Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has said his government “will continue to respect all the democratic rights and civil liberties of the people” but warned of consequences for those who are seen to be derailing the country’s democracy.
Buhari’s speech comes some two days after ongoing protests against police brutality, epitomized by the now-defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad, took the sourest turn in Lagos on Tuesday, October 20. Protesters accused the Nigerian army of firing at an unarmed crowd but the army has so far denied any wrongdoing.
Non-profit Amnesty International, however, says it has “credible evidence” that the protesters were killed by army fire on Tuesday.
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But Buhari’s speech did not touch on the incident rather choosing to “warn those who have hijacked and misdirected the initial, genuine and well-intended protest of some of our youths in parts of the country, against the excesses of some members of the now-disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).”
He also accused protesters of misconstruing the disbandment of SARS as a sign of the government’s weakness.
The Nigerian leader also took the opportunity to speak to peripheral concerns that have sprung up in the wake of the protests. These had to do with employment as well as poverty alleviation.
“Government has put in place measures and initiatives principally targeted at youths, women and the most vulnerable groups in our society. These included our broad plan to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in the next 10 years,” Buhari said.
Protests against police brutality in Nigeria have received global attention in the last two weeks particularly because of the social media hashtag #EndSARS that has trended worldwide. Youthful protesters are chiefly asking for reforms in the police service among other federal institutions.