Members of the United Kingdom Parliament on Monday, November 23, 2020 vowed support for the imposition of targeted sanctions against members of the Nigerian government and security forces over human rights violations.

The House of Commons' Petitions Committee considered e-petition 554150, relating to Nigeria and the sanctions regime, after it was signed by over 220,000 UK residents.

The petition suggests the UK Government should consider using the Magnitsky sanctions regime to impose sanctions on those determined to have been involved in any human rights abuse in the recent crisis in Nigeria.

Hundreds of Nigerians started nationwide demonstrations in the streets against the extra-judicial activities of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force.

Even though the notorious unit was dissolved by the government one week into the protests, many doubted the government's resolve and continued the peaceful demonstrations which increasingly turned violent due to crackdown from police officers and armed thugs who maimed and killed protesters.

The demonstrations eventually culminated in the deadly attack by soldiers on peaceful protesters in the Lekki area of Lagos on October 20, an attack that led to the death of a yet-to-be-determined number of protesters.

Members of the UK Parliament agreed that a generalised, old-style sanctions applied to Nigeria might cause hardship to ordinary people, but noted that targeted Magnitsky-type sanctions can be imposed on known individuals responsible for the human rights violations.

"I believe that the petitioners have a credible case for the imposition of individualised sanctions such as travel bans and asset freezes," said Member for Chipping Barnet, Theresa Villiers.

Member for Chipping Barnet, Theresa Villiers, led the debate on Monday [ENDS Report]
Member for Chipping Barnet, Theresa Villiers, led the debate on Monday [ENDS Report]

Since the Lekki incident, the government has harshly cracked down on those who participated in the peaceful demonstrations, with many arrested and detained for longer than constitutionally-allowed.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) also secured a court order to freeze the bank accounts of 20 #EndSARS campaigners due to suspected terrorism financing.

The victims of the freeze had raised or received funds to bankroll sustenance, medical emergencies, and legal aid for the protesters.

Member for Edmonton, Kate Osamor, described these acts as undemocratic conduct that should be condemned.

"The UK should not be safe haven for anyone who denies their own citizens the same freedoms they have come to enjoy in the UK," she said.

Member for Coventry North West, Taiwo Owatemi, a British-Nigerian, said travel bans and asset seizure sanctions should be imposed on those found responsible for the violations, in addition to other actions.

"Although our discussion of sanctions is crucial to determining how we as a nation respond to the violence that has cumulated in the recent #EndSARS movement, it can only be the tip of the iceberg," she said.

The MPs also expressed little confidence in the investigative panels set up by Nigerian Federal and State Governments to probe the human rights violations.

Owatemi said the United Nations (UN) should investigate the allegations so as to begin a process of securing justice for victims and their families.

Member for Cardiff South and Penarth, Stephen Doughty, also noted that independent investigations will be crucial to resolving the crisis and putting the Nigerian government on its toes.

Responding on behalf of the UK government, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, Wendy Morton, said the government has been following developments in Nigeria very closely since the protests.

"We condemn violence by any party, and in doing so make an important distinction between the rioting and looting that took place and the original, peaceful protest movement," she said.

She said the government is closely monitoring Nigeria's progress on police reform.

However, despite the overwhelming support for sanctions from MPs, she was non-committal on if sanctions will be imposed on Nigerian officials.

She said, "It is a long-standing practice not to speculate on future sanctions designations, as doing so could reduce their impact.

"The sanctions regime complements our ongoing human rights activities around the world and demonstrates this country's commitment to being a force for good, and we will continue to keep all evidence and potential listings under very close review."

She vowed that the UK government will continue to press the Nigerian government on upholding human rights.