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21.10.2020 Nigeria

Nigeria: two weeks of spiralling protests

By AFP
The protests in Nigeria initially called for the scrapping of the Special Ant-Robbery Squad (SARS).  By PIUS UTOMI EKPEI (AFP/File)
LISTEN OCT 21, 2020
The protests in Nigeria initially called for the scrapping of the Special Ant-Robbery Squad (SARS). By PIUS UTOMI EKPEI (AFP/File)

For two weeks Nigeria has been rocked by protests that erupted against police violence and evolved into broader anti-government demonstrations led by the country's youth, leading to a deadly crackdown.

Here is a recap:

Video goes viral

On October 3, a video spreads on social media showing what looks like an officer from the federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) attacking a young man in the southern town of Ughelli, in Delta state.

The video goes viral and leads thousands of people to go online and share their own stories of police abuse.

In a matter of days, the hashtag #EndSARS tops the global trends on Twitter, supported by world famous Afrobeat pop stars like Davido and Wizkid.

Protests

On October 8, security forces crack down on protests that break out across the country. In Ughelli one protester and one police officer are killed in the clashes.

The next day, hundreds of people take to the streets in several major cities to protest against police violence.

One person is killed by security forces on October 10 in Ogbomoso, in the southwestern Oyo state.

Squad dissolved

On October 11, demonstrations grow and several protests are organised by the Nigerian diaspora, notably in London.

President Muhammadu Buhari, bowing to pressure, announces that SARS will be dissolved, with immediate effect.

The government says a new SWAT unit will replace SARS, with promises that it will be "ethical", and police abuses will be investigated and prosecuted.

Growing unrest

But the announcements do not appease protesters and the next day thousands of people take to the streets in several cities.

Demonstrators have made five demands that include structural police reforms and better pay for officers.

Many demonstrators are also calling for more wide-sweeping change in Nigeria, which has the largest number of people living in extreme poverty in the world and a massive youth unemployment rate.

In Surulere, in Lagos state, one protester and one police officer are killed in clashes, according to the Lagos state government.

Road blocks, army warning

On October 13, thousands of people take to the streets in a string of cities, bringing traffic to a standstill in economic hub and largest city Lagos.

Two days later in a statement, the military issues a warning to "troublemakers" and says it "remains highly committed to defend the country and her democracy at all cost".

But protests continue, with flag-waving crowds heading towards the national assembly in the capital Abuja and people gathering to block traffic on key roads in Lagos.

The sprawling megacity of 20 million is paralysed on October 19 when protesters block the airport and most major roads, causing huge traffic jams. Schools are also shut.

Amnesty International estimates at least 15 people have died since demonstrations started, including two police officers.

'Thugs'

Protesters around the country have repeatedly complained that "thugs" believed to have been paid by local officials have violently broken up rallies.

In Benin City in southern Edo state, police say two of their facilities were attacked on October 19 by "persons posing as #EndSARS protestors".

Twelve suspects are arrested after the incident and the local governor imposes a 24-hour curfew.

Lagos curfew, deaths

On October 20, protests turn violent in a string of cities including Lagos and Abuja.

A round-the-clock curfew is imposed in Lagos and anti-riot police units are deployed nationwide.

That evening more than 1,000 people defy the curfew and gather at Lekki tollgate in Lagos, the epicentre of the demonstrations.

Several protesters are killed by security forces, according to Amnesty. The Lagos governor initially said 25 people were wounded but that there were not fatalities. He later said the authorities were investigating the death of one person who suffered "blunt trauma" to the head.

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