People protest against alleged police brutality near to the Lekki toll gate in Lagos, Nigeria, Wednesday Oct. 21, 2020. After 13 days of protests against alleged police brutality, authorities have imposed a 24-hour curfew in Lagos, Nigeria's largest city, as moves are made to stop growing violence. ( AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

Nigerian president leaves protest shootings out of speech

Nigerian president leaves protest shootings out of speech

LAGOS, Nigeria — Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari spoke to the nation about the unrest that has gripped the country in recent days, but without making any mention of the shootings of peaceful protesters at Lekki toll plaza on Tuesday night that prompted international outrage.

The military opened fire without warning on thousands of peaceful protesters singing the national anthem Tuesday night, killing at least 12 people, according to Amnesty International.

The shootings have been widely condemned but Buhari did not speak of them at all during his Thursday address, instead urging protestors to stop their demonstrations.

“This government will not allow anybody or (any) groups to disrupt the peace of the nation,” he warned in his televised address, urging protesters to “resist the temptation of being used by some subversive elements to cause chaos with the aim of truncating our nascent democracy.”

“For you to do otherwise will amount to undermining national security and law and order,” he said. “Under no circumstances would this be tolerated.”

He called on Nigeria’s youths “to discontinue the street protests and constructively engage the government in finding solutions. Your voice has been heard loud and clear and we are responding.”

Buhari responded to the criticism he has received from fellow African heads of state and other world leaders by calling on them “to seek to know all the facts available before taking a position, or rushing to judgment and making hasty pronouncements.”

Even as Buhari was speaking, irate Nigerians flooded social media with denunciations.

“President Buhari during his speech refused to acknowledge those dead as a result of military attacked on Lekki protesters #EndSARS,” tweeted Usman Okai Austin.

“With this speech, it is confirmed we are on our own. May the souls of our brothers and sisters who died at #LekkiMassacre2020 and other places on #EndSARS protest rest in peace. Sad,” posted Henry Okechukwu.

The street demonstrations began early this month with calls for Nigeria’s government to shut down the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a police unit known as SARS. The squad was launched to fight crime, but it carried out torture and killings, according to Amnesty International.

The #EndSARS campaign spread across the country and Buhari’s government announced that it would disband the SARS unit. The protest persisted with demonstrators calling for more widespread reforms of the police and an end to corruption.

But on Tuesday night security forces fired without warning into crowds of thousands of protesters singing Nigeria’s national anthem, killing 12, Amnesty said, citing witnesses and camera images. Nigeria’s military has denied shooting at the protesters.

Violent unrest erupted Wednesday in Lagos as mobs vandalized and burned police stations, courthouses, TV stations and a hotel. Smoke billowed from several locations in the city as police battled angry crowds with tear gas and gunfire.

Looting and gunfire continued in Nigeria’s second-largest city on Thursday. As looting gangs stormed through parts of Nigeria’s largest city, spreading violence for a second day in Lagos.

Plumes of smoke rose from a prison where gunfire could be heard on Thursday, and a resident of the neighbourhood where the Ikoyi Correctional Center is located, Tunde Oguntola, said he heard gunshots as soldiers and police officers put down what appeared to be an attempted jailbreak.

Police spokesman Olamuyiwa Adejobi told The Associated Press later Thursday that an incident inside the prison “has been put under control as our men have moved in there to assist prison security.” He did not describe the nature of the disturbance or say if anyone had been killed.

Gangs continued to vandalize properties in Lagos, he said. The police spokesman distinguished the “hoodlums” from the thousands of demonstrators who had been peacefully protesting police brutality on the city’s streets.

“They are looting properties, looting shopping malls and attacking ATM machines,” Adejobi said.

Scores of rioters broke into a warehouse and stole food. Gunfire was heard in several parts of Lagos. By the afternoon, eight people with bullet wounds had been taken to Ikeja General Hospital, said a medic who spoke on condition of anonymity for lack of authorization to speak to journalists.

In other parts of the sprawling city of 14 million, the streets were empty and shops were shuttered, as residents largely obeyed a government curfew meant to curb the chaos. Protesters active on social media disavowed the violence, saying their demonstrations had been hijacked by criminals.

The #EndSARS demonstrations began early this month with calls for Nigeria’s government to shut down the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a police unit known as SARS. The squad was launched to fight crime, but it carried out torture and killings, according to Amnesty International.

The government has agreed to disband the unit, but the protesters broadened their demands to include more widespread reforms to end human rights abuses and pervasive government corruption.

Nigeria has massive oil wealth and one of Africa’s largest economies, but many of its more than 200 million people live in deep poverty and without basic services because of rampant graft, according to rights groups.

The protesters on the streets earlier blocked traffic throughout Lagos and other cities in Nigeria but were peaceful, although 10 people died during the demonstrations, according to Amnesty International, which accused authorities of using unnecessary force.

But on Tuesday night security forces fired without warning into crowds of thousands of protesters singing Nigeria’s national anthem, killing 12, Amnesty said. The shootings drew international outrage and new attention from around the globe to the protests.

Violent unrest erupted Wednesday in Lagos as mobs vandalized and burned police stations, courthouses, TV stations and a hotel. Smoke billowed from several locations in the city as police battled angry crowds with tear gas and gunfire.

Activists in the U.S.-based Black Lives Matter movement issued a statement Thursday in support of Nigeria’s anti-police brutality protesters.

“We join others around the world in demanding the Nigerian government end the attack on protesters and we call for justice for those who have been injured and killed by all Nigerian forces,” said the statement from the Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of more than 150 grassroots groups that make up the broader Black American liberation movement.

Following a summertime surge of U.S. and international protests over the killing of Black people by law enforcement, the BLM activists said the reason Nigerians were demanding an end to SARS is the same reason Black Americans have called for the defunding of police.

“The epidemic of police violence against Black people in a country led by Black faces proves what we have said time and again: violence imposed by law enforcement is about more than a few bad apples, the institution itself is irredeemable and exists to use violence to maintain a false sense of order in an unequal and unjust society,” the statement read. “We are one movement, one people, and we stand with the people of Nigeria.”

Also Thursday, the U.S. State Department issued a statement strongly condemning “the use of excessive force by military forces who fired on unarmed demonstrators in Lagos, causing death and injury.”

“We welcome an immediate investigation into any use of excessive force by members of the security forces. Those involved should be held to account in accordance with Nigerian law,” the State Department said.

International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said her office in the Netherlands was closely following the events around the current protests in Nigeria and the reaction of Nigeria’s law enforcement and security agencies.

“Any loss of life and injury is concerning. We have received information alleging crimes and are keeping a close eye on developments, in case violence escalates … I call for calm and restraint.”

___

AP journalists Aaron Morrison in New York, Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, and Andrew Meldrum in Johannesburg contributed.

___

This story has been corrected to show that the Movement for Black Lives is a coalition of more than 150 grassroots groups, not a coalition of more than 50 groups.

Sam Olukoya, The Associated Press

Nigeria

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