Global Voices

Nigerian military opens fire on peaceful protesters in Lagos

Nigerian security officials opened fire on protesters in Lekki, Lagos, reportedly killing at least three people. Civil society groups say the government has "declared a war on the people."

Protesters at the #EndSARS protest in Lagos, Nigeria. Photo by Kaizenify, October 13, 2020, via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Over the last 11 days, Nigerian youth have staged nationwide, peaceful protests against police brutality inflicted by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad known as SARS.

Yet, in the early hours of October 19, chaos broke out when thugs attacked protesters in front of the Central Bank of Nigeria headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, during a vigil for those slain by SARS, as part of the #EndSARS movement. 

The unidentified gunmen set the cars of protesters ablaze according to eyewitness reports on Twitter. 

Soldiers were later deployed in the capital city. 

Later that day, thugs overran peaceful #EndSARS protesters, broke down the walls of Oko prison in Benin city, Edo State, southern Nigeria, setting inmates free.

Edo State Deputy Governor Philip Shaibu confirmed that hoodlums had hijacked the #EndSARS protest in Benin city. 

The Edo State government imposed a 24-hour curfew that went into effect on 4 p.m. West Africa Time, October 19.

The following day, on October 20, Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu imposed a 24-hour curfew in the state, claiming that “criminals and miscreants” have hijacked the protests to “unleash mayhem.” Similarly, the Lagos State Police Command has also banned all protests in the state. 

Apparently, the incidents in Abuja, Benin city and Lagos have one thread in common: thugs inflicted violence, displaced peaceful protesters and pronto — Nigerian authorities clamped down on mass action to express anger at SARS and an overall culture of police brutality that targets Nigerian youth.  

The Lekki killings

Amid growing panic and fear over the last 24 hours, security operatives opened fire on protesters at around 7 p.m. WAT on October 20 in Lekki toll gate, Lagos, reports Bloomberg. 

Eyewitnesses report that security officials turned off the lights at the toll gate and were firing indiscriminately. 

Soldiers blocked the exit points and have so far allegedly killed three people, according to at least one eyewitness who reported the news on Twitter: 

The Enough is Enough civil society organisation described it as a declaration of war on citizens: 

This Twitter user Nicholas Ibekwe tweeted that the killings seem to him to be premeditated:

Clamping down on youth sòrò sókè — ‘speak up’

Video of the Festival of lights to honor those killed by the SARS police unit, Lekki, Lagos, Nigeria, October 17, 2020. Video by Olawole Oyekan and used with his permission.

The youth mass action against SARS police brutality defied all expectations. All efforts to weaken the movement failed miserably. 

Organised as a collective, the movement presented a common front that prevented the government from bullying into silence or the bribing of protest leaders. 

Despite the brutality meted on protesters by Nigerian security agents, the young people did not flinch, rather they organised their own security to keep themselves safe while demonstrating. 

Their highly competent organisation across the country attracted commendation from religious leaders who endorsed the protests. 

The nonviolent soro soke or “speak up” movement against police brutality exposed the rancid underbelly of Nigeria’s misgovernance. 

The Nigerian establishment, rather than give in to protesters’ demands, decided to clamp down on protesters’ pleas against injustice with violence. 

The protesters did not instigate violence despite various provocations. For instance, protester Anthony Onome died in Abuja on October 18 after being stabbed by thugs. Amnesty International also reported physical assault of protesters and journalists by police. 

This has fueled suspicion that the invasion of thugs on peaceful protesters in Abuja, Lagos and Benin city were instigated by state actors to discredit the #EndSARS protests.

Consequently, the curfew is a ruse to subdue the movement. What’s easier, acquiescing to the demands of the protesters or quelling stage-managed violence instigated by officials of the state

The next social mass action to fight police brutality may not be as peaceful as the #EndSARS movement. 

Originally published in Global Voices.

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