Nigeria has been rocked by nearly two weeks of protests against police brutality and calls to disband its controversial Special Anti-Robbery Squad, better known as SARS. Things escalated Tuesday, Oct. 20, after men in military uniforms reportedly opened fire on protestors in the nation’s largest city.
Witnesses told Reuters at least two people were shot when a group of over 20 soldiers advanced on the crowd of demonstrators in the Lekki district of Lagos.
“They started firing ammunition toward the crowd. They were firing into the crowd,” security officer Alfred Ononugbo, 55, told Reuters. “I saw the bullet hit one or two persons.”
The shooting took place at the Lekki toll gate in the Lagos suburb, according to a report from BBC News. A witness told BBC they were peacefully protesting with Nigerian flags when the shooting took place.
“We were sitting on the ground and singing the Nigerian national anthem and most of us had flags in our hands and we raised it up,” the witness, who requested not to be identified, said. “Then they opened fire directly straight at us and they kept on advancing and advancing. One or two people got hit. Everybody got up and it became total chaos.”
Lagos State Gov. Babajide Sanwo-Olu visited victims in the hospital. He tweeted photos of himself while there and said there were 25 people being treated for “mild to moderate levels of injuries while 2 are receiving intensive medical care.”
“As the Governor of our state, I recognise the buck stops at my table and I will work with the FG [federal government] to get to the root of this unfortunate incident and stabilise all security operations to protect the lives of our residents,” Sanwo-Olu said.
The latest shooting comes just days after Nigeria’s inspector general Johannes Tobi W. announced SARS would be disbanded. Tuesday was also the day a 24-hour curfew was imposed on Lagos and other areas in Nigeria.
There is no official death toll, but witnesses said at least 12 people were killed. Amnesty International, which reported on Oct. 21 that at “least 56 people have died across the country since the protest began, with about 38 killed on Tuesday alone,” tweeted the same day it “received credible but disturbing evidence of excessive use of force occasioning deaths of protesters at Lekki toll gate in Lagos.”
Nigeria’s military has disputed the allegations and said it was not responsible for the attack. A spokesperson called the allegations “fake news.”
Video footage and photos from Nigeria being circulated on social media support witness accounts. One young activist, a graphic designer in Lagos identified as Oke on social media, tweeted “Nigeria will not end me” the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 21. Four hours later, Oke was dead. Reports allege he was killed by a stray bullet while in his compound. His girlfriend, identified as Dede on Twitter, confirmed the report when she tweeted, “We had forever to go Oke,” with images of the two together.
The #EndSARS protests began after a video of a reported SARS officer shooting a man went viral. Nigerians have accused SARS of torture, hanging, and other crimes against citizens. Nigerian police also denied that shooting.
Celebrities like Idris Elba, Trevor Noah and Beyoncé have spoken out about the unrest in Nigeria.
“What our Nigerian brothers and sisters are going through is painful and all too familiar. Today the people of Nigeria are exposing and standing up to their governments lies. We should all support #EndSARS and the movement for a Nigeria free from corruption!” Noah tweeted.
“I am heartbroken to see the senseless brutality taking place in Nigeria. There has to be an end to SARS,” Beyoncé wrote in an Instagram post, adding she was partnering with organizations on the ground there to provide “emergency healthcare, food and shelter” to protestors. “To our Nigerian sisters and brothers, we stand with you,” she continued.
Elba called on other African countries to step in and help Nigerians in a video he posted to Instagram.
“People should not be persecuted for protesting and basically murdered. So I’m calling for the leaders, I’m calling for the other African leaders to say something to the leadership of Nigeria right now,” Elba said. “We have to show them that we care about what’s going on, OK? Please do something, say something.”