Lekki shootings: US reaffirms visa ban policy for anti-democratic forces
The United States Government may impose a visa restriction on persons found culpable in the shooting of unarmed #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki Toll Plaza in Lagos on Tuesday.
This is just as the judicial panel set up by the Lagos State Government to probe the Lekki killings is set to begin investigation into the incident on Monday.
Soldiers deployed to quell the protests had opened fire on protesters. While the Defence headquarters has denied deploying soldiers in the Lekki Toll Plaza, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu insisted the military carried out the shooting on the peaceful protesters at the toll plaza.
The governor said, “For clarity, it is imperative to explain that no sitting governor controls the rules of engagement of the military. I have, nonetheless, ordered an investigation into the rules of engagement adopted by men of the Nigerian Army that were deployed to the Lekki tollgate last night.”
Although the casualty figure remains a subject of controversy, global rights group, Amnesty International, says 12 persons were killed in the incident.
Saturday PUNCH subsequently sent an email inquiry to the US Foreign Mission to Nigeria on whether those found wanting in the shootings would be banned from visiting the US.
The email enquiry read, “With regard to the shootings at the Lekki toll plaza in Lagos and attack on protesters in various parts of the country, will the United States Government be considering a visa ban on persons found wanting in the last few weeks?”
In its response, the embassy stated, “We stand by Secretary Pompeo’s statement of October 8, 2020: Adherence to these democratic norms and to the rule of law allows all citizens to engage in political dialogue and support their choice of candidates, parties, and platforms.
“We will watch closely the actions of individuals who interfere in the democratic process and will not hesitate to consider consequences – including visa restrictions.”
Earlier, senior officials of the United States Government on Thursday met with Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and expressed displeasure over the shootings.
Although the Nigerian Army had denied deploying soldiers to the scene, the US officials demanded that the soldiers behind the shootings be brought to justice.
The spokesperson for the State Department, Morgan Ortagus, said in a statement that the officials were led by the Counsellor of the US State Department, Ulrich Brechbühl.
Others at the meeting include Assistant Secretary Robert Destro and Assistant Secretary Denise Natali.
The officials, according to the statement, raised concerns over the ongoing violence in Nigeria as well as human rights violations and human trafficking.
The statement read in part, “Counsellor T. Ulrich Brechbühl met with Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo today in Abuja, Nigeria as part of a previously scheduled delegation, which included Assistant Secretary Robert Destro and Assistant Secretary Denise Natali, to raise US concerns about ongoing violence in Nigeria, human rights, religious freedom, and trafficking in persons, and to hear from senior Nigerian government officials how they are addressing those issues.
“The counsellor expressed the US condemnation of the use of excessive force by military forces that fired on unarmed demonstrators in Lagos. He expressed condolences to the victims of these shootings and urged the government of Nigeria to abide by its commitment to hold those responsible accountable under the law.”
According to the statement, Osinbajo as well as the counsellor noted that the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression are essential human rights and core democratic principles.
“Counsellor Brechbühl and Vice-President Osinbajo emphasised the importance of US and Nigerian collaboration on common goals of improving security cooperation and strengthening economic partnership to foster mutual prosperity,” the statement read.
The Nigerian Army had on Wednesday denied that soldiers were at the toll plaza despite eyewitnesses’ accounts and video evidence showing soldiers shooting.
International Criminal Court Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, had also acknowledged receipts of complaints over the incident.
She tweeted, “My office has been closely following the events around the current protests in Nigeria and the reaction of Nigeria’s law enforcement and security agencies.
“Any loss of life or injury is concerning. We have received information alleging crimes and are keeping a close eye on developments, in case violence escalates and any indications arise on that Rome Statute crimes may have been committed.”
However, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) made no mention of any investigation or arrest during his national broadcast on Thursday.