End SARS: Nigerian Forces ‘Open Fire On Protesters’ In Lagos After 12 Days Of Anti-Police Brutality Demonstrations
By John Sparks, Africa correspondent
21 October 2020 13:17, UK (SKY News)
Nigerian forces have reportedly opened fire on protesters in Lagos after 12 days of demonstrations against police brutality.
Witnesses said smoke has been rising from the direction of a toll gate on Wednesday where the shootings allegedly took place.
Two people are believed to have been shot after more than 20 officers started firing at demonstrators in the city’s Lekki district on Tuesday, witnesses told Reuters.
Video shown on Nigeria’s Channels Television appeared to capture audio of live rounds being fired at the scene.
The state governor in Lagos said on Wednesday no fatalities have been recorded after gun shots were heard in Lekki.
The governor added one person is dead in a Nigerian hospital due to “blunt force trauma” after shootings in Lekki, but added it was unclear if the person was a protester.
Lagos officials had already imposed a 24-hour curfew on the 20 million people who live in Africa’s largest city in a bid to bring the protests to an end.
But the demonstrations, against a unit of the Nigerian police force called SARS (the Special Anti-Robbery Squad), show little sign of slowing down.
SARS was established in 1992 to tackle robbery, kidnappings and other violent crime, but has been widely criticised for human rights abuses including torture, extortion and extrajudicial killings.
Nigerians claim plain clothes police officers frequently target young men with tattoos, dreadlocks and expensive cars arbitrarily.
The Nigerian Army has tweeted out stills of news reports about the alleged shootings on Tuesday with the words “fake news” plastered across them in red letters.
Amnesty International, the human rights organisation, said late Tuesday there is “credible but disturbing evidence” that security forces in Lagos have fatally shot protesters demonstrating against police brutality.
The organisation said in a tweet: “While we continue to investigate the killings, Amnesty International wishes to remind the authorities that under international law, security forces may only resort to the use of lethal force when strictly unavoidable to protect against imminent threat of death or serious injury.”
Gbenga Omotoso, the Lagos state commissioner for information, said in a statement Tuesday night only that “there have been reports of shooting at the Lekki Toll Plaza following the 24-hour curfew imposed on Lagos”.
He added: “The state government has ordered an investigation into the incident.”
The alleged shootings came just hours after Lagos state Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu warned on Twitter that the growing protests against police brutality in Nigeria had “degenerated into a monster that is threatening the well-being of our society”.
A police statement also had warned that security forces would now “exercise the full powers of the law to prevent any further attempt on lives and property of citizens”.
The demonstrations began on 8 October after a video that allegedly showed SARS officers shooting a man in Nigeria‘s Delta State was widely shared on social media.
They caught the world’s attention after celebrities, including Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, actor John Boyega and footballer Marcus Rashford, condemned brutality and corruption in Nigeria.
Manchester United striker Odion Ighalo, who is from Nigeria, said he is ashamed of the Nigerian government following reports that soldiers opened fire on protesters.
He said in a video message on Twitter: “The Nigerian government, you guys are a shame to the world for killing your own citizens, sending military to the streets to kill unarmed protesters because they are protesting for their own rights? It’s uncalled for.
“You people will be remembered in history as the first government to send the military to the city to start killing their own citizens. I am ashamed of this government, we are tired of you guys and we can’t take this anymore.”
Ighalo called on the UK government, world leaders and the United Nations to step in.
He added: “They will keep killing if the world don’t talk about this.”
The singer Beyonce shared a statement on her Instagram account on Wednesday which read: “I am heartbroken to see the senseless brutality taking place in Nigeria.
“There has to be an end to SARS.”
The pop star Rihanna tweeted “#ENDSARS” in support of the demonstrations.
The Nigerian rapper Burna Boy tweeted: “I am in London and I’m doing my best to make sure sanctions are imposed against Nigerian Government Officials.
“I need all citizens of all European countries, America, Asia EVERYWHERE to please Do the Same (sic). THEY MUST ALL PAY!!”
With thousands taking to the streets and blockading Lagos’s main road to the international airport, the marches have grown into a wider movement about poor governance and corruption.
Fifteen people are thought to have died in the demonstrations and anti-riot police were deployed this week after a police station was set on fire.
Initially, police responded with tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters – but later promised not to use force.
The protests have stopped traffic in Lagos, the capital Abuja and many other large cities in Nigeria, a country of 196 million people.
On Tuesday, authorities said nearly 2,000 inmates had broken out of jail after crowds attacked two correctional facilities a day earlier.
The Inspector-General of Police said it was deploying anti-riot police across Nigeria, which is Africa’s most populous nation, and ordered forces to strengthen security around correctional facilities.
A curfew also went into effect in Benin City after the pair of attacks.
Interior Ministry spokesman Mohammed Manga said large, armed crowds had attacked the two prisons, subduing the guards on duty.
He said in a statement: “Most of the inmates held at the centres are convicted criminals serving terms for various criminal offenses, awaiting execution or standing trial for violent crimes.”
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has offered a series of concessions in an attempt to quell anti-police demonstrations, pledging comprehensive reform and compensation to the victims of any brutality by officers.
The police announced that a new Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team would “fill the gaps arising from the dissolution of the defunct SARS”.
But the new unit has been dismissed by protesters, who say the government has failed to deliver on its promises in the past.
This feeling of national discontent has now spread to the country’s federal parliament, with the speaker of the lower chamber, Femi Gbajabiamila, saying he would not sign off on the national budget for 2021 unless it incorporated provisions to compensate victims of police brutality over the past two decades.
The government has called on the protesters to leave the streets, arguing that it has now met their demands.
There have also been economic implications, with the Lagos chamber of commerce reporting that the Nigerian economy has taken a hit of nearly £1.55bn ($2bn) as a result of the disruption.