomat said the Federal Government should admit that mistakes were made and apologise rather than attempting to pick holes in the panel’s report.
“That is true (arms embargo). And that is why it is so sad the way the authorities are reacting to this report. There should be a simple admission that a mistake was made,” Keshi said.