A Week in Nigeria: 31 October
Highlights from Reuters coverage of Nigeria over the last seven days
In this week’s round-up: Fallout from police protest shooting and unrest, judge strikes out test case against 47 men facing homosexuality charge, and ex-finance minister on brink of becoming WTO chief.
- The week was dominated by the fallout from the shooting of protesters campaigning against police brutality the week before. The shooting at a protest site in the upmarket Lekki district of Lagos on 20 October prompted global shock and condemnation. Witnesses said soldiers carried out the shooting. The army denied being at the site. Rights group Amnesty International accused the army and police of killing 12 people that night in two Lagos districts - Lekki and Alausa. This week saw a flurry of statements. The military, on Wednesday, said Lagos state government asked the army to intervene to restore order amid anti-police brutality protests, but soldiers did not shoot civilians. Amnesty disputed that statement.
- A clean-up operation began in the wake of street violence and widespread looting that followed the shootings. And an around-the-clock curfew that was imposed the week before was eased. Days earlier, groups of men armed with knives and sticks blocked major roads and burned buildings and street signs in Lagos as the city became the main flashpoint of the worst street violence since Nigeria’s return to civilian rule in 1999, and the most serious political crisis confronting President Muhammadu Buhari. We reported on how peaceful protests were followed by violence. That story featured the testimony of a protester who was at the site in Lekki when the shooting took place. “This place was a war zone,” he said. “The gunfire was relentless … I didn’t think we would see tomorrow.” One analyst said the parlous state of Africa’s biggest economy - battered by the coronavirus pandemic, with galloping double-digit inflation and high unemployment - meant the “perfect storm” had been brewing for some time.
- The judicial panel investigating police brutality and the shooting of protesters in Lagos convened on Monday, promising neutrality and justice. Independent investigations into police abuses were a core demand of the protesters who demonstrated nationwide for more than two weeks. On Tuesday, Okoliagu Abudike, a father of five, sought justice for what he said was a 47-day detention in 2012 at the hands of SARS officers that came after his boss accused him of theft. He said he bled profusely and lost two teeth as officers beat and tortured him, demanding he confess, and later took his car, generator and the deed to his house. “My boss then told me that I was going to die there,” he said. Despite a 2016 court ruling awarding him 10 million naira (more than $26,000), he said SARS paid nothing and did not discipline the officers. After about 30 minutes of testimony and questions, the eight-member panel said it would rule on Abudike’s case within 7–10 days. The day’s other cases were postponed. The panel will sit for six months. For a detailed chronology of events, from the viral video that sparked outrage to the protests and shooting, check out this podcast in which I made a guest appearance.
- A judge at the federal high court in Ikoyi, Lagos, threw out a case against 47 men charged with public displays of affection with members of the same sex, ending what had widely been seen as a test of the country’s laws banning homosexual relationships. The Nigerian law banning gay marriage, punishable by up to 14 years in prison, and same-sex “amorous relationships”, prompted an international outcry when it came into force under former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014. The men were arrested in a police raid on a Lagos hotel in the city’s Egbeda district in 2018. Police said the men were being initiated into a gay club, but the defendants said they were attending a birthday party. Prosecution and defence lawyers in the case had told Reuters nobody had yet been convicted under the law, which led to the case of the men being widely seen as a test case that could help to establish the burden of proof. Prosecutors failed to attend Tuesday’s hearing at the federal high court in Lagos, having previously failed to present some of their witnesses in a case that had been adjourned on several occasions. Justice Rilwan Aikawa struck out the case and said he had done so due to the “lack of diligent prosecution”. The specific charge the men faced, relating to public displays o f affection, carries a 10-year prison sentence. Outside the court, many of the men smiled and cheered. Under Nigerian law, defendants in a case that is struck out can be re-arrested and arraigned again on the same charge, whereas that is not possible in cases that have been dismissed. Taxi driver Onyeka Oguaghamba, a father-of-four who said he merely drove people to the party, said he was happy the case had been struck out but disappointed that it was not dismissed entirely. “I am not happy, because I’m looking for the matter to end in a way that people will see me and believe what I have been saying from the beginning,” he said, adding that the decision meant he could be charged again. Reuters has followed the men for more than a year, during which a number of the men said they had been stigmatized as a result of the raid and a televised news conference held by police in which they were identified the day after their arrest.
- Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was on the verge of winning the race to become the next head of the World Trade Organization. After weeks of consultations, three WTO ambassadors, the “troika” charged with finding a successor to Brazilian Roberto Azevedo, announced at a meeting in Geneva on Wednesday that the former Nigerian finance minister should be the next chief as she had secured cross-regional backing. The selection process was thrown into turmoil after the United States rejected Okonjo-Iweala. The decision needs to be approved by consensus, meaning any of the 164 WTO members could block her appointment. “All of the delegations that expressed their views today expressed very strong support for the process, for the troika and for the outcome. Except for one,” WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell told reporters after the closed-door meeting, specifying that the one was the United States. The U.S. Trade Representative’s office later released a statement officially backing the only other remaining candidate, South Korean trade minister Yoo Myung-hee, praising her as a successful trade negotiator with the skills needed to lead the trade body at a “very difficult time”, adding: “It must be led by someone with real, hands-on experience in the field,” it said in a possible dig at the Nigerian candidate whom critics say has lacks technical knowledge of multilateral trade talks. William Reinsch, a former senior Commerce Department official now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies said the U.S. move was likely to worsen trade tensions already running high within the WTO. “It’s very Trumpian. They’re basically saying ‘We want to get our way and we’re willing to throw sand in the gears if we don’t get it’,” he said, adding that it was possibly a bid to gain concessions in other disputes. Meanwhile, Nigeria said it is reaching out to the U.S. and South Korea in a bid to persuade them to back Okonjo-Iweala. Next steps are uncertain but WTO’s Rockwell said there was likely to be “frenzied activity” before the Nov. 9 meeting to secure the required consensus.