AMIDST national crisis over the shooting of unarmed protesters at the Lekki Toll Plaza in Lagos on Tuesday, a delegation from the United States government has arrived in Nigeria. The team was at Aso Rock on Thursday to discuss with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo behind closed doors.
The team, according to the US Mission in Nigeria “discussed ongoing violence, the importance of allowing citizens to peacefully demonstrate, and accountability and justice for victims.”
The team comprises of US Assistant Secretary, Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, Bob Destro; US Assistant Secretary, Bureau for Conflict Stabilisation Operations, Denise Natali; the Counselor of the US Department of State, Thomas Ulrich Brechbuhl; and the Charge d’Affairs, US Embassy, Kathleen FitzGibbon.
A statement from the US Mission in Nigeria said the team raised US’ concerns about ongoing violence in Nigeria, human rights, religious freedom, and trafficking in persons and heard from senior Nigerian government officials how they were addressing those issues.
The statement said: “The Counselor expressed the US condemnation of the use of excessive force by military forces who fired on unarmed demonstrators in Lagos.
He expressed condolences to the victims of these shootings and urged the government of Nigeria to abide by its commitment to hold those responsible accountable under the law.”
Another message from the Mission on Friday afternoon disclosed that the team met with a broad spectrum of Federal Government officials, governors, human rights activists and civil society representatives, religious leaders, conflict mitigators, donor partners, and the police.
“Together, we continue our collaboration on our common goals of improving civilian security, promotion of human rights, and enhancing economic opportunities,” the message said.
Responding, Vice President Osinbajo expressed the hope that such cooperation would create better understanding of the issues.
He assured the visiting US officials that the plan of both the federal and state governments to investigate police brutality and prosecute erring police officers, create new state-based security and human rights committees, as well as provide compensation to victims of the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and other police units would be a game-changer in ensuring an end to impunity.
A statement issued by the Vice President’s spokesman, Laolu Akande, on Friday, said Osinbajo informed the delegation that at least 13 states in the country, including Lagos, had since established judicial panels “to seek justice and to compensate those whose rights have been breached.” While responding to the concerns of the US government on instances of impunity in the country, the vice president noted that these efforts were part of the Nigerian government’s commitment to implementing extensive police reforms.
He added that the establishment of judicial panels of inquiry nationwide would further ensure that the police and other security agencies ensure the protection of human rights of citizens.
The statement quoted Osinbajo as saying: “The concerns around impunity are some of the concerns that informed the establishment of judicial panels of inquiry across states.
Each state is now required to establish judicial inquiry that will look into cases of impunity, excessive use of force, extrajudicial killings etc, especially by law enforcement agents. “Aside from two representatives of civil society groups, these judicial panels will have youth representatives and a representative from the National Human Rights Commission, among others. Each state is also required to have what is called the Special Security and Human Rights Committee to ensure that law enforcement and security agencies protect the human rights of citizens.”
“Government is paying attention. The point we are making is that protests are a means to an end, but they cannot be the end. We are very optimistic that what we have put in place would eventually yield the best possible results for us.”
Osinbajo also highlighted what he termed false narratives about Nigeria, including the herder-farmer crisis, especially in North Central states and the politics behind the allegations. According to him, the herder-farmer crisis was exacerbated mainly because of land and resources struggle rather than the misinterpreted Christians-versus-Muslim narrative.