Protesters have defied a round-the-clock curfew to remain on the streets of Lagos as unrest continued in Nigeria’s largest city after soldiers opened fire on demonstrators, causing “multiple deaths”.
Buildings were set aflame and further gunfire was reported on Wednesday after a night of chaotic violence following two weeks of nationwide protests over police brutality.
The state governor of Lagos, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, claimed that only one person had been killed when forces opened fire on “End Sars” demonstrators, who have been protesting against systematic abuses. However, the United Nations said there had been “multiple deaths” and the speaker of the Nigerian parliament’s lower chamber said it was “unavoidably and painfully clear that there were a number of casualties”.
As many as 12 protesters died, according to witnesses who spoke to the BBC.
Amnesty International said it had received credible reports of several deaths resulting from “excessive use of force” on protesters.
Mr Sanwo-Olu had earlier said that 25 people were being treated for mild to moderate injuries and two were in intensive care following the gunfire. Authorities said they would order an investigation into the violence.
The shootings took place at a toll gate in the Lekki district of the city of Lagos, which has become a focal point of protests since early October.
The demonstrations initially focused on the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (Sars) – a police unit that rights groups have long accused of extortion, harassment, torture and murder – after video footage showed a man being beaten by an officer. The unit was disbanded on 11 October, but the protests have persisted with calls for reform of law enforcement.
The United Nations secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, called on Wednesday for “an end to reported police brutality and abuses” and condemned the “violent escalation” on Tuesday that “resulted in multiple deaths and caused many injuries”.
He urged Nigeria to “investigate these incidents and hold the perpetrators accountable”.
Witnesses said the toll gate's lights were turned off, plunging the protest into confusion, moments before the shooting began on Tuesday.
Henry Kufre, a television producer, said the atmosphere had been peaceful and people were singing the national anthem before gunfire broke out.
Witnesses said soldiers in uniform walked towards the crowd, shooting as they walked. Mr Kufre told Reuters he saw about 10 people being shot and soldiers removing bodies.
Another witness, Chika Dibia, said soldiers hemmed in people as they shot at them.
In a statement that did not refer directly to the shooting, Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, appealed for “understanding and calm” and said he was committed to providing justice for victims of brutality.
He said the dissolution of the Sars unit was “the first step in a set of reform policies that will deliver a police system accountable to the Nigerian people”.
The shootings came just hours after Mr Sanwo-Olu warned that the growing protests against police brutality had “degenerated into a monster that is threatening the wellbeing of our society”.
Police had also warned that security forces would now “exercise the full powers of the law to prevent any further attempt on lives and property of citizens”.
Protests continued across Nigeria on Wednesday, with reports of further gunfire in Lagos and rallies in other cities, including the capital, Abuja.
The UK’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said he was “deeply concerned by the recent violence and continued clashes in Nigeria” and “alarmed by widespread reports of civilian deaths”.
“The Nigerian government must urgently investigate reports of brutality at the hands of the security forces and hold those responsible to account,” he added.