Several protesters were killed by Nigerian security forces in Lagos on Tuesday, Amnesty International said after witnesses reported that gunmen opened fire on protesters defying a curfew.
“People were killed at (Lekki) customs gate by security forces,” Amnesty Nigeria spokeswoman Isa Sanusi told AFP, citing an important protest site in the city.
He said the rights group “was working to control how many”.
Witnesses told AFP that shots were fired at the crowd of over 1,000 peaceful protesters to disperse them several hours after authorities declared an open lock in Lagos in the wake of spiral protests.
“We all sat peacefully and they closed the lights and billboards, everyone started screaming,” a protester named Toye told AFP, asking that her full name not be used.
“They came to us, but I do not know who it was. They shoot, and everyone ran for his life.”
Another protester, Innocent, said he helped ferry the wounded to nearby hospitals.
“Currently, I have two people that I am rushing into my car, a woman and a guy who are in very critical relationships,” he said.
“I rushed two people already to the hospital. One was shot in the back and one was shot in the stomach.” .
Scenes of people removing a bullet from someone’s wound and begging for help were broadcast in a live video by DJ Switch, a popular disc jockey, to 150,000 Instagram viewers.
Previously defiant protesters at the site had sung the national anthem and promised to remain out on the streets despite there being home-to-home order.
Anger over abuse from the police-fired Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) erupted in widespread protests about two weeks ago that drew thousands to the streets.
The governor of Lagos, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, ordered the closure around the clock in the scattered economic hub on Tuesday, claiming the protests had “degenerated into a monster” as violence flared in a number of cities.
“Criminals and criminals are now hiding under the umbrella of protocol to unleash chaos,” he wrote on Twitter, insisting that only important workers should stay out on the streets.
“We will not see and allow anarchy in our dear state.”
As the tone hardened from the authorities, Nigerian police chief ordered anti-riot units to be deployed around the country.
“The force will in future exercise the full powers of the law to prevent any further attempt on the lives and property of the citizens,” a statement said.
As of Tuesday, about 18 people had died in the demonstrations when clashes between protesters and attackers wearing civilian clothes were reported.
Rights groups and protesters have accused “thugs and sponsored lunatics” of attacking peaceful rallies and trying to discredit the protest movement.
Witnesses told AFP that a police station was burned in the Orile Iganmu district of Lagos on Tuesday morning. They said police opened fire on protesters and wounded several.
In the capital Abuja, security forces dispersed crowds during the day on Tuesday and thick black smoke could be seen over the city.
Violence also spread to the largest northern city of Kano, as hundreds of people hit, burned vehicles and looted businesses, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.
“The mob came near the school and started attacking parents who had come to pick up their children,” 35-year-old car mechanic Sadiq Mohammed told AFP.
Police said 12 suspects were also arrested in southern Benin city in connection with separate attacks on two police facilities.
The government announced the dismantling of the SARS unit and a series of reforms over a week ago, but the bid to place the protesters has failed.
Officials have called for the demonstrations to be suspended to give authorities time to fulfill their promises.
Nigeria – where the median age is 18 – is a tinderbox with deep economic and social complaints.
Approximately half of the population of 200 million is estimated to live in extreme poverty, and unemployment is widespread among young people.
Africa’s largest oil producer is currently facing a recession as the fall in crude prices triggered by the coronavirus pandemic has hit public finances.
The Lagos Chamber of Commerce said in a statement that the estimated economic losses over the last 12 days were naira 700 billion ($ 1.8 billion dollars, 1.5 billion euros).
On Tuesday, Senate called on President Muhammadu Buhari to speak to the nation about the protests “as a matter of urgency”.