Amnesty International has condemned the excessive use of force by some of the members of the Nigerian security forces after three people were shot dead during a protest against demolition of homes in Rivers State on Monday.
Troops from the government’s Joint Task Force (JTF) and police used firearms to disperse a crowd demonstrating against a planned demolition in the Bundu waterfront community, Port Harcourt, leaving 11 seriously injured.
“The intentional use of lethal force is only permitted where strictly unavoidable in order to protect life,” said Amnesty International’s Africa director, Erwin Van der Borght .
“The government must promptly investigate any deaths or injuries resulting from the use of firearms by police and JTF. Those suspected of excessive use of force should be prosecuted in fair trials, in accordance with international standards without recourse to the death penalty.”
Violence flared after government authorities, accompanied by around 40 heavily armed soldiers and police officers, arrived in Bundu to assess buildings earmarked for demolition.
Locals, including women and children, confronted the soldiers and police. They demonstrated against the intended demolitions and blocked their entry into the community.
According to eyewitness accounts, two armoured vehicles drove into the crowd and soldiers and police officers then began firing.
Although most fired into the air, several security officers are reported to have fired directly into the surrounding crowd. Stray bullets are reported to have hit houses, shops and cars.
One eyewitness told Amnesty International that his sister was shot in the leg by a bullet fired into her house.
Some of the people who were shot reportedly fled into the water and escaped into the mangroves.
Eleven people were treated in hospital for gunshot wounds. Amnesty International also received reports that soldiers beat several people.
Twenty-three men were arrested and subsequently charged with conspiracy, breaching the peace of the community and destruction of public property. They were then taken to Port Harcourt prison.
According to Rivers State authorities, the security forces were fired on when they entered the community by people who “benefitted from the reign of lawlessness in Bundu waterfront”, forcing them to use their firearms in self-defence.
Members of the community and local NGOs deny this. No soldiers or police officers were injured.
Amnesty International has called on the federal and state governments to ensure that security forces only use force in a manner that complies with international human rights law and standards.
It was the second time in a week that the authorities had attempted to enter the community to assess buildings in Bundu, which is one of the largest waterfront communities in Port Harcourt.
The state government is in the process of demolishing the houses in several waterfront communities and has been paying compensation to owners of property.
Those who do not own their house or shop, or who are unable to prove it, do not receive any compensation or alternative housing.