Unrest spread across Lagos on Wednesday, as outrage escalated over a violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators against police brutality that left at least 30 people injured and a dozen dead.
There were reports of sporadic gunfire, burning buildings and armed gangs setting up makeshift checkpoints to extort money, the day after security forces shot at protesters at Lekki tollgate in the heart of Africa’s biggest city and Nigeria’s commercial centre.
Some protesters gathered at the tollgate despite an indefinite round-the-lock curfew imposed by the government, while shops, banks and consulates closed. Demonstrations were reported in other states too, including in defiance of a curfew in Osun state and in the capital city Abuja, where there were reports of gunfire.
As protesters broadcast images to social media of bloodied demonstrators fleeing gunfire on Tuesday night, politicians, including US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, condemned the clampdown.
“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.
Amina Mohammed, deputy secretary-general of the UN and a former environment minister in Mr Buhari’s government, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday night that she and the international body “are following the protests in #Nigeria calling for an end to human rights violations”.
A spokesman for the UN said António Guterres, the secretary-general, “condemns the escalating violence . . . [and] urges security forces to act at all times with maximum restraint”.
International celebrities including Beyoncé and Nigerian superstars Burna Boy and Davido also voiced concern, as did Manchester United footballer Odion Ighalo, who is Nigerian. “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,” he wrote on Twitter.
Mr Buhari has not commented on the crackdown at Lekki tollgate, although 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 towards hundreds of protesters. Demonstrators at Lekki were singing the national anthems and waving Nigerian flags before, according to witnesses and videos posted online, soldiers began firing upon them.
In an address on Wednesday morning, Lagos state governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said there were no fatalities, although that was disputed by witnesses.
Amnesty International said at least a dozen people had been killed in two locations in Lagos, including two near the statehouse in Alhausa. 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 added
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”.
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.