Published October 20, 2021.

Protesting in Nigeria is an act of extreme courage. There have been countless moments in Nigeria’s history when the government responded with brutal force to peaceful protests. But none in recent history has been as violent and premeditated as the one we witnessed on the night of October 20, 2020.

I remember a friend frantically reaching out to me on that night, asking me to immediately get on Instagram to watch a video that was being livestreamed by Obianuju Catherine Udeh (aka DJ Switch). The video happened to be real time evidence of the Nigerian government’s lethal response to #EndSARS protesters who were at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos. Through her thoughtful documentation which was being broadcast to hundreds of thousands of people across the world, DJ Switch made us all see the Nigerian government’s utter disregard for the lives of its citizens. As difficult and heartbreaking as it was to watch her livestream, it was also necessary because it allowed us bear witness.

Screenshot of DJ Switch’s Instagram Live

 I do not want to imagine what the government’s narrative would have been if that livestream did not exist. Despite the several pieces of evidence that unequivocally shows the presence of Nigerian security forces on the scene, shooting at unarmed civilians, we are yet to see a single security agent being prosecuted or held to account. Rather, there have been denials aimed at discrediting credible voices and thorough investigations such as those carried out by CNN and Human Rights Watch that found that there were casualties that night as a result of the assault launched by State security forces against civilians. The lack of accountability one year after is very tragic and reinforces the fact that justice must never be dependent on political will.

In charting the path towards justice and accountability for victims of the 2020 #EndSARS protests, WITNESS organized a memorial event in Abuja tagged: From Capture to Justice. The event featured a photo exhibition of images from the #EndSARS protests, captured by Benson Ibeabuchi – a photographer based in Lagos.

A participant taking in the exhibition
A cross section of the audience

We also screened a short video produced by WITNESS that took the audience back to experience the many emotions from the protests. 

Then, considering that trustworthy video evidence will be integral to the pursuit of justice now and in the future, WITNESS launched the Bear Witness Kit which consists of a face cap and an accessories belt. Embedded in the face cap is a QR code which when scanned, will take the user to free resources that offer guidance on how to effectively use video to bear witness and expose injustice. The cap also features some 6 things to keep in mind when filming human rights abuses and these include: stating the time and date, filming landmarks, showing the identity of the perpetrator, maintaining personal safety, observing digital security, and holding each shot for at least 10 seconds. The combination of the cap and accessories belt will support citizen journalists and activists to more effectively film incidents of human rights abuse while staying safe, so that such evidence can be used to deliver justice for the victims.

The bravery shown by DJ Switch and other citizen journalists on October 20 is the reason we have evidence of the violations committed that night. But to ensure that we continue to advance towards justice, here are some key things that emerged during the panel discussion:

  1. Video evidence must continue to be used to counter lies and disinformation that are being propagated by bad actors about what happened in October 2020. Utilizing verified video evidence will help ensure that history is not rewritten as a result of unrelenting propaganda.
  2. The path towards justice is a marathon and not a sprint. The calls for police reform must therefore be sustained over time in order to see change. Calls for accountability must be directed not just at the Federal government, but also at State governments, and institutions such as the Police Service Commission which is vested with the authority to discipline and dismiss officers of the Nigeria Police Force.
  3. Strategic litigation should be explored as one of the ways for achieving accountability. Compelling pieces of video evidence of the crimes already exist. They now need to be used in litigation.
Panelists at the event. L-R: Dorothy Njemanze, Anietie Ewang, Kemi Okenyodo, Tola Onayemi

WITNESS will continue to support efforts geared towards using video evidence to hold perpetrators to account and and secure justice for victims.

If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch: africa@witness.org or @witness_africa (Twitter & Instagram)

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