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Nigeria Violates International Legal Standard With Use Of Firearms On Unarmed Citizens

Many Nigerians have died in the past decade for exercising their right to protest due to excessive use of force and firearms by security operatives.

Isiaka Jimoh, 20, had his life cut short at the Under G area of Ogbomoso, Oyo State, Southwest Nigeria, on Oct. 10, 2020 after he was shot dead by a one of the police officers who were trying to disperse #EndSARS protesters.

The deceased’s father, Raji Jimoh, alleged that officers attached to Owode Police Division were responsible for the death of his son. 

He said late Isiaka had two bullet wounds on his yellow shorts and his sweatshirt changed from blue to red. The protesters who witnessed the ugly incident took him to a hospital but he didn’t survive it. 

Isiaka was one of many Nigerians who have died as a result of exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. 

Like the deceased, each time a protester is gunned down by security operatives, a family might have lost a father, husband, son or mother, sister, daughter, wife among others while justice often remains difficult to get.

Although the spokesperson of the Police Service Commission (PSC), Ikechukwu Ani,  claimed that security operatives must be fully armed at protest grounds for protection, media reports revealed that demonstrations with the presence of firearms mostly end in violence and destruction. 

Use of firearms causing deaths

Nigerian security forces have committed a catalogue of human rights violations and crimes under international laws in their reaction to  protests. 

In response to the procession of members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) in Zaria, Kaduna State, the military reportedly killed hundreds of men, women, and children between Dec. 12 and 14,  2015. 

Aside from this, subsequent protests by Shi’ite muslims for the release of their leader, Ibrahim Elzakzaky, and security confrontations have led to deaths of unarmed individuals, including bystanders. 

The police have also caused deaths in their response to the secessionist demands for Yoruba Nation by some groups in the Southwest and also Biafra secessionist agitation in the Southeast.  

In the last Yoruba Nation rally that was held in Lagos on July 3, 2021, bullets fired by police to disperse protesters killed a woman in her compound. 

Amnesty International also said security operatives carrying out repressive campaigns against Biafra Nation agitators  have excessively and unlawfully used force to kill many protesters. 

Protesting students are also not left out in the highhandedness of security forces during demonstrations. A student of the Kaduna State College of Education in Jema’a Local Government Area (LGA) of the state was killed by security operatives on June 28, 2021, for protesting against fee hike.

The incident was one of many instances where students have been attacked and killed for  protesting against irregularities. 

Unfortunately, journalists have also been victims of police excessive use of force while discharging their duties during  demonstrations. 

After the bloody shootings at Lekki toll gate on Oct. 20, 2020, a 20-year-old journalist, Pelumi Onifade was killed by the police on Oct. 24, 2020.

On Jan. 21, 2020, an editor with the local independent outlet Regent Africa Times, Alex Ogbu, was killed by police at a Shi’ite protest in Abuja. It was a repeat of what led to the death of Precious Owolabi, a 23-year-old general assignment reporter with Channels Television, on July 22, 2019. 

What the laws say

Intentional use of lethal force against people in a public order situation violates the right to life as guaranteed by Nigeria’s Constitution, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Nigeria is a party to the 1966 ICCPR in which Article 21 states that “the right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

The 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights law which Nigeria is  also a party to states in Article 11 that “every individual shall have the right to assemble freely with others.”  This is also outrightly explained in section 40 of  the 1999  constitution of the Federal  Republic of Nigeria. 

According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, law enforcement officials are expected to “avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.”

It states further that in the dispersal of violent assemblies, “a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.”

Despite provisions of local and international  laws, Nigeria fails to respect its international legal obligations to the people. Instead, the country’s security operatives continue the disproportionate  use of force and firearms in response to lawful protests.


Many Nigerians and various  civil groups have on several occasions expressed concern over the failure of the security operatives to adhere to the  international legal standard when dealing with protesters.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have also expressed displeasure over the gunshot wounds they usually attend to during most of Nigeria’s protests. 

Reacting to how Nigerians protesting injustice often meet more police brutality during demonstrations, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch, Anietie Ewang, said attack on protesters “underscores the importance of the protesters’ demands and the culture of impunity across the policing system, which is in dire need of reform.”

Amnesty International noted that protests play an important part in the civil life of all societies and improved protection of human rights, hence, security operatives must ensure that curfew and firearms are not used to curtail and stop citizens from exercising their right to protest.

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Adejumo Kabir

Kabir works at HumAngle as the Editor of Southern Operations. He is interested in community development reporting, human rights, social justice, and press freedom. He was a finalist in the student category of the African Fact-checking Award in 2018, a 2019 recipient of the Diamond Awards for Media Excellence, and a 2020 recipient of the Thomson Foundation Young Journalist Award. He was also nominated in the journalism category of The Future Awards Africa in 2020. He has been selected for various fellowships, including the 2020 Civic Media Lab Criminal Justice Reporting Fellowship and 2022 International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) 'In The Name of Religion' Fellowship.

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