Protesters Killed After Nigerian Army Fires On Peaceful Protest

At least one protester has been killed after the Nigerian Army opened fire on peaceful protesters gathered at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos to protest police brutality in the evening of 20 October. 

The protesters were part of the End SARS (#EndSARS on social media) movement, a nationwide series of decentralized protests calling for the disbanding of the Nigerian Police Force’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad. SARS has become infamous for the many abuses it is accused of, with rights organizations documenting many incidents of assault, extortion, sexual assault, kidnapping and extrajudicial killings committed by members of the unit.

Video of a survivor of the shooting describing the events leading up to the shooting

The End SARS movement has been active since 2017, however, a second wave of protests broke out this month following two shootings committed by Nigerian police. In the first undated incident, members of SARS were filmed shooting dead a man in Ughelli, Delta State, before driving off in the deceased’s Lexus SUV.  In the second incident, Nigerian police shot dead Daniel Chibuike Ikeaguchi, a 20 year old musician also known as “Sleek” on 19 September, with Daniel’s elder sister Maureen accusing the police of refusing to administer medical aid that could have saved his life.

Nationwide protests have since continued for around two weeks, with a protester sit-in at the Lekki toll gate having been present for the majority of the second wave of protests. Nigerian Police Force Inspector-General Muhammed Adamu announced on 11 October that SARS had been disbanded, however, the announcement’s statement that SARS personnel would be reassigned to other police units spurred the continuation of protests over fears that SARS personnel would merely continue their abuses in a different unit.

The shooting at the Lekki toll gate came after Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu declared earlier that day that a 24-hour curfew would go into effect at 4PM local time, saying that the ever-growing protests in the state had “degenerated into a monster that is threatening the well-being of our society”. Amnesty International claims that CCTV cameras around the toll gate were removed by government personnel just before the shooting, and the electrical supply to the area cut to deny lighting. Eyewitness video from the shooting similarly shows darkness all around, with military personnel opening fire difficult to identify.

Eyewitness testimony to Amnesty by survivors is that Nigerian Army personnel arrived at 6:45PM and began opening fire without warning. Protesters camped in the Alausa district of Lagos similarly report that they were attacked by members of the Nigerian Army and the Rapid Response Squad police unit, resulting in the death of at least two protesters and the wounding of one. The Nigerian Army is accused of dragging away killed and injured protesters at both sites.

The Nigerian Army has denied any involvement in the shooting, tweeting that media coverage by domestic and foreign news outlets alike was “fake news”. Their denials were contradicted by Governor Sanwo-Olu, who stated that Nigerian Army personnel were indeed at the scene of the shooting. The governor stated that there had been 30 injuries and a death due to “blunt force trauma to the head”, but merely stated that the identity of the deceased was still being investigated. The Governor has since stated to Arise that the cameras being removed were laser cameras for vehicle toll tags. Amnesty International reports that their investigation has found that at least 12 protesters were killed at both Alausa and the Lekki toll gate.

The shooting has instead driven more people onto the streets in defiance of the curfew, with gunfire and buildings set on fire now reported in Lagos despite an “indefinite” extension of the curfew. Riot police units have now been deployed across Nigeria amidst fears of a response to increasing violence against protesters throughout this wave of protests, with at least 56 individuals killed so far.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has stated that he is “deeply concerned” by the violence and “alarmed” by the reports of civilian deaths, continuing that “We call for an end to violence. The Nigerian government must urgently investigate reports of brutality at the hands of the security forces and hold those responsible to account”. The Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have condemned the shooting as well. However, as the events that resulted in the second wave of protests shows, accountability for the Lekki toll gate shooting and other abuses seems like a very distant prospect.