Several people were killed when Nigerian soldiers opened fire at a key protest site in Lagos, witnesses said, as the government sought to end two weeks of marches against police brutality that took place transformed into larger protests across the country.
Three witnesses, gathered among hundreds of protesters at the Lekki toll booth in Lagos, said pickup trucks arrived shortly after dark and soldiers started firing tear gas and then bullets at the crowd. It is not immediately clear how many people were killed, but each of the witnesses said they saw several bodies on the road. Videos posted to social media showed screaming protesters surrounding bloodied corpses, visible through a haze of yellow tear gas smoke.
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Babajide Sanwo-Olu a annoncé on his Twitter feed that a curfew would go into effect at 4 p.m. local time Tuesday and affect all parts of the state, which is home to more than 20 million people. “No one, except for essential service providers and first responders, should be found on the streets,” the governor said. “We are not going to watch and allow anarchy in our beloved state.”
Tensions have intensified in the oil-rich West African country in recent days, as violence has erupted in several cities in the southern and central states. Armed groups – which protesters say are government agitators, a charge the government and its allies have denied – clashed with protesters, property was vandalized and in southwest Edo state , dozens of prisoners were released during an escape, prompting the state governor to impose a curfew.
Lekki Tollgate, located at one of Lagos’ busiest intersections, has become a key rallying point for peaceful protests in recent days, with food stalls, canvas tents and a private security patrolling the perimeter. DJs and Afrobeat stars sang protest songs to young protesters waving their cellphones behind a large plasma screen showing the slogan Soro Soke, or “speak louder”.
The intervention comes after Monday’s protests where tens of thousands of protesters immobilized swathes of the commercial capital, staging the biggest protest in a two-week campaign against police brutality. A town police station was set on fire on Tuesday morning, prompting the national police chief to order the deployment of riot police to quell “increased attacks, including arson and malicious damage ”.
Lagos became the epicenter of a protest movement known as # EndSARS – it began with demands to disband a police force called the Special Anti-Robbery Squad that had been accused of extortion, torture and d ‘extrajudicial killings – which have led to calls for broader complaints about corruption, poor governance and a weak economy.
Hours before the curfew began, hundreds of demonstrators remained at the toll gate, pledging not to move.
“It has become much more than police brutality. It’s about our future, ”said Stephen Adedoja, a 35-year-old pilot. “We need to take a stand before it’s too late.”
President Muhammadu Buhari, a former general, has said little about the protest movement which has shifted from a single-themed campaign to a more diffuse protest against alleged government corruption, economic mismanagement and nepotism. Mr Buhari agreed in a televised statement last week to dissolve SARS, but has remained silent since. Several ministers and military officials have warned in recent days that the protests had turned political and turned towards “anarchy”.