Magnus Eze, Enugu, Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja, Sola Ojo, Kaduna, Chukwudi Nweje, Lukman Olabiyi and Romanus Okoye
EndSARS protest organised by youths to draw attention to the high-handedness of a section of the Nigerian Police Force has taken a new twist with the decision by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to beam its searchlight on alleged killings and right abuses by security operatives.
The ICC had confirmed to the BBC that it was conducting a preliminary examination into recent #EndSARS protests in Nigeria. In a statement, the office of the ICC prosecutor said it had received information on alleged crimes.
The examination will “assess whether the legal criteria for opening an investigation under the Rome Statute are met.”
The ICC said it would make findings of the preliminary examination public.
For 15 days, peaceful protesters had gathered in streets in major towns to demonstrate against police brutality, leading to a crackdown. No fewer than 51 civilians, 11 police officers and seven soldiers were killed, according to President Muhammadu Buhari.
Following the crackdown, particularly the shooting in Lekki, Lagos, organisers of the #EndSARS protests opened an on-line register to collect signatures for ICC to pursue a case of crimes against humanity against President Buhari.
Chief of Army of Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, had earlier rebuffed threats on him and other members of the President Buhari administration appearing before the ICC.
But Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, yesterday, it was not aware of ICC investigation. A highly placed source told Daily Sun the ministry was yet to be informed about the development.
“We have an embassy in the Hague. That is where ICC is. So, if there is anything like that, the mission there will be duly informed and they will on their own inform us. We have channels of communication.”
Notwithstanding, Nigerians have commended the ICC for opening preliminary inquiry into the harassment and brutality by security operatives against peaceful demonstrators.
Chief Mike Ozekhome, senior lawyer and rights activist, Habeeb Lawal, former Assistant National Publicity Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Lanre Arogundade, executive director, International Press Centre (IPC) and others described the inquiry as a welcome development.
“It will teach our leaders that it can no longer be business as usual; that, the world has become a global village where a slap on one is a slap on all; a world where impunity has run out of currency; a world where atrocities committed by state actors cannot be regarded as the mere domestic affair of that country because of the doctrine of sovereignty and the non-interference of one state in the affairs of another. Happy days are arriving,” he said.
Lawal expressed hope that the ICC would collaborate with the various judicial panels of inquiry across the 36 states of the federation.
“It is unfortunate for the Nigerian government that it has to get to this, but this remains a welcome development.”
Another lawyer, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike, former president Aka Ikenga claimed the Buhari administration thrives on subverting the constitutional rights of freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and liberty.
“The people of Nigeria and the world followed the protests and the subsequent contradictory statements from the Nigerian government. Besides, the protests took place all over the Nigerian embassies. So, the ingredients for a crime against humanity are too open for the ICC to ignore.”
Also reacting, the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) and the Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF) said the investigation should not be a smokescreen but see to the eventual prosecution of the culprits.
They also called for the investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of recent killing of Igbo youths in Enugu as well as in Oyigbo, Rivers State.
For Dave Ajetomobi, former NBA chairman, Ikeja branch, the move is commendable just as Dave Ajetomobi, former NBA chairman, Ikeja branch, commended the move.
Another lawyer and rights activist, Maduka Onwukeme, said as a signatory to the Rome Statute, the is a step in the right direction.
As far as Mr. Arogundade is concerned, “any constitutional means that would allow justice to be done in the matter should be commended by all well-meaning Nigerians. It would serve as a warning to leaders trampling on the right of citizens that even though they might escape the arm of justice in the country, they would not escape they would account for their action one way or another.”
Another lawyer and former president of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Malachy Ugwummadu, said there are basically three or four categories of criminal conducts that could validly invoke the jurisdiction of ICC including: crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity and acts of aggression.
“Crimes against humanity include deliberate acts of extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, impoverishment, rape, forced abortion, persecution on political, religious and gender grounds etc.
“Thus, from this broad definition, it is not only the IGP that is qualified for prosecution for obvious cases of crimes against humanity, virtually all heads of Nigerian law enforcement agencies are eligible candidates at ICC for the numerous and documented cases of extra-judicial killings and violence against the Nigerian people.
Folake Yobah, managing director of Skyhigh Security Lt also hailed the intervention as a right step in the right direction.
“This really shows that the world is a global village. What happens in Nigeria will affect the world…We’re happy that the issue is being handled in international court.”