The Nigerian government rejected the findings of a United Nations human rights investigation into the January shooting of dozens of people by security forces at a toll gate as “fake news” on Monday.
The report, released last week, found that the killings were unprovoked and that the government’s official narrative of the incident as a terrorist attack was false.
In February, Nigerian security forces fired live rounds in the air and sprayed the crowd of pilgrims from different Muslim faiths and Nigeria’s Christian minorities with bullets after they failed to pay tolls at a toll gate on the nation’s densely populated outskirts.
About 4,000 people who had gathered to pray at the area had received permits to process through the toll gates on Iju, a city near Lagos. Tens of thousands of similar toll gates dot Nigeria’s highways, allowing travelers to pay for unrestricted access to a prearranged route.
The toll gates on Iju, as they are known locally, are also known as tiger crossings, because herdsmen employed by the cattle ranchers often used them to move their animals.
“Unarmed civilians, most of them Muslims who intended to be at the city’s most important Islamic site —the site of the holy shrine of Mecca, in Saudi Arabia — were shot and killed by security forces. It is a violation of human rights to kill people in this way,” the U.N.’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions said in a press release.
In reaction to the report, the information ministry said the government was “seriously investigating these allegations.”
“In the report, the report acknowledged that the initial report of a terrorist attack perpetrated by gunmen on (the toll gate) was false,” the statement said. “Indeed, the Special Rapporteur himself acknowledged that he has received evidence to challenge his earlier assertion.”
The government offered no further details on the evidence it could raise to cast doubt on the report.
As of Friday, the toll gate was still fenced and blocked with iron barriers. No longer bearing the usual white mosque banners, the low buildings have been painted red in the mostly Muslim community’s celebration of the increased frequency of bandits in recent months. Most of the motorists who pass through the road have little knowledge of the local traditions or the process of entering the road toll gate.
Trucks are halted as their goods are loaded onto trucks and passenger vans, and then the trucks are returned to their owners. On the Nigerian side, passengers grab onto the piles of goods and run towards the gate, where they jump on the carts piled with goods. But a government sergeant nearby sometimes interrupts the flow of people and asks those who have crossed to remove their items.
“I have no idea how to do this. I have no money. I beg God to let me through,” Ikenna Nwosu, a construction worker, told the Associated Press on Friday.
But the booth has been shattered, and in the few weeks that have passed since the shooting, thieves have broken into the building and filled it with clothes and foodstuffs.
In his press release, Vincent Degore, the special rapporteur, said the shootings represent a further example of “gross violations of human rights for perceived political reasons” by the government of President Muhammadu Buhari.