More than 100 people who died in Nigeria in 2020 during protests against police brutality will soon be buried, Nigerian authorities said, prompting allegations by activists on Monday of a cover-up and calls for a new investigation.
The top official at Lagos State’s Ministry of Health, Dr. Olusegun Ogboye, announced the burial plan of at least 103 people after local media leaked a memo about it, provoking criticism from rights groups and activists who demanded a new investigation of the killings.
Ogboye said the fatalities occurred during violence in many parts of the state and not at a protest site at the Lekki toll gate. the rallying hotbed where soldiers allegedly shot protesters.
“For the avoidance of doubt, nobody was retrieved from the Lekki Toll Gate incident,” the health ministry said in a statement.
Thousands across Nigeria marched in October 2020 in protests, known as #EndSARS movement, against the activities of the now-disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a unit accused of police brutality.
The new information about the deaths shows authorities in the West African nation are still covering up the true casualty toll from the protest and are still protecting security personnel who killed protesters, Amnesty International’s Nigeria office said as it demanded a new probe into the killings. Nigerian officials had said 51 civilians and 18 security personnel were killed during the unrest in Lagos and other parts of the country.
“Men associated with the government directly or indirectly … and sponsored thugs attacked and injured, and in some cases killed protesters. You can see the government shifting the goal post every now and then, which shows a lack of honesty,” the group’s Nigeria director, Isa Sanusi, told The Associated Press.
An investigative panel set up by the Lagos state government concluded that the armed forces shot and killed unarmed protesters in what could be considered a “massacre,” according to a leaked copy of the report.
Many activists questioned the decision of the Lagos government not to announce the planned burial until after news of it broke, but authorities denied any cover-up.
“Decongestion of our public morgues is a periodic and regular exercise approved by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to free up space in mortuaries that have a large number of unclaimed bodies,” Ogboye said.
Oke Ridwan, a lawyer who helped fight for the release of some of the arrested protesters, said the government must prosecute those responsible for the killings. “We can’t move on from this until that is done. Everyone involved in killing Nigerian citizens must be severely punished and made known to the public,” he said.
Information for this report came from The Associated Press and AFP.