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Black Lives Matter Co-Founder urges Nigeria to free jailed anti-SARs protesters

Updated: Jun 21, 2021

Reuters today reported that a group of activists and celebrities including the Cofounder of the Black Lives Matter movement Opal Tometi and climate change campaigner Greta Thunberg, signed an open letter to Nigeria's president Muhammadu Buhari, demanding that he hold accountable security personnel accused of shooting anti-SARs protesters.

The letter also demands the release of jailed police protesters, the lift on ban to protest and the allowance of an independent human rights monitor to investigate the actions that led to the killings at Lekki Toll Gate.

Speaking from Los Angeles on a Zoom conference call, Opal Tometi tells Reuters that;

"We care about the issues of police brutality no matter where they're occurring. The violence that people have been met with is intolerable. People are missing and people have died as a consequence of speaking out," Tometi said. "We will not abide it."

While we see the value in this open letter issued by Opal Tometi, there are number of issues to address, so please read on.

Let's address the elephant in the room

There was a protest, it started off peacefully, it later degenerated in violence, looting, destruction of public properties, an assassination attempt, the alleged murder of peaceful protesters at Lekki Toll Gate and the alleged murder of Nigerian police men and military officers.

What do we know for certain?

Nigerian's have the legal right to protest peacefully, which they did. But a combination of built up emotions, frustration and juvenile deliquency led some parties of holigans to deviate from the original purpose of the protest. They looted, they burnt buildings and destroyed public properties, all of which is a crime and someone has to be held account for this.

Was continuous protesting the best course of action to solve a 60 years problem?

We cannot speak for every Nigerian but let us analyse this. Historically speaking, this is not the first time protests have happened in Nigeria. One of the most popular ones was the June 12 election annulment protest after the then military ruler Ibrahim Babangida annulled a perfectly legal election. Nigerian security forces ended up killing at least 11 demonstrators but nothing changed and Abiola was never president.

There has been more than three coups in Nigeria all in the name of change and yet nothing changed. In January 1993, MOSOP organised peaceful marches of around 300,000 Ogoni people through four Ogoni urban centres, drawing international attention to their people's plight. The same year the Nigerian military government occupied the region and there was no change. Instead an icon Ken Saro Wiwa was executed for a crime he stated he did not commit.

We can go on and on but the point here is history has not been favourable to protesters in Nigeria, both during military rule and democratic rule. This could be because of a number of reasons such as a culture of oppression and corruption within Nigeria. What we do know is, out of 200 million people in Nigeria, there are roughly 54 million people unemployed and 1/3 of Nigeria's populaton is below the ages of 30. Unemployment and youth do not go well with protests in any country.

Alleged killing during the antiSARs protest

Both sides and i mean the government and the protesters have accused each other murder. In terms of evidence, there seems to be an abundance of video and pictures showing that the Nigerian military did shoot at peaceful protesters. On the other hand, we have seen a video of a senior police officer being lynched and killed by what appears to be antiSARs protesters. Again, we cannot confirm anything as deepfaking videos has become quite easy these days.

The double edge sword of Nigerian justice

If we were to assume for a second that the available video evidence of what happened during the antiSARs protests were all accurate, then the Nigerian government has breached the humanitarian right of the Nigerian people by killing peaceful protesters and they should be held to account by the international community. On the other hand, the protesters that commited crimes such as killing police officers (if the videos are real), burning of public property, looting, stealing and even allegedly breaking prisoners out of prison in Benin City, should be held to account by the Nigerian government and given a fair trial.

Where does this leave Opal Tometi's open letter to the Nigerian president?

We believe her letter is based on the assumption that the protesters who are imprisoned did nothing but protest peacefully. This is where the problem lies, there were protesters that went about their business peacefully but there were protesters that didn't. We can only summarise that Opal Tometi is telling the government to release all the protesters (both the guilty and innocent ones) and to also prosecute the military officers that killed protesters at Lekki tollgate. It seems hypocritical to ask for justice and yet also ask for protesters who caused destruction to be released.

What did we conclude?

  1. The military personnel responsible for the deaths of protesters at Lekki tollgate should be brought to justice and given their day in court like any other democratic justice system.

  2. The protesters that commited crimes during the antiSARs protest should be held to account and brought to justice also. If Nigeria wants change then there cannot be double standards when dealing with crime.

  3. The Nigerian government should allow an independent humanitarian body to investigate the deaths at Lekki tollgate, the protesters that have been arrested and the protesters that have vanished. This is the only way the international community will ever trust Nigeria again. This is a point highlighted by the open letter to the president and we applaud Opal Tometi for this.

  4. Black Lives Matter should focus on only humanitarian issues and leave political issues for other movements. BLM is now the cornerstone for protesting against racial injustice against black people. One of the arguements we constantly have in the western world is that BLM is not political nor is taking the knee during an event. It is a humanitarian movement with no political agenda. That doesn't seem to be the case, as the actual organisation called BLM has involved themselves in alot of political issues in the US such as campaigning to reduce police numbers in local communities instead of campaigning to educate them.

We conclude by saying:

Yes the peaceful protesters should be exonerated and released from jail, yes the military officers responsible for the Lekki tollgate killing should be arrested and given their day in court, but no the protesters who damaged public properties, looted or killed people should remain in jail and be given their day in court also, otherwise it is one sided justice.
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