Several groups of Nigerian-American activists are lobbying Congress and the Donald Trump administration for sanctions against Nigerian officials after security forces shot and killed dozens of people protesting police brutality last week in the capital Lagos.
Washington policy and advocacy consulting firm Von Batten-Montague-York this week registered to lobby on behalf of an unincorporated group called The October 20th, 2020 Project, a reference to the date of the massacre. The firm is pressing for an investigation into the killings and for sanctions against its perpetrators, as well as US support for the broader campaigns inside Nigeria against government corruption and police brutality in Africa’s most populous country.
“The genesis of this group came out of shock with the events that happened on Oct. 20,” said Nnamdi Nwachukwu, who handles media and public relations for the October 20 project from Washington. “What we want to do is stand in solidarity with our Nigerian counterparts and use the influence that we have on this side of the pond to essentially make it difficult for individuals who benefit from the society but seem to have a disinterest in making it safe for Nigerians to exercise their rights as citizens.”
Working alongside Nwachukwu is Emmanuel Umoh, who leads the group’s grassroot and social media campaign from Alabama.
Their lobbyist, Karl Von Batten, is another Nigerian-American who usually works behind the scenes to connect clients with subject matter experts, public relations professionals and former officials. This is his first lobbying registration.
“The Nigerian Project is unique,” he told Foreign Lobby Report, “so I am personally taking the lead on this one.”
Von Batten added that former Deputy Assistant Treasury Secretary for Legislative Affairs Andrew Eck is supporting him in efforts to identify Nigerian officials responsible for extrajudicial killings who can be referred to the Treasury Department for possible sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act. Eck served as the Treasury Department’s principal liaison to Congress on sanctions, terrorism and financial crimes before starting Washington advisory firm DiRoma Eck & Co. LLP last month with fellow former Deputy Assistant Treasury Secretary for Legislative Affairs Michael DiRoma.
The Oct. 20 group isn’t alone in pressing the US to hold the government of President Muhammudu Buhari and his security forces to account.
Two days after the attack, activists from 31 states and the district of Columbia wrote to President Trump asking him to “commit to enforcing punitive measures against the Buhari regime unless urgent reforms are made,” as we first reported Monday. The signers are all members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which advocates for independence for the predominantly Christian southeastern region.
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IPOB is led by exiled British-Nigerian activist Nnamdi Kanu, who retained Mercury Public Affairs in September 2019 to lobby for the group at the rate of $85,000 per month (Von Batten registered under the domestic Lobbying Disclosure Act, which does not require contract amounts to be disclosed upfront).
While they contribute to helping raise the pressure on Lagos, sectarian and regional movements also run the risk of enabling Nigerian authorities to dismiss calls for reforms as being the work of separatist forces who want to split the country apart. The Oct. 20 group’s Nwachukwu warned that the government has a long history of pitting Nigerians against each other in such a manner.
“The tactics used by the Nigerian government since independence [in 1960] essentially was to divide and conquer, whether it be by geographical region, ethnic group or religious affiliation,” he said. “If we’re not careful, there’s an opportunity for statements and intentions to be spun. But I think ultimately what everybody wants is the ability to exercise their rights without fear of retribution.”
The Embassy of Nigeria in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.
With Nigeria’s reform movement trending around the world, from celebrities’ social media accounts to statements of support from presidential candidate Joe Biden and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Nwachukwu said the advocacy campaign is determined to getting on Washington’s radar while it can.
“We’re all cognizant of how public opinion and public interest wavers over a sustained period of time,” he said. “There’s a finite window of opportunity with respect to taking any course of action.”