As security forces were deployed to patrol Nigeria’s major cities after days of unrest following the shooting of protesters, calm is being restored across the country.
President Muhammadu Buhari had warned demonstrators in a televised address on Thursday not to “undermine national security” as he called for an end to widespread protests gripping Africa’s most populous country.
The 78-year-old leader, who spoke for the first time since the shooting in Lagos on Tuesday without directly addressing the incident, appealed to the youth to “resist the temptation of being used by some subversive elements to cause chaos”.
“For you to do otherwise will amount to undermining national security and the law and order situation. Under no circumstances will this be tolerated,” Buhari said.
The president’s address was followed by an order by the country’s police chief, charging his officers to restore peace and put a stop to looting of government and commercial premises by irate youths angered by the unprovoked shooting of unarmed protesters in the Lekki area of Lagos last Tuesday.
The disorderliness and riots that followed the shooting, which has been condemned locally and internationally, has also been blamed on the level of extreme poverty in the country, which has been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pent-up economic and social grievances found raw expression as youths invaded warehouses owned by governments containing relief materials for the public and looting the contents across the country.
Protests against police brutality erupted on 8 October after a video of an officer killing a civilian went viral with youth activists demanding the disbanding of the notorious police unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
Under the harshtag #EndSARS, protesters across the country also added issues of unemployment, bad governance, corruption, among others, to a list of grievances which they called on government to address.
The protests were largely peaceful until Tuesday night when videos appeared in social media showing soldiers firing live bullets into a peaceful crowd of about 1,000 protesters in Lagos. Nobody knows for sure how many died in the incident as eyewitnesses report that the soldiers carried away the corpses of many victims of the shooting, which has been condemned by the UN, EU, US and many international human rights organisations, among others. The Lagos State government said three people died, but youth activists say there were far more causalities.
Riots broke out in Lagos and several cities after the shooting, with criminals exploiting the ensuing confusion to loot and steal from citizens, attacking police officers and their stations and causing general commotion.
Amnesty International said a total of 56 people have died in the unrest across the country since it began on 8 October.
Kola Tella, Lagos