Nigeria’s president urges youth to discontinue street protests

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has called for an end to street protests in the country, as authorities in the commercial capital Lagos struggled to enforce a curfew imposed to contain anger over a crackdown on anti-police protesters.

Gunshots rang out and smoke rose from at least two fires in the affluent Ikoyi neighbourhood on Thursday, witnesses said. A fire broke out in the district’s prison, the state government said. A shopping mall in another part of Lagos was also set ablaze.

The unrest has become a political crisis for Buhari, a former military leader who came to power at the ballot box in 2015 and is commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Some protesters have said they feared a return to the dark days of military rule.

Violence in Lagos, Africa’s biggest city and the commercial hub of the continent’s largest economy, has escalated since Wednesday. Groups of young men and armed police clashed in some neighbourhoods following a shooting on Tuesday night in Lekki district.

Rights group Amnesty International said soldiers and police killed at least 12 protesters in Lekki and Alausa, another Lagos district. On Thursday the human rights group called for an “immediate and thorough investigation of allegations of unlawful killing and use of excessive force against protestors in Lagos on the evening of Tuesday 20 Oct. 2020.”

The army has denied soldiers were at the site of the shooting, where people had gathered in defiance of the curfew.

Buhari urged youths to “discontinue the street protests and constructively engage government in finding solutions” in a televised address to the nation that marked his first public statement since the shootings.

But the president made no direct reference to the shootings, prompting criticism on social media.

The protests against police brutality, which involved nationwide marches for nearly two weeks until the Tuesday shootings, were largely peaceful.