Nigerian Protest Death Toll Surges After Authorities Clamp Down
Protests against police brutality in Nigeria, now in their third week, have turned increasingly deadly after the authorities cracked down against the upheaval that has disrupted commerce in urban centers.
At least 56 people have been killed in Africa’s most populous nation since the protests began, according to Amnesty International. About 38 people died on Oct. 20 alone, including at least 12 who were killed after security forces opened fire on protesters who’d gathered at two sites in Lagos, Nigeria’s economic hub, in defiance of a curfew, the rights group said, citing eye witnesses.
“These shootings clearly amount to extra-judicial executions,” Osai Ojigho, Amnesty’s Nigeria director, said in a statement on Wednesday night. Close-circuit television cameras were dismantled to cover up the killings in the Lekki district, the group said.
While the Nigerian army’s Twitter page labeled reports that troops had fired on protesters as “fake news,” Lagos state Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said he has ordered a probe into the conduct of the military, which falls under the federal government’s control.
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Demonstrations that began Oct. 5 have spread to about half of Nigeria’s 36 states, continuing even after President Muhammadu Buhari promised to disband a police unit that has borne the brunt of brutality allegations. The escalation in violence has drawn international condemnation, with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres among those who’ve called on the authorities to exercise restraint.
The situation in Lagos deteriorated from Oct. 18 as “criminal elements” took advantage of directives given to the police not to use force, said Sanwo-Olu, who imposed a 24-hour curfew after police stations were burned down and financial institutions were looted.
The unrest and the authorities’ increasingly heavy-handed response has begun to unnerve financial markets, with the nation’s currency, international bonds and stock market posting declines on Wednesday.
Sterling Bank Plc has closed all its offices in Lagos after three branches were set alight this week, the lender’s Chief Executive Abubakar Suleiman said by phone.
“We will not open until we are 100% certain we are not putting the lives of workers at risk,” he said. “Until the streets are safe, there is no business for anyone.”
Some protesters claim the Nigerian state has sent armed thugs to disrupt their events and cause disorder, before deploying security forces to violently disperse them. Most of the demonstrators are young adults, who don’t appear to have a clearly defined leadership structure and communicate using social media –which the government says has frustrated efforts to negotiate with them.
Buhari called for calm on Wednesday and reiterated his government’s commitment to policing reforms.
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