Several news outlets are reporting that Nigerian soldiers opened fire on unarmed protestors at the Lekki Toll Gate near Lagos city, leaving an undetermined number of demonstrators dead or injured. This incident is the latest example of violence being committed against civilians who are engaged in the #EndSARS Campaign that have rocked Nigeria for the past two weeks.
As Blavity previously reported, the #EndSARS movement emerged in Nigeria earlier this month to protest widespread abuses by the now disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) police unit. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari banned SARS on October 11, but the protests continued and have now transformed into a larger movement demanding political and economic reforms within the country and an end to corruption.
State and national government officials have been increasingly cracking down on the protests since SARS was eliminated. The governor of Nigeria’s Rivers State banned further protests following the disbanding of SARS. Other areas of the country, including the federal capital, Abuja, likewise banned protests, but these bans have largely been ignored by Nigerians fed up with corruption and abuse within the country.
Last week, Amnesty International reported that 10 people died and hundreds more were injured during the protests. The human rights organization accused government forces of “excessive force, including firing live ammunition, water cannon, throwing tear gas into crowds, beating and arresting protesters” as well as targeting journalists. Armed vigilante gangs have also targeted protestors with violence. Recent news reports have increased the death toll to at least 15, a figure which does not include the victims of the recent Lekki shooting.
In response to events in Lagos, the Governor of Lagos State (which includes the city) Babajide Sanwo-Olu, declared an indefinite 24-hour curfew throughout the state. The curfew, originally set to begin 4 p.m. on Tuesday, was pushed back to 9pm to allow residents stuck in traffic to make it home.
In Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city with a population of 20 million people, protestors recently disrupted traffic, causing flight delays. A police station was also set on fire. Echoing rhetoric against Black Lives Matter protests in the United States, Nigerian government officials have accused "arsonists, hoodlums and anarchists" of hijacking the #EndSARS movement.
Nevertheless, according to a BBC News report, gunfire erupted around 6:45pm local time on Tuesday evening at a toll gate at Lekki, a popular suburb of Lagos. Amnesty International Nigeria reports that it had received “credible but disturbing evidence of excessive use of force occasioning deaths of protesters at Lekki toll gate in Lagos.”
Reports of multiple people dead and injured have not yet been verified. The New York Times reports that artist Obianuju Catherine Udeh, who operates under the stage name DJ Switch, counted at least seen casualties as she livestreamed the shootings on Instagram. She has since stopped her live broadcast, but is keeping followers updated via Instagram stories. Further complicating the scene, some are reporting that security forces have taken away bodies from the scene, possibly attempting to cover up or obscure the death toll from the incident.
Widely circulating videos and images appear to pick up sounds of gunfire and depict images of wounded civilians. The videos blame “soldiers” and “military men” for shooting at protestors.
Other video recorded protestors at Lekki singing the Nigerian National Anthem, “Arise, O Compatriots”
Many Nigerians, such as popular singer Simisola Kosoko, known as Simi, have posted multiple messages about the protests.
Murderers. Fucking murderers. Omg!!! Pls God!!!
— Simi (@SympLySimi) October 20, 2020
Rihanna posted a tweet of someone covered in a blood-soaked Nigerian flag, an image that is being widely shared and has become a symbol of the government's repression against its citizens.
Others warned that authorities had shut off power to Alausa, a district of the Lagos State capital, Ikeja, and that the military was moving into that area — similar tactics to those employed in Lekki earlier in the evening.
Military moving into Alausa ???????? The lights have gone off! Retweet to save lives!!!!
Early Wednesday morning, the Lagos State Governor issued a series of tweets referencing "this unfortunate shooting incident at Lekki" while blaming "forces beyond our direct control" for the violence.
Despite the growing government crackdowns and vigilante violence against demonstrators, the protests in Nigeria show no signs of slowing down. Amnesty International reported Monday that protests had erupted in the northern city of Kano after a 17 year old named Saifullah was allegedly tortured to death while in police custody.
The protests are placing significant pressure on the Nigerian government and economy. NBC News reports that the Lagos Chamber of Commerce estimates that the Nigerian economy has lost 700 billion naira (about $1.8 billion) over the past two weeks of protests. International outrage is also growing over the situation in Nigeria. Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took to Twitter Tuesday evening to call on President Buhari and the Nigerian Army to "stop killing young #EndSARS protesters."
.@JoeBiden on violence in Nigeria: “I urge President Buhari & the Nigerian military to cease the violent crackdown on protesters in Nigeria…The US must stand with Nigerians who are peacefully demonstrating for police reform & seeking an end to corruption in their democracy.” pic.twitter.com/JNnXtX2Vzg
— Delali Phrank Awutey (@delaliphrank) October 21, 2020
To lend your support to protesters, click here.