Joshua Samuel painfully recalls the day, a year ago, when Nigerian soldiers opened fire on him and his colleagues who were protesting against police brutality.
People started running, screaming, people were falling, stumbling,” said Samuel, 23, recounting what happened on October 20, 2020, at the Lekki toll station in Lagos. I was shot in the back.
Samuel, who is still recovering from his injuries, is unemployed and homeless, and has not received any assistance from the government.
“Of course I am not well. Every time I talk it hurts”, he said when interviewed by The Associated Press.
Samuel is one of more than 100 Nigerians who are still waiting for a response to their claims for compensation and justice for what they describe as police brutality. They handed their grievances to a government commission investigating both the Oct. 20 events and previous allegations of abuse by uniformed officers.
The protests were against a police unit known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), accused of violence, wrongful arrests and bribery. The movement, dubbed #EndSARS, peaked last year when 38 demonstrators were gunned down in protest, according to the local chapter of Amnesty International.
Another 69 protesters and police were killed in the days leading up to the Oct. 20 protests, in days of violence in which many government buildings and police barracks were torched, according to President Muhammadu Buhari.
Buhari vowed that his government would never allow such an outbreak of violence again, and there was a heavy police presence on Wednesday, the first anniversary of the protests, when hundreds of people marched and police fired tear gas. At least four were arrested, authorities reported.
The anti-robbery squad has been accused of illegally arresting, torturing and extorting Nigerian youths, according to victims’ testimonies. Between 2017 and 2020, Amnesty International received 82 allegations of torture by the squad, with the government doing nothing about it.
The Nigerian government disbanded the accused police unit, and promised compensation and justice for the victims.
But Damian Ugwu of Amnesty International’s Nigerian chapter says: The authorities have no intention of fulfilling that promise.
In Nigeria, prosecutions for allegations of police brutality are extremely slow, and accused police officers often get off scot-free.
And while the police unit has been disbanded, many Nigerians complain that police brutality continues.
Ayobami Adesina, 29, was sleeping in his home in Oyo, a state in southwestern Nigeria, when police stormed in last November and took him away. His family spent two weeks searching for him, thinking someone had kidnapped him, said his sister, Kemi Adesina.
They eventually learned that he had been arrested, along with 10 others, accused of killing police officers during protests. He was imprisoned for six months before he was even brought to trial, his sister says.
There is no indication, nothing to say he had anything to do with this, Kemi said.
More than 200 protesters remain in jail in Lagos and some have not even been charged with any crime, nor have they been brought to court, says Nicholas Mba, who was released on bail after eight years in prison on charges of arson during the protests. He has yet to be tried.
“The first night in jail was the worst night of my life”, said Mba, 33.
There were more than 1,000 people, all accused of the protests, and some to this day have not been brought to court, have not even been able to communicate with their families, he added.
Oke Ridwan, a lawyer who has helped some of those arrested, says he has secured the release of about 70 of them, whose charges were dropped.
Following the protests, Nigerian authorities set up commissions in each of the country’s provinces and in the capital, Abuja, to receive complaints of police brutality and claims for compensation.
In Lagos, the commission received more than 235 petitions, said Tony Eze, who represents the Nigerian Bar Association at the hearings.
Some $637,470 has been paid to 47 claimants, but many are still waiting. Among them is 39-year-old Nicholas Okpe.
Okpe told the AP that he was shot in the chest and one year later, he still has an open wound, but cannot afford to pay a doctor. He says he has not received any assistance from the government.
I am just thankful to God that I am alive. I haven’t worked since that day, says Okpe, who used to work as a bus driver.
A large number of petitions are still pending and at least nine provinces have postponed their hearings indefinitely, claimants and Amnesty International told the AP.
One of the petitioners whose claim was postponed was Chijioke Iloanya, who was arrested by SARS members in 2012 in Anambra, a province in southeastern Nigeria. Police told the family that Iloanya died in detention, said his sister, Obianuju Iloanya. The AP has been unable to independently confirm how he died.
Ugwu, the Amnesty International official, said the commissions face severe problems, including secret hearings, lack of funding, lack of cooperation from the police and endless delays in proceedings.
“We need a special court to look into fundamental human rights violations in Nigeria and to be able to punish guilty police officers,” said Ridwan.