By Charles Nwoke, Lagos, Nigeria
It was a festival of blood yesterday in Lagos State as Nigerian security forces fired the Lagos anti-police brutality demonstration on Tuesday evening, struck by witnesses, many civilians, in an escalation of the country’s 2-week chaos, with several persons allegedly killed and many injured.
The extent of the deaths was unknown, but some witnesses claimed they saw people killed. Images on the social media shattered with apparent weapons and showed machines guns shot into the air with many injured by the uniformed troops.
A police officer who witnessed the episode and spoke anonymously said 11 people were killed. However, up to this moment, the number of casualties has not been ascertained.
The shooting came at the end of a day of rising violence in many towns, with riot troops in the capital, Abuja, Lagos, and elsewhere deploying the national police. Even after President Muhammadu Buhari tried to address the requests of the demonstrators, he named a special police unit that had been accused of brutalizing the people last week.
Moreover, officers have said that about 2,000 prisoners fled a jail holiday in Benin City, in southern Edo, on Monday.
Early Tuesday, after reports that the police had killed two or more people, the crowd set ablaze a police station in Lagos, the economic hub of Nigeria. The protestors refused to dissolve, block roads, and requested those police officers suspected of wilful violence be brought to trial amid violence and curfew imposed by the governor of Lagos.
The Lekki Toll Gate, an aristocratic suburb of Lagos, has been deployed with uniformed troops, mostly peacefully, since 7 October, and the largest protests ongoing. Around 7 pm, some of them started shooting. Eyewitnesses said, shortly after unprecedented streetlights were exiting and surveillance cameras had been removed from the scene.
Obianuju Catherine Udeh, a disco hockey jockey on DJ Switch who streams the scene live on Instagram, reported that she had seven casualties. According to her, it was an hour of intermittent gunfire and sporadic shooting from the troops against the protesters.
“We told them we didn’t go anywhere already,” she told them. A carcass lay still, a protesting man crowded in front of her, apparently with a bullet wound in his leg.
Demonstrators said they had been shot into one place, without a safe way out.
“The whole place is being blocked, soldiers have weapons blowing all over the place,” said DJ Switch, before her life abruptly ended. “They’re going to shoot us all? Nigerian flag is the only tool we have.
Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu, Governor of Lagos State, claimed that the protestations against police violence had been concealed by the people committed to creating anarchy, and these protests had mostly been endorsed by peaceful protests.
“Vives and extremities have been abandoned as criminals, and misunderstandings are now hidden in our state under the umbrella of those demonstrations.”
The Governor announced a 4 p.m curfew after the burning of the police station. Curfew, which gives the public some 4 hours to head home with some 14 million people and some of the worst queues in the world in a large metropolis. Many citizens had no hope that the curfew would be complied with; many others did not bother.
Protesters in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, called for governmental disbandment of a dismal anti Robbery Squad, commonly referred to as SARS, and for the particular robs, tortures, and even killing of well-dressed young people who, according to the officers, may be able to have money. The crowds have also requested retribution for the violent police and change from bad governance.
President Buhari decided last week to dismantle SARS and to conduct other police reforms, pledging “to ensure that all the offenders are brought to justice.”
The protests, however, have not abated. Recall that the government has vowed to do away with SARS before, but it still exists, and therefore, people argued that a newly formed police unit in new uniforms would be just the same threat.
Lagos inaugurated an investigation panel on Monday to investigate claims of violence, but hearings have not begun. The same move has been made by three other states as well.
In the large prison break, Mohammed Manga, spokesman for the Interior Ministry in charge of correctional facilities, said that armed crowds had invaded two Benin City correctional facilities and overwhelmed duty guards. He said 1,993 inmates were missing; the number of inmates held before the attack was not clear.
“Many of the inmates housed in the centers are convicted prisoners serving sentences for different criminal offenses, waiting for violent crimes to be executed or awaiting trial,” Mr. Manga said.