#EndSARS Protests Cause Extensive Press Freedom, Freedom of Expression Violations 

The Media Foundation for West Africa’s (MFWA) monitoring of the #EndSARS protests in Nigeria has recorded at least 12 protesters killed, several journalists assaulted by security forces, with five media outlets reportedly attacked by suspected hoodlums.

The protests against police brutality have ballooned into demonstrations making broader demands for an end to bad governance, corruption, unemployment and a deteriorating economy.

On October 11, 2020, the police arrested Gimba Kakanda, a reporter with the Daily Trust in Abuja and manhandled him at the police station. Kakanda reported that the police deflated the tyres of his car and threatened to shoot him.

On same the same day, Ferdinand Duruoha and Francis Ogbonna, both of ARISE TV, Abuja were brutalised by security officers. In a video clip, Duruoha narrated that he and his colleague were interviewing protesters live on Twitter when they were attacked by policemen. In the process, Ogbonna was hit on the head with batons while his camera was broken. He was later taken to the hospital for treatment.

Two other journalists from The Punch Newspapers, Segun Odunayo and Femi Dawodu, were also assaulted by the police on October 21, while they were covering the protest at the Alausa area in Lagos.

According to Odunayo, about 20 policemen assaulted him and Dawodu for over two hours for doing live videos of the security forces assault of the protesters. Odunayo told MFWA that despite showing them their identification cards, the police officers kept on assaulting them and even threatening to shoot at them.

“They didn’t want the people to see how they were brutalising protesters. So they asked us to go live on our newspaper’s Facebook page and tell Nigerians that no protester was beaten. Of course, we insisted that we would never do that – because we saw protesters being beaten. Our stubbornness got them furious, so they started to assault us,” Odunayo narrated. “They seized our cameras and smartphones, and stripped us of our clothes to see if we had hidden cameras on our bodies.

Odunayo said the police took him and his two other colleagues to the DPO’s office. The police spokesperson who was asked by the DPO to receive the journalists, apologised for the assault and ordered his colleagues to return the seized cameras and phones.

However, the police spokesperson in Lagos, Muyiwa Adejobi, has denied that any journalists were brutalised.

“We have intervened in the matter. I advise journalists who want to be covering events live to link up with the DPOs or Area Commanders on the ground. The Punch men have been accordingly advised and the matter has been settled. No one brutalised them,” Adejobi told MFWA reacted via a text message.

On October 23, a group of overzealous police officers brutalised Akpokona Omafuaire, a reporter/photojournalist with Vanguard Newspapers at Ekete, Udu area in Delta State.

The Sunday Vanguard reports that the policemen were among security agents deployed in the area to implement a 48-hour curfew to curb the #EndSARS protest violence. The police officers reportedly whipped the journalist, cut with a cutlass and hit him with the butt of a gun. Akpokona, who was on his way to an official assignment, had his car damaged by the police as well.

Media outlets burned

Meanwhile, four media houses have been set on fire and three others vandalised since the outbreak of the violent protests. On October 21, during the curfew declared in Lagos, the offices of three media outlets in the commercial capital were torched by suspected hoodlums who went on the rampage, destroying public and private property.

The media outlets that were torched in include Television Continental and The Nation Newspapers both reportedly linked to Bola Ahmed Tinubu, national Chairman of the ruling All Progressive Congress, Nigeria’s ruling party. The others are Channels Television and the public-owned Osun State Broadcasting Corporation in Osogbo, Osun State.

Footages shared by journalists working at the media houses showed newsrooms set ablaze with properties like laptops and printers looted. Journalists were seen running for their lives in some of the videos that surfaced online.

Africa Independent Television and Ray Power Radio were forced to suspend broadcasting following similar attacks.

The authorities blame the religious organisations and the media for the violence. The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, says the escalation is “from radio and television programs, in which bile is spewed. From talk shows which become a harangue of government, newspaper articles and columns tailored to instigate and generate dissent, and the like.”

12 protesters killed in Lagos

On October 20, the governor of Lagos State, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, declared a 24-hour curfew, saying that some hoodlums had hijacked the peaceful protests. In spite of the curfew, protesters gathered at the Lekki Tollgate, a growing middle-class area in the city and an epicentre of the #EndSARS protests. The protesters sat on the ground and as it got darker, witnesses said the streetlights were switched off and CCTVs removed by some persons, a move suspected to have been ordered by the authorities.

As this happened, an eyewitness Shola Adenekan, said he saw about a dozen vans arriving with police and soldiers at around 7 pm, and started shooting.

“They cornered us before they started shooting. We didn’t provoke them,” Adenekan told MFWA.

A live video streamed by a popular disc jockey, DJ Switch, also showed several wounded people lying on the ground.

The Nigerian Army has denied deploying soldiers to the Lekki Tollgate and has described the videos of the killings as “photoshopped.”

State governor, Sanwo-Olu, however, insists that soldiers were deployed and that 30 protesters were injured and were being treated in hospitals, with only one person dead from gunshot injuries. But media reports quoting eye witnesses say that at least 12 protesters have died from attacks by security forces in Lagos.

Amnesty International also mentioned 12 protesters killed, adding that it had received “credible but disturbing evidence of excessive use of force occasioning deaths of protesters at Lekki tollgate.”

President Buhari addressed the country on October 22, but failed to mention the killings at Lekki which have generated international condemnation from the United States, the United Kingdom, the International Criminal Court, and the African Union, among others.

World leaders like the US presidential candidate Joe Biden, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Ghanaian president Nana Akufo-Addo, and celebrities have also called for calm and urged President Buhari to dialogue with the protesters.

#EndSARS protests

The #EndSARS demonstrations started on October 8 a few days after operatives of the now-disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigeria Police Force allegedly shot a youth in Ughelli, a town in oil-rich Delta State in Nigeria.

The police denied shooting the youth, despite video evidence which went viral on social media. The person who made the video was also arrested, causing massive outrage that sparked street demonstrations characterised by violence from the police and protesters alike.

The incident sparked calls by Nigerian youths as it was notorious for extortions, killings and brutality. The calls to disband the repressive police unit were tagged with the hashtag #EndSARS on Twitter. Other hashtags created for the movement include #EndPoliceBrutality, #ReformThePolice

The movement soon gained traction, with celebrities in Nigeria and abroad lending their voices to it. Protests grew in several cities and online, particularly Twitter, whose CEO, Jack Dorsey, also expressed support for the movement and called for donations to the cause.

Three days after the protest, President Muhammadu Buhari, an ex-military ruler in the 1980s, disbanded the SARS. But as the government quickly announced the creation of a similar police unit called Special Weapons and Tactics team (SWAT) and there was no word on prosecuting SARS operatives who allegedly committed killings and extortions, protesters got angrier and continued demonstrating, which encompassed larger demands like an end to bad governance and lack of accountability.

The right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression are essential human rights and core democratic principles. Consequently, MFWA strongly condemns the use of excessive force by security forces who fired at on unarmed demonstrators in Lagos, causing death and injury.  Those involved should be held to account in accordance with the law. We also condemn the attacks on media houses and journalists by protesters and security forces respectively. We call on the authorities to investigate these press freedom violations and punish the perpetrators.

Finally, MFWA urges the security forces to show maximum restraint, to respect fundamental rights and protect peaceful demonstrators, while we call on the demonstrators to avoid excesses.

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