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Nigerian youths plan protest memorials a year after bloody crackdown

By Camille MALPLAT
Nigeria Online messages have called on youths to 'honour the memory of the victims'.  By Phill Magakoe (AFP)
OCT 20, 2021 LISTEN
Online messages have called on youths to 'honour the memory of the victims'. By Phill Magakoe (AFP)

Activists say they will stage commemorations in several cities in Nigeria Wednesday, one year after security forces violently suppressed protests, despite several warnings from the authorities.

Messages calling on youths to rally in the capital Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt to "honour the memory of the victims" have been shared tens of thousands of times across social networks.

Youth-led demonstrations against police brutality in Africa's most populous country came to a halt after October 20, 2020, when security forces shot at thousands of peaceful protesters gathered at the Lekki tollgate in Lagos.

The crackdown was live-streamed on social media and Amnesty International has since said it has confirmed that at least 10 people were killed.

The Nigerian army denied shooting live rounds, telling a judicial panel only blanks were used to disperse a crowd that had violated a curfew.

The protest movement that has sprung up since is named after the social media hashtag #EndSARS.

It started as a campaign to close the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit but snowballed into wider protests against bad governance.

'Fallen heroes'

The singer Falz, who has over eight million followers on Instagram, is among those who shared details of a planned rally in Lagos.

"It is impossible for us not to memorialise our fallen heroes," Falz wrote. "We will never ever forget."

"Innocent Nigerian citizens waved flags and sang till they were shot at, injured and killed."

A procession of cars would cross through the tollgate, the epicentre of the earlier demonstrations, to mark the anniversary, he said.

Human Rights Watch denounced what it called a 'culture of impunity'.  By PIUS UTOMI EKPEI (AFP) Human Rights Watch denounced what it called a 'culture of impunity'. By PIUS UTOMI EKPEI (AFP)

"We know their way, so a procession of cars is the safest option to minimise police harassment," he added.

Recent weeks have seen multiple warnings against more EndSARS protests by the authorities, who say they turned into rioting and pillaging last year.

According to Amnesty, at least 56 people died nationwide during the weeks of protests.

Police reported 51 civilians and 22 officers killed in and around the demonstrations, with 205 police stations and other buildings set ablaze or vandalised.

In February, several dozen protesters gathered at the Lekki tollgate to demand justice for the victims of the crackdown. All the protesters were arrested.

Lawyer Moe Odele took to Twitter to urge all lawyers who tried to represent those arrested to "stand by tomorrow" for the memorial.

"They will not intimidate us into silence," said Odele.

'Culture of impunity'

A major deployment of security forces is expected Wednesday in Lagos, particularly at the Lekki tollgate, where several police units have already been deployed over recent nights, witnesses have told AFP.

In the federal capital Abuja, gathering is scheduled at the Unity fountain, scene of previous demonstrations and physical attacks on protesters last year.

At other southern cities including Port Harcourt and Nsukka, candle-lit marches are set for the evening.

In a new report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Tuesday that victims were still awaiting justice.

It said it had interviewed 54 people, including victims and their family members, protesters, civil society members, doctors and journalists.

The rights group was unable to confirm a death toll but witnesses told researchers they saw "what appeared to be at least 15 lifeless bodies and that military officers had taken away at least 11."

"Failure to pursue justice will strengthen the culture of impunity and reinforce the perceptions that brought protesters to the streets in the first place," said HRW researcher Anietie Ewang.

Nigeria set up the judicial panel last year to investigate the bloodshed and wider allegations of police abuses.

Public hearings ended on Monday and its findings should shortly go to the government.

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