All eyes are on Nigeria right now amid protests by citizens against police brutality that have turned violent, including reports of many dead. Witnesses told Reuters Tuesday that soldiers fired at the protesters in the Lekki district of the commercial capital, Lagos.
Amnesty International said in a statement it had received “credible but disturbing evidence of excessive use of force occasioning deaths of protesters at Lekki toll gate in Lagos.” On Wednesday, the ECOWAS Commission, which came under pressure to comment on the happenings in Nigeria, called on security forces in Nigeria to act professionally and exercise restraint in their handling of the protest.
The Commission, in a statement, expressed its condolences to the families and friends of those who have died while urging the protestors to be peaceful in their demonstration.
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Lagos, including four other states in Nigeria, has announced an indefinite curfew after claiming criminals have hijacked the protest. For two weeks now, thousands of people have been taking to the streets of Abuja and Lagos demanding an end to police violence.
The protesters first demanded the shutdown of a notorious police unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), which has long been accused of extortion, torture and extrajudicial killings. Following days of widespread protest, the authorities disbanded SARS and reassigned personnel to other units.
ECOWAS, in its statement, said it notes that “in an effort to address the demands of the protesting youth, the Federal Government of Nigeria took important decisions regarding disbandment of SARS, comprehensive police reforms and investigation of cases of police brutality. It encourages the Nigerian Authorities to conduct the investigation rapidly.
“Finally, ECOWAS Commission appeals to the Federal Government of Nigeria, the Nigerian youth and the civil society to urgently pursue dialogue for an early and amicable resolution of this social unrest and maintain the Nigerian image as a bastion of law and order.”
ECOWAS Chair, Ghana’s president Nana Akufo-Addo also in a tweet said he had spoken with President Muhammadu Buhari and the use of dialogue in resolving the impasse had already begun.
The United Nations had earlier also called for an end to what it called “brutality” by security forces in Nigeria. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged “the security forces to act at all times with maximum restraint” and also called on protesters “to demonstrate peacefully and to refrain from violence,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement Wednesday.
The UN further urged the Nigerian authorities to investigate the violence and “hold the perpetrators accountable.”
The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has also condemned the incidents 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.”
The Nigerian army in a post on Twitter has, however, denied deploying soldiers to attack #EndSARS protesters who assembled at the Lekki Toll Plaza. All in all, the demonstrations in Nigeria are having a negative effect on the country’s economy. According to the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), nationwide protests have cost the nation’s economy $1.8 billion over the last 12 days.