Tens of thousands in Nigeria have been demonstrating for two weeks now against the now-disbanded police unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), that rights groups had for years accused of extortion, harassment, torture and murders.
Citizens in the West African nation have also started a social media campaign using the hashtag #EndSARS to register their anger, which now extends beyond SARS to include deep-rooted social grievances.
On Wednesday, unrest spread in Lagos, a day after witnesses and rights groups said army soldiers opened fire on a crowd of peaceful protesters defying a curfew during demonstrations against police brutality in Nigeria’s largest city.
According to Amnesty International, Nigerian police and army killed at least 12 peaceful protesters on October 20.
Here is a timeline of how the events have unfolded:
Protests are sparked by a viral video allegedly showing SARS officers killing a young man in the southern Delta state.
Authorities claim the video was fake and arrested the man who made it, provoking even more anger.
Nigerians take to social media as the hashtag #EndSARS tops the global trends on Twitter, supported by world-famous Afrobeat pop stars such as Davido and Wizkid.
Demonstrations across Nigeria start in major cities protesting against the death of the young man killed on October 3.
Hundreds of youths gather in central Lagos, holding banners reading “respect for human rights” and “a more equal society”.
In capital Abuja, dozens of protesters demonstrate with police forces using tear gas to disperse protesters, as per witness accounts.
Nigeria’s police chief announces the dissolution of SARS after days of widespread demonstrations against police brutalities.
Muhammed Adamu, inspector general of police, says the unit will be abolished “with immediate effect”, a decision made “in response to the yearnings of the Nigerian people”.
All SARS officers, he says, will be redeployed to other police commands, formations and units.
Nevertheless, demonstrators pledge to keep up their campaign seeking justice for victims of police brutality and an overhaul of the security apparatus.
As protests intensify, the Nigerian army releases a statement warning “all subversive elements and troublemakers” and says it “remains highly committed to defend the country and her democracy at all cost”.
The Nigerian army adds it “is ready to fully support the civil authority in whatever capacity to maintain law and order and deal with any situation decisively”.
On Tuesday, Nigeria’s security forces are accused of shooting dead demonstrators according to several witnesses, as authorities imposed a curfew while promising an investigation.
Amnesty International says it has received “credible but disturbing evidence of excessive use of force occasioning deaths of protesters at Lekki toll gate in Lagos”, adding that it was investigating the killings.
At least 12 people were killed, the group claims, adding the death toll was likely to be higher.
The Human Rights Watch also confirmed security forces shooting at protesters calling it a “shooting spree”.
— Amnesty International Nigeria (@AmnestyNigeria) October 20, 2020
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari assures justice for victims of brutality, and that the police reforms demanded by the demonstrators were gathering pace.
The United Nations condemns the use of “excessive and disproportionate” force by Nigerian security forces against peaceful protesters.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urges “Nigerian authorities to take urgent steps to deal decisively with the underlying problem of persistent violations committed by the security forces”.
Meanwhile, Governor Babjide Sanwo-Olu, in an interview to local media reveals the chief of defence staff and chief of army staff called on Wednesday that if required the military, “they will deploy them”.
The African Union Commission chairman strongly condemns deadly violence in Nigeria’s biggest city Lagos and calls on all parties to “privilege dialogue”.
Moussa Faki Mahamat “strongly condemns the violence that erupted on 20 October 2020 during protests in Lagos, Nigeria that has resulted in multiple deaths and injuries”, his office says in a statement.
— African Union (@_AfricanUnion) October 21, 2020