Written by Barry Neild, CNN Director of Specialist Assignment, and Joseph Wakim, CNN
As Nigeria reels from a shootout in which 45 people were killed and dozens of others wounded, civil society activists, politicians and religious leaders have demanded accountability from the army for the bloodshed.
Residents of Lekki, a suburb of Lagos, allege that soldiers from Nigerian Special Forces, (Nigerian Army) have killed dozens of civilians during routine operations between February 24 and April 5, 2018.
Though the Nigerian Army has confirmed 18 deaths, but the numbers — equivalent to 20% of the 30,000-strong Special Forces — have sparked outrage and an independent, civilian led panel has been set up to investigate the matter.
The team, which will also look into incidents that took place since the commencement of Operation Ayem Akpatuma, (Python Dance) 1, was established by Lagos State Government. The team comprises 47 experts, including lawyers, medical doctors, psychologists, public health experts, and community activists.
Meanwhile, a socio-religious organization, the Nigerian Council of Muslim Students’ Societies (NCSS), has demanded that military personnel found to be culpable be arrested and prosecuted.
The group, which described the incident as a “massacre” and also demanded the immediate release of government officials involved in the operations, also plans to hold a protest march on Thursday April 12, 2018.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has vowed an investigation into the shootings, but in the meantime, the team is looking into the incident, interviewing witnesses and seeking to establish the true circumstances of the incident.
According to the team, a large crowd of illegal traders and residents of the area were gathered in front of the toll gate when the operation started, demanding an official explanation for the soldiers, which included the posting of troops.
The response came in the form of live fire, and the gunshots quickly spread to the residential communities nearby. The use of weapons, however, was not in breach of the Nigeria Constitution.
The newly formed team will also look into other incidents in which the military killed or wounded Nigerians on “questionable” charges, which may have led to the operation.
The team’s findings will be laid bare to the public when it is submitted, though the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, also on the panel, has indicated its willingness to draft a report on the matter.
According to the United Nations, the uprising in Niger and nearby countries — and especially in the northern part of Nigeria — is directly related to Nigeria’s humanitarian crisis, which since 2013 has seen more than 11 million people internally displaced and thousands killed.