A co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Opal Tometi, was joined by singer Alicia Keys, actress Kerry Washington, climate activist Greta Thunberg and 62 others in signing an open letter calling for the ban on peaceful demonstrations to be lifted to “allow Nigerians exercise their constitutional right to protest.”
The letter asked Buhari to release jailed protesters and journalists and to return confiscated passports and government IDs and to unfreeze bank accounts.
“In the midst of a global pandemic, your people sought to bring peace and justice to their land, and they made Africa and its diaspora proud in doing so,” read the letter, which was published as an advertisement in The New York Times on Thursday to coincide with International Human Rights Day. “Yet their peaceful requests were met with state-sanctioned violence and suppression, as your administration meted out unwarranted force against its own citizens.”
In October, waves of “#ENDSARS” protesters took to the streets in cities and towns across Nigeria, calling for the disbandment of the country’s controversial Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and an end to police brutality.
The SARS unit was set up in 1992 to fight armed robbery and was given wide-ranging powers. Many of the officers did not wear uniforms or name tags and there were numerous complaints that they had now turned on the citizens and were perpetrating the very crimes that they were set up to combat.
On October 11, Nigeria’s Inspector General of Police announced that SARS would be dissolved and its officers redeployed.
After the protests, the central bank obtained a 90-day court order freezing the accounts of those who took part in the demonstrations, according to media reports, while a journalist who covered the protests was arrested and detained for five days before being freed on bail.
Fatal shooting at Lekki toll gate
A CNN investigation, corroborated by government CCTV footage, into a particularly bloody incident at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos on October 20 showed soldiers fatally fired into a crowd of protesters.
All military personnel found responsible for this incident should be held accountable and a “transparent” and an “independent” investigation must be conducted into what happened, the group demanded.
“As people who have supported the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States and throughout the diaspora, we cannot be silent when similar atrocities take place in African countries,” the letter added, concluding that Nigerians and Africa “deserve better.”
Other notable signatories were Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), actors Mark Ruffalo and Danny Glover, and writer Afua Hirsch.
In the aftermath of the Lekki shooting, the army denied any involvement, describing reports of the incident as “fake news” before backtracking and saying that soldiers were present and fired their weapons in the air using blank and live rounds.
An eight-person judicial panel has been set up to investigate police brutality and what happened at the Lekki toll gate.
On Wednesday, Buhari tweeted that the foreign press coverage of the #ENDSARS protests was not balanced.