It started with protests against a murderous police unit and has escalated into violence, brutal security clampdowns and a deathly tense period for Nigeria. Gun-shot politics, claims of bloodied corpses littering streets and dozens of wounded protesters mark a tipping point for Nigeria. Mass civil unrest is threatening one of the continent's successful economies if its relatively young population fails to be suppressed by the increasingly brutal authorities. Millions are under curfew as a beleaguered government clamps down on demonstrations with martial law enforced with police and Army batons, gas and assault rifles.
Last night Nigeria's largest and most densely populated city Lagos, with its youth unemployment, was a powder-key of hatred towards the authorities, set to blow up. Even the end of the notorious Serious Anti Robbery Squad, SARS, suspected of murder, extortion and torturing suspects has failed to stop a country teetering towards revolt. And with the world watching Lagos burn, the youth movement – mostly 18-24 year-olds – has attracted global support. United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres confirmed there had been "multiple deaths," urging the authorities to de-escalate the situation.
In London, protesters gathered at the Nigerian High Commission and show business and sports stars have added their name to calls for the Nigerian government to answer demands. The main appeal is for police reforms beyond the disbanding of the SARS police group and an overhaul of the entire Nigerian home domestic security system. Nigeria's young want better education, job prospects and are even mobilising against Nigeria's unreliable infrastructure in an escalating push against the government.
Supporters of the protests include Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, rapper Kanye West, Star Wars actor John Boyega, footballers Mesut Ozil, Marcus Rashford. Manchester United's Odion Ihhalo supports the uprising, as has Chelsea's Reece James and Leicester's Kelechi Ihenanacho and Wilfred Ndidi. Boxer Anthony Joshua has also announced his support and Everton's Alex Owobi tweeted a bloodstained Nigeria flag. Singer Beyonce has said she is “heartbroken” over the “senseless brutality.
Fires are burning across Lagos, with increasing police checkpoints and police stations torched by protesters enraged by police brutality. The protests have morphed into a message of general hatred of a corrupt and authoritarian police, unemployment and little opportunity for the troubled country's young. Nigeria's average age is 18 and with half of its citizens are under 30 it makes a general uprising seem ever more possible against the authorities who face corruption allegations.
More than a third of Nigeria's 15-34 year-olds are unemployed with little prospect of a job, its cities hit by sporadic electricity and complaints of a poorly serviced education system. And with the growing youth movement against the government not having a leader there is no figure for the Nigerian police to target. Last night Lagos, with 14 million residents, was under round-the-clock curfew as more gunfire rang out across the city fires raging throughout.
As President Muhammadu Buhari appealed for "understanding and calm", Amnesty International was investigating “excessive use of force occasioning deaths of protesters." Witnesses said soldiers had fired and at least two people had been shot. Two of the witnesses said the gate's lights were turned before the shooting began. Witnesses described being shot at by soldiers.
Inyene Akpan, 26, a photographer, said more than 20 soldiers arrived at the toll gate and opened fire. 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. One said he saw soldiers remove bodies. Lagos state governor Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu said 30 people were hurt in the shooting during a demonstration at a toll gate in the Lekki district on Tuesday night.
It has become a focal point of nearly two weeks of nationwide protests. The Nigerian Army said no soldiers were at the scene, despite many social media posts claiming there were soldiers and that they were shooting. Yesterday fires were burning across Lagos and residents throughout the city reported gunfire. Police - some armed, some wearing body armour and many in plain clothes - set up roadblocks across Lagos. Witnesses saw youths trying to get through some checkpoints, and reported gatherings in some areas. A live feed from local broadcaster Arise TV showed armed police speaking to groups of angry locals, and dozens of charred buses on the Lagos mainland.
In South Africa, hundreds of Nigerians carrying placards demanding "a new and better Nigeria" marched to the Nigerian High Commission in Pretoria. Nigerian authorities imposed the curfew on Lagos on Tuesday after the governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, said the protests had turned violent, including the torching police stations across the city. Thousands of Nigerians have been driven closer to poverty by the economic fallout from a coronavirus pandemic that has infected more 60,000, killed 1,125 and triggered lockdowns.
It triggered even more resentment towards the SAR unit, which rights groups for years accused of extortion, harassment, torture and murders and was disbanded on Oct. 11. And all President Buhari could do to try and placate the protesters was issue promises of justice for victims of brutality, and that police reforms were coming – despite the demands being years old.