The Nigerian government has come under sharp international criticism after a violent crackdown on peaceful protesters demonstrating against police brutality in Lagos left at least 30 people injured and reportedly multiple people dead.
With unrest spreading across Africa’s largest city on Wednesday and riot police deployed across the country, US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton criticised the state response to the demonstration at Lekki tollgate in the heart of Lagos.
The protests against police brutality have brought the city to a standstill in recent days, as young Nigerians rose up to demand change.
“I urge President [Muhammadu] Buhari and the Nigerian military to cease the violent crackdown on protesters in Nigeria, which has already resulted in several deaths,” Mr Biden said in a statement. “The United States must stand with Nigerians who are peacefully demonstrating for police reform and seeking an end to corruption in their democracy.”
International celebrities including Beyoncé and Rihanna and Nigerian superstars such as Davido also voiced concern. In a video posted from the Parc des Princes pitch in Paris, Manchester United footballer Odion Ighalo, who is Nigerian, said: “The Nigerian government, you guys are a shame to the world for killing your own citizens, sending military to the streets to kill unarmed protesters because they are protesting for their own rights? It’s uncalled for.”
Mr Buhari has not commented on the crackdown at Lekki tollgate, though a spokesman issued a statement urging “understanding and calm” without mentioning the violence.
The army has denied it was involved, despite multiple videos circulating on social media showing men in camouflage firing toward hundreds of protesters. Eye witnesses also said soldiers had opened fire, and gruesome videos were posted across the internet of bloodied demonstrators with gunshot wounds as people fled amid gunfire.
In an address on Wednesday morning, Lagos state governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said there were no fatalities, though that was disputed by eye witnesses.
Amnesty International said it had “credible evidence” that several people were killed. Bishop Okoronkwo, 33, a restaurateur who fled the scene as gunfire erupted, said the man standing next to him was shot in the chest. “The dead bodies we counted on the ground were more than 15,” he said.
Mr Sanwo-Olu urged Mr Buhari to investigate, and said he did not “control the rules of engagement of military”. He said earlier on Wednesday that he had visited 25 injured people in hospital after “the toughest night of our lives as forces beyond our direct control have moved to make dark notes in our history”.
Mr Sanwo-Olu said he would work with the federal government “to get to the root of this unfortunate incident and stabilise all security operations to protect the lives of our residents”.
With the megacity under a curfew until at least 9pm, there were reports on Wednesday of multiple buildings, including banks and police stations, set ablaze, and gunfire, along with armed gangs roaming parts of the city.
Before gunfire erupted at the tollgate on Tuesday night, hours before the official curfew began, demonstrators were seated on the ground, waving Nigerian flags and singing the national anthem.
Protests have spread across Africa’s most populous country for nearly two weeks, after a video allegedly showing a member of the notorious federal police Special Anti-Robbery Squad killing a young man spread across social media, launching the viral hashtag #EndSARS.
Nigerians across the country and in the diaspora have since shared countless stories and videos alleging harassment, abuse, extortion and murder by the police squad, which was originally set up to combat violent crime.