US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to discuss domestic and regional security and West Africa’s democratic backsliding, including Abuja’s handling of anti-police brutality protests last year.
Blinken’s trip to Nigeria came days after a leaked report said the Nigerian army fired live rounds at peaceful protesters at a toll gate in Lagos in October 2020 and described the incident as a “massacre”.
Blinken said at a joint news conference with Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama depending on the report’s conclusions, authorities should “hold accountable any of those responsible for human rights abuses and do that in full transparency.”
Biden’s administration repeatedly advocates for human rights and works to improve democracies around the world is at the heart of its foreign policy, with critics saying promoting human rights often takes a back seat to preserving national security priorities.
Buhari, in the first official government comment on the substance of the toll gate shooting report, told Blinken his administration would take the lead from state governments which commissioned the report.
“We at the Federal Government have to wait for the states and have to allow the system to work. We can’t impose ideas on them,” Buhari said after meeting Blinken.
The US State Department said Blinken and Buhari discussed Nigeria’s security challenges and noted the importance of “reinforcing the democratic principles of a free press and digital freedom, peaceful protest and dissent, as well as respect for human rights.”
The shootings ended weeks of nationwide protests against police brutality and sparked the worst civil unrest in Nigeria since return to civilian rule in 1999.
Blinken’s three-nation Africa trip started in Kenya, where he reiterated calls for an unconditional ceasefire in the Ethiopian conflict and appealed for a return to civilian democracy in Sudan after last month’s coup.
America’s top diplomat discussed support to build the capacity of Nigeria’s military in a way fully respecting human rights. Nigeria has battled Islamist insurgents in the north-east for over a decade.