Nigeria’s police chief mobilises to quell worst unrest in two decades

ANGELA UKOMADU

NIGERIA’S police chief ordered the immediate mobilisation of all force resources to try to control the worst street violence in Africa’s most populous country in two decades stemming from protests against police brutality.

The unrest, unprecedented since the 1999 return to civilian rule, is the most serious political crisis confronting President Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler elected in 2015. Curfews have been imposed on millions of people in recent days in response to violence and looting in parts of the country.

Violence, particularly in the commercial capital Lagos, escalated after demonstrators were shot on Tuesday night in the city’s Lekki district during a round-the-clock curfew.

Witnesses blamed soldiers.

Workers began a clean up of the streets of Lagos after the relaxation of a round-the-clock curfew after days of unrest sparked by the shooting of protesters demonstrating against police brutality in Nigeria.

Groups of men armed with knives and sticks blocked major roads and burned buildings and street signs in recent days as the city became the main flashpoint of the worst street violence since Nigeria’s return to civilian rule in 1999 and the most serious political crisis confronting President Muhammadu Buhari.

Violence in the sprawling commercial hub of Africa’s largest economy, a city of 20 million, escalated after protesters in the Lekki district on Tuesday night were shot by what witnesses said were soldiers, hours after the curfew was announced.

Amnesty International said soldiers and police killed at least 12 protesters on Tuesday in Lekki and Alausa, two Lagos districts. The army has denied soldiers were at the site of the shooting.

Lagos state said on Friday the restrictions on movement would be eased from Saturday, with the curfew in place from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. Workers took to streets to sweep away broken glass. Meanwhile, cars filled the roads.

“We need to sweep it so that the road can be free for the cars and motors to be going so that they cannot have accidents,” said cleaner Ajala Eyiwunmi.

Disruption has not been limited to Lagos. Several states in southern Nigeria have imposed curfews after two weeks of confrontations between security services and protesters.

On a call between Buhari and former Nigerian presidents, including his immediate predecessor Goodluck Jonathan, the head of state said 51 civilian fatalities and 37 injuries had been recorded as a result of “hooliganism” in recent weeks.

Many businesses, already hit hard by restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic, had been affected by the protests.

The Lagos Chamber of Commerce said Nigeria’s economy had suffered an estimated loss of 700 billion naira ($1.84 billion) due to lockdowns, before the violence.

“I thank God that today Lagos is good. We are happy at least I can go for my business now,” said shopkeeper James Odudo. – Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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