Nigeria’s president blames ‘hooliganism’ for deaths of 51 civilians in unrest

Credit: AP

Nigeria's president blamed "hooliganism" for the violence which has seen 51 protesters killed during demonstrations over police brutality.

Muhammadu Buhari’s said security forces had shown "extreme restraint" - comments which are likely to further inflame tensions between protesters and authorities.

The demonstrations began earlier this month with calls for the Nigerian government to shut down the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a police unit known as SARS.

The squad was launched to fight crime, but it carried out torture and killings, according to Amnesty International.

Amnesty International said soldiers shot and killed at least 12 demonstrators on Tuesday night as a large crowd sang the national anthem.

Mr Buhari also says 11 policemen and seven soldiers had been killed by “rioters” as of Thursday, and “the mayhem has not stopped”.

Another 37 civilians were injured, he said, and claimed the well-intentioned protests had been hijacked by thugs.

On Friday, Mr Buhari said the government “will not fold its arms and allow miscreants and criminals continue to perpetrate acts of hooliganism.”

Soldiers remain on the streets of Lagos, Nigeria's largest city, as a 24-hour curfew remained in place.

Nigeria's president blamed 'hooliganism' for the protests. Credit: AP

A witness of Tuesday night’s shooting, 33-year-old Isaiah Abor, ventured out anyway to visit the scene where solders had opened fire. He managed to escape the chaos.

“When (the soldiers) were making comments that the flag is not bulletproof, that’s when I knew this was going to go out of hand,” Abor said.

Empty ammunition shells still littered the ground.

Mr Abor said the president's speech had angered him. He said: “We are not cowards. We will always come to this ground, and we will always feel for those that are gone.”

Another protester, Olatunde Joshua Oluwanifemi, said simply: “The speech killed our spirit.”

Burnt vehicles are seen near the Lekki toll gate, in Lagos. Credit: AP

The president’s comments, “devoid of sympathy,” were worrying, said Okechukwu Nwanguma with the Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Center.

Shielding those behind the shootings will only lead to abuses by the police and military, he said: “If those who carried out the killings did so and nothing happens, it will encourage them and others to do the same thing next time.”

The #EndSARS campaign spread across the country and Buhari’s government announced that it would disband the SARS unit. The protest persisted with demonstrators calling for more widespread reforms of the police and an end to corruption.

In one attempt at calming tensions, the Lagos state government on Friday shared a list of ongoing prosecution against police officers accused of human rights abuses.