Nigeria president warns protesters; fails to address shooting

Muhammadu Buhari accuses demonstrators of threatening ‘national security’ as violence continues across the country.

Protesters chant and sing solidarity songs as they barricade the Lagos-Ibadan expressway to protest against police brutality [Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP]
Protesters chant and sing solidarity songs as they barricade the Lagos-Ibadan expressway to protest against police brutality [Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP]

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari spoke to the nation about the unrest that has gripped the country in recent days without making any mention of the deadly shooting of peaceful protesters that prompted international outrage.

Buhari called on Nigerians to stop demonstrating and engage with the government in a short televised speech on Thursday. The shootings have been widely condemned, but he did not speak of them at all during his address.

“I would like to appeal to protesters to note and take advantage of the various well thought-out initiatives of this administration designed to make their lives better and more meaningful and resist the temptation of being used by some subversive elements to cause chaos with the aim of truncating our nascent democracy,” said Buhari.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari before giving a televised address in Abuja, Nigeria [Reuters]
“For you to do otherwise will amount to undermining national security and law and order… Under no circumstances would this be tolerated.”

He called on Nigeria youths “to discontinue the street protests and constructively engage the government in finding solutions. Your voice has been heard loud and clear and we are responding”.

Chaos continues

Gunfire rang out in the affluent Ikoyi neighbourhood of Nigeria’s commercial capital Lagos on Thursday with witnesses saying assailants attacked a detention facility in the area that is home to government offices.

Smoke was also seen rising from the direction of Ikoyi correctional facility, and trucks carrying police were seen heading towards the prison. The wreckage of a dozen cars smouldered in the upscale Ikoyi neighbourhood and two official buildings were ablaze.

“The Ikoyi prison is mainly surrounded by government buildings and security establishments. Residents said they saw hoodlums armed with clubs and then gunfire was heard and the fires and smoke were later seen,” said Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris, reporting from the capital Abuja.

Other accounts suggested the gunfire resulted from an attempted jailbreak by prisoners. It was unclear if any inmates escaped.

Soldiers patrolled the streets of the city on Thursday a day after several buildings – including police stations, a TV channel and the port – were torched.

The city of 20 million is under a round-the-clock curfew imposed after nearly two weeks of protests against police brutality – the West African nation’s biggest wave of unrest since the end of military rule in 1999.

Amnesty International said at least 12 people were killed by the Nigerian army and police in a crackdown on protesters on Tuesday that drew international condemnation. Overall, 56 people have died across the country since demonstrations against police abuse and bad governance began on October 8.

Several states are also under curfew and the oil-producing Delta state said it would enter a 48-hour curfew from 6pm (17:00 GMT) on Thursday.

A Lagos state spokesman later said the fire at Ikoyi prison was under control and officers were at the scene. He did not say how it started or comment on the reports of gunfire.

“It’s time for everybody to … calm the nerves so we can get the youth and the protesters off the streets,” state Governor Sanwo-Olu told Arise TV.

He said the army had offered on Wednesday to send in soldiers to keep the peace, but did not go into further details or say whether he would take up the offer.

‘Premeditated, planned’

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said his “heart goes out” to the victims of Tuesday’s shooting, as well as policemen and others who have lost their lives in several days of turmoil in Africa’s most populous country.

“The pain of these terrible events is palpable in our towns and cities, and some losses are irreplaceable, but we can and will get justice for all of them,” Osinbajo said in a statement.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said reports that lights were turned off and surveillance cameras removed at the scene before Tuesday’s attack suggested it was “premeditated, planned and coordinated”.

Violence escalated on Wednesday as groups of young men and armed police clashed in some neighbourhoods following the shooting at a toll gate in the Lagos district of Lekki.

The army has denied soldiers were at the site of the shooting, where people had gathered in defiance of the curfew. A military spokesman declined further comment, saying reporters should wait for the outcome of a Lagos state investigation into the incident.

Lagos governor Sanwo-Olu said footage from CCTV cameras near the scene of Tuesday’s shooting would be studied by investigators and would be released to the public.

Al Jazeera’s Idris reported violence also erupted again in Lekki on Thursday and security forces were deployed to the area.

“We have heard calls from religious and community leaders calling on the president to address concerns about escalating violence across the country, the abuse allegedly committed by security forces, and the way things are getting out of hand,” said Idris.

“Looters and arsonists are now taking over what started as decent protest marches.”

People hold banners as they demonstrate against poverty in Lagos [Sunday Alamba/AP]

‘Immediate investigation’

The United States on Thursday condemned what it called excessive use of force by the Nigerian military for firing on unarmed demonstrators.

“We welcome an immediate investigation into any use of excessive force by members of the security forces,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

Nigeria’s army has dubbed as “fake news” reports that soldiers opened fire on demonstrators. Police Minister Muhammad Maigari Dingyadi told the BBC that troops were not ordered to open fire on protesters.

Pompeo said those involved “should be held to account in accordance with Nigerian law”.

“The right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression are essential human rights and core democratic principles,” Pompeo said.

Nigeria’s president called on the international community on Thursday to “know all facts”.

Source : Al Jazeera and News agencies

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