Top EU diplomat condemns Nigeria protest killings

A boy holds a banner during a protest against the Nigeria rogue police, otherwise know as Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), in Ikeja district of Lagos, Nigeria, 20 October 2020. [Akintunde Akinleye/EPA/EFE]

The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Wednesday (21 October) condemned the killing of protesters demonstrating against police brutality in Nigeria, and called for justice.

“It is alarming to learn that several people have been killed and injured during the ongoing protests against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad in Nigeria,” he said.

“It is crucial that those responsible of abuses be brought to justice and held accountable.”

Lagos was under a round-the-clock curfew on Wednesday enforced by police roadblocks, the day after witnesses reported soldiers had opened fire on protesters in Nigeria’s biggest city, in an incident a rights group said may have caused deaths.

The Lagos state governor said 30 people were hurt in the shooting at a toll gate in the Lekki district, a focal point of nearly two weeks of nationwide protests against allegations of systematic police brutality.

The governor said one man had died in hospital from blunt force trauma to the head, though it was unclear if the victim had been a protester.

As President Muhammadu Buhari appealed for “understanding and calm”, Amnesty International said it was investigating “credible but disturbing evidence of excessive use of force occasioning deaths of protesters” at the toll gate.

Four witnesses said soldiers had fired bullets and at least two people had been shot. Two of the witnesses said the lights were turned off at the gate shortly before the shooting began. One said he saw soldiers remove bodies.

In a Twitter post, the Nigerian Army said no soldiers were at the scene.

On Wednesday, fires were burning across Lagos and residents of the districts of Ebute Mette, Lagos island and Okota reported hearing gunfire.

Police – some armed, some wearing body armour and many in plain clothes – earlier set up roadblocks in Lagos, two witnesses said.

Witnesses saw youths trying to get through some checkpoints, and reported protesters in some neighborhoods. In the upmarket suburb of Ikoyi, where the streets were deserted, groups of youths created their own roadblocks out of traffic signs.

Authorities imposed the curfew on Lagos on Tuesday after the governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, said the protests had turned violent.

‘The buck stops at my table’

Thousands of Nigerians have demonstrated in protests that initially focused on a police unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), that rights groups had for years accused of extortion, harassment, torture and murders.

The unit was disbanded on 11 October but the protests have persisted with calls for law enforcement reforms.

President Buhari said on Wednesday he was committed to providing justice for victims of brutality, and that police reforms also demanded by the demonstrators were gathering pace.

His statement, disseminated by his spokesman, did not refer to the shooting at the toll gate, from where a witness saw smoke rising on Wednesday.

Sanwo-Olu tweeted pictures of his hospital visit to victims of what he referred to as the “unfortunate shooting incident” in Lekki.

He said 25 people were being treated for mild to moderate injuries, two were receiving intensive care and three had been discharged.

“I recognise the buck stops at my table and I will work with the FG (federal government) to get to the root of this unfortunate incident and stabilise all security operations to protect the lives of our residents,” said Sanwo-Olu.

In a broadcast, he urged Buhari to intervene in investigating what happened at Lekki.

Witnesses described being shot at by soldiers.

Inyene Akpan, 26, a photographer, said more than 20 soldiers arrive and open fire, and two people being shot.

Witness Akinbosola Ogunsanya said he saw around 10 people being shot, and soldiers removing bodies. Another witness, Chika Dibia, said soldiers hemmed in people as they shot at them.

A Nigerian army spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

Nigeria sovereign Eurobonds fell more than 2 cents on the dollar on Wednesday.

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