Beginning from January 2, 2012, millions of Nigerians, especially the youth, thronged the streets to take part in nationwide strikes and protests in response to the Nigerian government's withdrawal of subsidies on Premium Motor Spirit (petrol) on January 1, 2012. Overnight, fuel pump prices monumentally leaped from $1.70 per gallon (45 cents per liter) to at least $3.50 per gallon (94 cents per liter). The costs of food and transportation also doubled in a country where the majority of the population lives in abjectly poor conditions.
Under the auspices of the powerful protests, dubbed "Occupy Nigeria", Nigerians were not just expressing anger and outrage at the astronomical increase in goods and services and soaring hardship the subsidy cuts have propelled, but seized the opportunity to vigorously challenge official impunity, corruption, and profligacy by the government and political leaders. Many believed that the cutting petro-subsidies at a period when the country was already facing growing youth unemployment, rising insecurity, ethnic tensions and violent schisms that have a religious undertone, was ill-timed.
The Nigerian police, and other security personnel, were extremely violent and brutal in effecting their anti-protest operations – maiming, injuring and killing victims. The protests, which were generally peaceful, assumed frighteningly alarming dimensions when the government security operatives clamp down started on unarmed protesters, using excessive force, teargas canisters and lethal weapons to quell what they termed as violent riots. In many cases, security agents actively connived with state governments to unleash terror on citizens, in an effort to either intimidate or entirely prevent peaceful gatherings and assemblies protesting against the subsidy cuts.
Human rights atrocities soared. About 20 persons died in different parts of the country; scores received life-threatening injuries, while over 500 were arrested and cramped in detention centers across the federation, without any formal charges preferred against them. Majority of the casualties were aged between 18 – 35 years. At the back of these cold, impersonal statistics are the heart-wrenching experiences of blood-and-flesh people in intricate circumstances that involved “torture, terrorization, extra-judicial killings, loss of jobs, businesses, and properties, as well as of limb, liberty, loved ones, and life itself, among other gross violations of human rights.
This study aims to examine the disproportionate targeting of young persons with extreme violence and extra-judicial killings by government security agents during the “Occupy Nigeria” protests. It started by documenting the most important facts about what happened; but these facts are either already well-known or easily available to interested persons. Therefore, this study goes beyond the facts to identify and discuss their social, legal and human rights implications, complementing the necessary discussion around the identification of strategies for improving the dwindling expectations that the government would faithfully respect its obligations under the international human rights treaties that the country has ratified