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'The soldiers kept shooting': witnesses testify in Lagos protest probe

By Reuters | November 15th 2020
The counsel for the Nigerian Army, Akinlolu Kehinde, speaks to Brigadier General Ahmed Taiwo, commander of the 81 Division of the army in Lagos, during a judicial panel investigating police brutality and the shooting of protesters in Lagos, Nigeria November 14, 2020. [Nneka Chile, Reuters]

Nigerian soldiers shot dead peaceful protesters at a demonstration in Lagos last month, trucking away the bodies, said written witness testimonies submitted to a judicial panel on Saturday but contradicted by an army general.

“The soldiers kept shooting at random, and I saw people falling to the ground, injured or lifeless,” said Dabiraoluwa Ayuku in her testimony.

Her account was one of three seen by Reuters, and submitted to the Lagos panel investigating allegations that the army and police opened fire on and killed people protesting at the city’s Lekki Toll Gate against police brutality.

The protests, the worst since the country’s return to civilian rule in 1999, climaxed in that incident on Oct. 20, when rights group Amnesty International said soldiers and police killed at least 12 protesters in two districts.

Both the army and police have denied killing demonstrators.

In testimony to the panel on Saturday, Brigadier General Ahmed Taiwo, who heads the army’s 81st Division in Lagos, said soldiers fired blank rounds only, into the air, to disperse protesters.

When shown a photo by Reuters which he used as a testimony to prove the army fired only blanks, he said two bullets among the 11 shown were live rounds, one spent and one unspent. He said they were not the army’s, but perhaps from the police.

“If we fired live rounds into that crowd, the casualties will have been too much,” Taiwo said. “So we made that judgement, and decided to use blank ammunition.”

Police did not respond to calls seeking comment.

Two of the civilian panel witness said some troops fired into the air, but all three said other soldiers shot peaceful protesters, injuring or killing them.

“I remember a particular soldier that kept dancing while he shot,” said Ayuku.

Soldiers removed some protesters’ corpses in vans, said two witnesses, one adding that the troops took away bullet casings.

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Later that night, police arrived and opened fire on protesters, two witnesses said. One said they saw police shoot dead two men.

Ayuku said she returned the next morning to find blood stains and casings on the floor, while vultures hovered overhead.

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