Young Nigerians came for Protest police brutality. Then the shooting started.

LAGOS, Nigeria — The first sign that something was wrong at the leaky toll gate when the lights went off.

David Emanuel, Feishara Temitope and hundreds of other Nigerian protesters gathered at a crossroads on Tuesday for the 13th straight night to become the symbolic home of a two-week nationwide demonstration against brutality in Africa’s most populous country .

According to some protesters, before 7 pm, fluorescent streetlights illuminating the neighborhood of shopping malls and office towers plunged the street into darkness. The protesters said that within 30 minutes, Nigerian soldiers had alighted from gun trucks.

As protesters began to sing the Nigerian national anthem, “Arise o ‘Compatriots”, the army fired live rounds at the unarmed protesters, killing many and flags stained with blood, images of those Nigerian social-media people Filled with condemnation from all over the world.

The 26-year-old cellphone seller, Mr. Emanuel said, “We thought they would not refuse anyone to sing the national anthem.”

Picture taken from a video showing Nigerian police shooting at protesters.


Handout / Reuters

“I saw 10 dead bodies in the street. I was in deep shock, I felt that I was watching an American film, ”said Ms. Temitop, a 32-year-old banker.

The number of people killed and injured in Tuesday’s devastation is still uncertain. Witnesses have estimated to The Wall Street Journal how many blood-soaked corpses they saw at the leaky toll gate between five and 20. Amnesty International said it identified at least 10 people who died of their injuries. Exceptional execution. “US officials in Nigeria said they” decisively determined “that the military was responsible and called for an immediate investigation.

Several videos corroborating the testimony of witnesses were verified by the Journal and Storyful, a social-media verification company. Storyful is owned by the journal’s parent company, News Corp.

The federal government of Nigeria has declined to comment on the avatar, pending an investigation. An army spokesman questioned the police about the killings before refusing. After days of silence, President Muhammadu Buhari addressed the nation on Thursday evening, asking protesters to leave the streets, but made no mention of Tuesday’s attack.

The violence escalated after two weeks of unrest in Nigeria, as witnesses accused soldiers of shooting and killing several protesters. Here’s how the movement against police vandalism, known as #EndSARS, led to a widespread call for change. Photo: Sunday Alamba / Associated Press

“This government respects and will continue to respect all democratic rights and civil liberties of the people,” Mr. Buhari said. “But it will not allow anyone or groups to disrupt the peace of our nation.”

The military operation at the leaky toll gate suggests a rift between the government and many governed in Africa’s largest oil producing countries. Protests on the street against police brutality led to widespread looting and vandalism. Angry mobs roasted parts of Lagos, set fire to police stations, killed at least one officer, attacked the property of government loyalists and looted department stores.

Scattered gunshots can be heard in many city districts through Thursday. The traditional but ceremonial king of the region, the Oba of Lagos, was to be evacuated from his palace by the army. As of Thursday evening, 10 states were under 24-hour curfew.

For the US, which considers the country of 206 million as its most important military ally in sub-Saharan Africa, the demonstrations and the government’s lethal response have become a policy problem.

People were injured when security forces opened fire at the Lekki toll gate.


Photo Adetona Omokanye / Getty Images

In a sign of the complexity of that bilateral relationship, three top officials of the US State Department arrived in Abuja in the hours before the Lekki murders, where two US diplomats described it as a fact-finding trip to learn more about the drivers of instability. Nigeria The US is also hoping to sell Nigeria’s jet fighters and attack helicopters, an issue they discussed during the visit. US officials said the administration is in the early stages of preparing a plan to help Nigeria meet its security challenges.

The US released a statement on Thursday, a day after Britain, the European Union and other allies. “The United States strongly condemns incidents of military forces firing at unarmed protesters in Lagos,” said Secretary of State Mike Pomio. “Those involved should be held to account under the law.”

Protests may fracture the streets, but they will have a lasting impact, political and military analysts say, fueling a political awakening of Nigerian youth – a large number of whom did not vote in last year’s presidential election.

Organized under the hashtag #EndSARS, the protesters initially campaigned to dissolve a notorious police unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, and officers were prosecuted for extortion, rape and murder. The government of Nigeria has dissolved SARS and promised to investigate allegations of misconduct against its officials.

But the demonstrations quickly developed into a widespread movement against inequality, corruption, and nepotism, by blasting public consciousness through an amorphous, social-media-driven campaign led by middle-class Nigerians in Black Latter Matter in America Was reminiscent of. The emerging global pattern of youth-led calls for change, from Hong Kong to Sudan and Chile.

On Thursday, the African Union condemned the killing of unarmed protesters and the United Nations called for a “root and branch” reform of Nigeria’s security services. “There is little doubt that it was a case of excessive use of force, resulting in unlawful killings with live ammunition by the Nigerian Armed Forces,” said United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.

Some Nigerian senior officials say the protests are part of a conspiracy to create tension between various ethnic and religious groups in the country. They emphasize that not all Nigerians have the same view about SARS: in the northeast of the country, where the government is fighting a belligerent insurgency against the jihadist group Boko Haram, calling SARS an effective fighting force Is seen in

Many Nigerians feel that two decades after the end of military rule and the advent of democracy, little has changed.

“The social contract is clearly broken to this extent,” said Matthew Page, an official at the US State Department at Chatham House, a London-based foreign affairs think tank. “Things have reached a really difficult point.”

Center Governor Babajide Sanov-Olu visited the injured victims at a hospital in Lagos on Wednesday.


Lagos State Government Press / Associated Press

The minutes before the Lekki avatar were full of hope.

According to the protesters and videos present as seven, Nigerian comedian Ayo Mukun, addressing the protesters, instructed to wave the country’s green-white flag, instructing them to end peacefully. Anticipating the possible deployment of security forces, the crowd practiced singing the national anthem while doing the cross leg on the ground.

The protesters hurled stones at police officers, swooped to the ground to take out bottles or anything. The comedian was replaced on stage in Nigeria by DJ Switch, a household name who won the country’s equivalent of “The X Factor” and collaborated with American rapper Busta Rhymes.

Mr. Emanuel and Ms. Temitop heard as DJs switch the crowd to warn that the soldiers were allegedly heading to the toll gate, but said that if the protesters waved their flags and sang the anthem, they would be safe.

Minutes later, shooting began. They first heard the dull thud, then the whistle of tear-gas canisters, tickling the area in a pungent yellow smoke, followed by a crack of bullets. Witnesses saw sparks flying from the soldiers’ rifles.

First, Mr. Emanuel was confused as to whether the bullets were flying over him until he heard a scream. He continued to sing the national anthem, but people began to tremble. He dived to the ground and saw that a person had a bullet on his right side. Another witness noticed that a person saw his stomach stained with blood. A third saw a man bleeding from the ribs, understood him.

Police officials detained a protestor at the Lekki toll gate on Wednesday.


Sunday Alumba / Associated Press

“We realized that the soldiers were out to kill us and there was no discussion. We were lying flat on the floor then. “Shooting continued.” It was an epidemic. “

DJ Switch began to live the scene on his Instagram feed, watching over 150,000 people worldwide as protesters tried to cure bullet wounds. “Gunshot wounds. Bring an ambulance for us!” He can be heard shouting. “Patient vehicle! Patient vehicle! Patient Vehicle! “

Many witnesses described the soldiers as refusing permission to ambulance to reach the injured. An accountant at a multinational company said, “They didn’t say a word, they just kept tossing their guns.” He helped carry a young woman. “She was not moving at all, there was bleeding on her neck.”

As Mr. Emanuel was wandering for safety, walking more than a kilometer away, Ms. Temitop was searching for her friend and neighbor, Lucy, who was separated from them in the melee. Ms. Temitop danced to her friend the day before at the Lackey Toll Gate to dance and laugh in her favorite white Nike baseball cap.

The next time he sees a cellphone is on the screen, it is spread on the back of a truck with a large bullet wound in his head.

“I was just told that Lucy’s corpse was deposited in the morchary,” she said. “The soldiers will not allow the ambulance inside.”

Write Joe Parkinson at [email protected] and Drew Hinshaw at [email protected]

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