Nigerian army soldiers shot multiple people protesting police brutality in the city of Lagos Tuesday night amid a weeks-long spate of violence in the West African country. The soldiers reportedly opened fire directly on protesters in the Lekki neighborhood on the first night of a 24-hour curfew.
While the death toll was both unclear and unconfirmed in Tuesday night’s shooting, the New York Times reported that a police officer said at least 11 people died as a result. As the violence has steadily progressed over the past two weeks, Nigerians protesting police brutality have given birth to a top trending social media hashtag, #ENDSARS, a reference to the country’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of police officers accused of terrorizing citizens.
“Opening fire on peaceful protesters is a blatant violation of people’s rights to life, dignity, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Soldiers clearly had one intention – to kill without consequences,” Osai Ojigho, Country Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, said in an emailed statement.
Videos on social media showing the violence were accompanied by the hashtag and being widely shared, but all the facts were not immediately able to be verified. Here’s everything that we know about the violence in Nigeria.
How did we get here?
The current protests are the result of anti-SARS efforts that began back in late 2017, when al-Jazeera reported that the group of cops charged with confronting “violent crimes such as armed robbery, kidnapping and communal clashes” were actually committing those very crimes against citizens. One year earlier, an Amnesty International report accused SARS of “widespread torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (other ill-treatment) of detainees in their custody.”
Fast-forward nearly three years later and the #ENDSARS movement has taken off to the point that it’s captured the attention of an international audience, culminating in Tuesday’s night’s violence. Local officials as well as Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden have called on Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to act swiftly to end the violence.
What do protesters want?
An #ENDSARS website has been created to offer Nigerians a chance to share stories about their experiences with SARS. Many of the stories are horrific, including one person who claimed SARS extorted him out of his savings he planned to use to hospitalized his sick mother. Other stories on the End Sars website describe robbery, assault and even rape.
#ENDSARS has five demands it wants to be met: 1) to release protesters who have been arrested; 2) justice for people who have been killed by SARS, including compensation for their families; 3) an independent commission to govern the investigation and prosecution of guilty SARS members; 4) SARS to be retrained in proper police protocol; and 5) give all cops a raise.
Will the #ENDSARS movement get its way?
Lagos on Monday created “an 8-man Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution which will receive and investigate complaints of police brutality in Lagos,” Babajide Sanwo-Olu. Executive Governor of Lagos, tweeted. As #ENDSARS is a social movement led by young citizens, he said the panel would have two “youth members.”
But one day later the protests became the most violent yet, with soldiers allegedly instigating it by opening fire on protesters. And the commission in Lagos did not account for the reports of SARS terror in other parts of the country.
Biden called on Nigerian leadership to act quickly.
“I urge President Buhari and the Nigerian military to cease the violent crackdown on protesters in Nigeria, which has already resulted in several deaths,” Biden said Tuesday in a brief statement. But videos on social media suggest that protesters are in the fight for the long haul, even if they have to die fighting for their freedom.
One critic wrote in local news outlet Bella Naija that he didn’t expect Nigeria to truly dissolve SARS and mocked a tweet from Nigerian police listing five things to know about its plan to do so.
Noting that past efforts to end SARS have proven fruitless, Niyi Ademoroti wrote that the Nigerian police talking points were “all the same language, with no real strategies put in place to ensure the safety of the populace.”
This is a developing story that will be updated as additional information becomes available.
In the meantime, scroll down to see some of the images being shared on social media from Lagos as citizens continue their protest against violence and brutality by SARS police officers.
Please know the images are graphic and should be viewed with discretion.