News and Views

Nigerian Protesters Defy Curfew After Deadly Crackdown

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(Bloomberg) –Ruth Olurounbi, William Clowes and Tope Alake

Hundreds of young Nigerians defied a lockdown and returned to the streets of Lagos, Africa’s most populous city, a day after the security forces violently confronted a crowd protesting against police brutality.

Youths carrying sticks and metal poles set tires on fire and chased cars that tried to evade barricades they’d erected along one of Lagos’s main expressways. Several other streets were also sealed off, and the sound of sporadic gunshots echoed across the city.

A Nigerian Red Cross Society official said at least two civilians were shot dead in Lagos’s Lekki district on Tuesday, adding to at least six other deaths, including those of three policemen, in other areas. Lagos state Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said 25 people were hospitalized and one died of his injuries after the incident. He ordered a probe into the conduct of the army, which falls under the federal government’s control.

The soldiers’ intervention on Tuesday night “turned a peaceful protest against police brutality into a shooting spree,” Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher for New York-headquartered Human Rights Watch, said in an emailed statement. The country’s authorities “should immediately withdraw the military from the streets” and prosecute the officers who were responsible or complicit, she said.

In a series of tweets on its Twitter page, the army labeled reports that soldiers had fired on the protesters in Lekki as fake news. Spokespeople for the army and the police didn’t immediately answer calls seeking comment.

While Nigeria has become accustomed to violent incidents in recent years, most have been confined to the country’s north, where President Muhammadu Buhari’s government is fighting an Islamist insurgency led by Boko Haram extremists. Deaths perpetrated by security forces in the country’s economic hub are rare.

The protests erupted on Oct. 5, with thousands of mainly young people having taken to the streets of Abuja, the capital, Lagos and other towns, blocking major roads and bridges, disrupting flights and bringing many businesses to a standstill. The unrest and the authorities’ increasingly heavy handed response has begun to unnerve financial markets.

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