Home Latest Insights | News EndSARS: ECOWAS Court Found Nigerian Government Guilty of Lekki Massacre in Landmark Ruling

EndSARS: ECOWAS Court Found Nigerian Government Guilty of Lekki Massacre in Landmark Ruling

EndSARS: ECOWAS Court Found Nigerian Government Guilty of Lekki Massacre in Landmark Ruling

In a landmark decision, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Community Court of Justice has ruled against the Nigerian government for its disproportionate use of force against #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki Tollgate in October 2020.

The ruling, delivered by Justice Koroma Mohamed Sengu, highlights severe violations of human rights and mandates compensation for the victims.

The court condemned the Nigerian government’s response to the peaceful protests, noting the excessive and lethal force used by security forces. The court found that live rounds were fired into the crowd of unarmed protesters, causing numerous casualties. This, it said, constituted a breach of multiple international human rights standards, including Articles 1, 5, 6, 9, 10, and 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

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In his ruling, Justice Sengu stated, “The disproportionate use of force by the Nigerian security forces at the Lekki Tollgate was unnecessary and violated the fundamental rights of the protesters to life, liberty, security, and freedom of assembly and expression.”

Following the decision, the court ordered the Nigerian government to pay N2 million in compensation to each of the victims named in the suit. It also mandated the government to conduct thorough investigations into the human rights abuses that occurred, to implement the outcomes of these investigations.

Additionally, the government was instructed to report back to the court within six months with an update on both the compensation and the progress of the inquiry.

The Backstory of the Legal Battle

The case was brought before the ECOWAS Court by a coalition of human rights activists and organizations, alleging severe human rights violations by Nigerian security forces.

Amnesty International also submitted an Amicus Brief, which the court admitted. The court’s decision was based on a comprehensive examination of evidence and testimonies, which confirmed the government’s use of excessive force and its failure to allow the protesters their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association.

Bolaji Gabari, lead counsel for the applicants, hailed the ruling as a significant victory for the #EndSARS movement.

“This judgment is an acknowledgment that citizens’ rights were violated and that abuses occurred at Lekki Tollgate,” Gabari said. “We urge the Nigerian government to comply fully with the court’s orders and address the systemic issues identified in the judgment.”

Mojirayo Ogunlana, another counsel of the applicants, recalled that the Nigerian government initially failed to present a defense until 2023. When it finally did, the government claimed the EndSARS peaceful protest was unlawful and perpetuated by hoodlums.

“The landmark ruling by the ECOWAS Court in favor of EndSARS victims is a powerful affirmation of justice and a significant step towards healing and accountability for the Lekki Tollgate tragedy,” added Nelson Olanipekun, Executive Director at Gavel, the coordinating organization for the coalition.

The EndSARS Story

On October 20, 2020, Nigerian security forces fired at peaceful and unarmed protesters at the Lekki Tollgate, marking a violent end to the #EndSARS protests. These protests had begun organically in Delta State 17 days earlier and quickly spread across the country, with calls for justice against police brutality.

In December 2021, three victims brought the case, Obianuju Catherine & 2 Others v. Federal Republic of Nigeria (ECW/CCJ/APP/72/2021), before the ECOWAS Court to seek justice for themselves and others affected by the violations. The court’s verdict builds on findings from a judicial panel set up by the Lagos State government, which concluded that Nigerian Army officers “provocatively and unjustifiably” shot at and killed several #EndSARS protesters.

In November 2021, a judicial panel set up on October 19, 2020, by the Lagos State government to probe the Lekki Massacre, concluded their investigation, after interviewing many witnesses and examining available evidence. It found that there was a killing of unarmed protesters by the Nigerian security forces at Lekki Toll Gate on October 20, 2020.

In a 309-page report, which was submitted to the Lagos State government, the panel reported that officers of the Nigerian Army “provocatively and unjustifiably” shot live bullets and killed several #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki Tollgate, and then took their corpses away.

The panel concluded its report, listing the names of those killed and making several key recommendations.

The panel called for disciplinary actions against officers who obstructed the investigation, specifically Lt. Col S.O. Bello and Major General Godwin Umelo, for refusing to honor the summons.

“All officers (excluding Major General Omata) and men of the Nigerian Army deployed to the Lekki Toll Gate on October 20, 2020, should face appropriate disciplinary action, be stripped of their status, and dismissed, as they are not fit and proper to serve in any public or security service of the nation,” the report stated.

Additionally, the panel recommended that all arrested protesters be granted bail and prosecuted if evidence exists or released immediately if no prima facie evidence is found.

The panel also advised against the Nigerian Army’s involvement in internal security matters.

Furthermore, the Divisional Police Officer of Maroko Police Station, along with officers deployed from the station on October 20th and 21st, 2020, should be prosecuted for arbitrary and indiscriminate shooting and killing of protesters.

Despite the government’s denial that the killings happened, in July 2023, A leaked memo addressed to the Lagos State Ministry of Health indicated that the State Government approved N61,285,000 for the mass burial of 103 persons identified as 2020 EndSARS victims, sparking outrage.

While the ruling by the ECOWAS Court brings a measure of reprieve to the victims, many have expressed concern that the Nigerian government, notorious for disobedience to court orders, will not abide by the judgment.

The government has yet to implement any of the recommendations made by the panel set up by the Lagos State Government. Nonetheless, many believe the judgment represents a crucial step towards justice and accountability for the victims of the Lekki Tollgate tragedy and the broader #EndSARS protest.

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