(CNN) — Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari called for “understanding and calm” after the protests against police brutality in Lagos turn bloody on Tuesday and Wednesday. Eyewitness witnesses and Amnesty International told CNN that a number of protesters were shot at the Lekki toll booth and elsewhere by army soldiers, who later carried off the bodies.
The statement, signed by the president’s special adviser, Femi Adesina, does not mention the Lekki tollbooth attack or any of the deaths reported by Amnesty. Nigerians have called on the president to address the nation directly about the attacks that rocked the country on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The president is the commander in chief, which means that the deployment of troops should have been approved by him. Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo called on Buhari to “restrain the army and other security agencies” in a statement on Wednesday.
After a night of violence on Tuesday that sparked global outrage, eyewitnesses say the city descended into chaos the next day, spreading beyond the original site.
They denounce police brutality in Nigeria
Franklin Alex spoke to CNN while hiding in his house in Ebute Metta, about 9 km from the Lekki toll gate. He said that police had been on his street early Wednesday morning and that three people had been killed. He added that officers from four nearby police stations were shooting at protesters.
“The police are shooting at people who are not armed, even though some have bottles and stones, but the police are using very sophisticated weapons against them,” he said. “They are moving from street to street, I could count about 17 of them, all armed, all shooting.”
Videos posted on social media and local television coverage showed several buildings on fire, including the Lagos Theater and at least one bank branch. Some police stations were also attacked, and the video also showed the Lagos High Court in flames.
The human rights group Amnesty International said that, following an on-the-spot investigation, it had found that 12 people were killed during protests at two locations in Lagos on Tuesday.
He said that “evidence collected from eyewitnesses, video footage and hospital reports” confirmed that over a period of approximately two hours “the Nigerian military opened fire on thousands of people who were peacefully calling for good governance and an end to police brutality.” “.
The military has dismissed reports that protesters were shot dead as “fake news”. The Nigerian military and police did not respond to requests for comment.
Eyewitnesses told CNN that gunshots were heard during a peaceful protest at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos as activists sang the national anthem and called for an end to police brutality.
Daily protests have been taking place across the country for nearly two weeks over widespread allegations of kidnapping, harassment and extortion by a police unit known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
Akinbosola Ogunsanya, a talk show host on Afrosurge Radio, said the shooting started shortly after the lights at the toll booth went out. “Members of the Nigerian military came up to us and started shooting,” she said. “I just survived, barely.”
CNN was unable to independently corroborate the witness accounts.
They denounce that the Army took the bodies
Several witnesses told CNN that they saw the army take the bodies away.
Christopher Yakubu, 27, who told CNN he fell and hurt his leg while trying to escape gunfire. The witness showed CNN a video of his injury. “I heard rapid gunshots. I couldn’t count them. I counted 5 bodies,” he said. “Later I saw that the Nigerian army took the bodies away in their own van. We couldn’t take any video,” he said.
Another protester also said that he witnessed the bloodshed.
“They killed more than 7 people and took their bodies to cover up the evidence,” said Deji Jokodola.
On Tuesday, Lagos state Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu imposed a 24-hour curfew and deployed riot police in the city.
In a televised statement on Wednesday morning, Governor Sanwo-Olu insisted that no one had been killed at the Lekki toll: “While we pray for the speedy recovery of the injured, we are comforted that we have not recorded any deaths.”
Later, that day, tweeted that one person had died at Reddington Hospital due to “blunt force trauma” to the head. He said it was an isolated case and said he was investigating whether the person killed was a protester. CNN reached out to the governor’s office but received no response.
The governor’s comments directly contradict statements from several eyewitnesses who said they saw multiple victims at the protest.
Speaking to CNN from the scene of the shooting, Temple Onanugbo said he saw “several bodies lying on the ground” when he arrived to help the wounded. He said he heard what he believed to be bullets fired from a nearby house and that the sound lasted “between 15 and 30 minutes.”
“I was on Instagram Live when the shooting started,” Henry Pundit, a filmmaker, told CNN. “They were coming at us with multiple shots. We fell to the ground and held our flag. We were crying, some were running.”
Amnesty International Nigeria tweeted that he had received “credible but disturbing evidence” of “excessive use of force resulting in the death of protesters.”
— Amnesty International Nigeria (@AmnestyNigeria) October 20, 2020
Governor Sanwo-Olu called for all forms of protest to end immediately and ordered an investigation into the incident. “Yesterday’s events were without a doubt some of the darkest gradients in our history as a state and as a people,” he said.
Earlier on Tuesday, the governor imposed a 24-hour curfew in Lagos, which has an estimated population of more than 20 million people, including the closure of all its schools.
The closure means only essential service providers and first responders are allowed to be on the streets.
SARS was dissolved on October 11 and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will train a new police unit to replace it, Reuters reported on Sunday.
Protesters are demanding greater protection against the police, including independent monitoring and psychological evaluation of officers.
On Wednesday, US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden urged President Buhari and the Nigerian military to stop “the violent crackdown on protesters in Nigeria that has already led to several deaths.”
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he was “deeply concerned by the recent violence and ongoing clashes in Nigeria” and “alarmed by widespread reports of civilian deaths”.
“We call for an end to the violence,” Raab added. “The Nigerian government must urgently investigate reports of brutality at the hands of security forces and hold those responsible to account.”
Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Buhari to do something to end the violence. “I’m calling on @mbuhari and @hqnigerianarmy to stop killing #EndSARS youth protesters. #Stop Nigerian Gov,” she said in a tweet.
Manchester United’s Nigerian soccer player Odion Ighalo said he was “ashamed of this government” in an Instagram post. “I call on the UK government, all the world leaders to look at what is happening in Nigeria and help us.”
Violence and curfews in Nigeria
Since the weekend, deaths and serious injuries have been reported amid the protests.
Videos on social media show dozens of cars belonging to protesters on fire, which Amnesty International Nigeria confirmed in Twitter.
“As we continue to investigate the killings, Amnesty International wishes to remind the authorities that, under international law, security forces may only resort to the use of lethal force when strictly unavoidable to protect themselves against an imminent threat of death or serious injury.” , the human rights group tweeted.
Other videos show a mass breakout of hundreds of prisoners from the Benin Correctional Center in Edo state in southern Nigeria. It is not known who is to blame for the escape, and the protesters claim that it was organized by the police. Nigerian police said in a tweet that protesters took weapons and ammunition from the armory before releasing suspects into custody and setting fire to the premises.
Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki imposed a curfew on Monday, tweeting about “disturbing incidents of vandalism and attacks on individuals and private institutions by thugs disguised as #EndSARS protesters.”
Riot police have been deployed across the country. According to a tweet from the Nigerian police force on Tuesday night, the Nigerian Police Inspector General ordered the immediate nationwide deployment of riot police officers “to protect the lives and property of all Nigerians and secure critical national infrastructure.” in all the country. “
— Tim Lister, Gianluca Mezzofiore, Katie Polglase, Dominic Rech and Harry Clarke-Ezzidio contributed reporting.