Nigeria’s security forces have been condemned for their excessive use of force and for allegedly firing on unarmed demonstrators during protests against police abuse.

Fires burned across Lagos and residents reported hearing gunfire despite President Muhammadu Buhari's appeal for
Fires burned across Lagos and residents reported hearing gunfire despite President Muhammadu Buhari's appeal for "understanding and calm". October 21, 2020. (Reuters)

The Nigerian military has offered to deploy in Lagos state if needed to protect key business and government sites amid anti-police protests.

But shops were shuttered and streets empty most of Thursday as Nigeria's largest city Lagos was locked down under curfew after unrest flared following the shooting of protesters.

Amnesty International said at least 12 people were killed by the Nigerian army and police in a brutal crackdown on protesters Tuesday that drew international condemnation. The state government later said it could confirm one fatality but did not comment on whether the death was linked to the shooting at Tuesday's protest.

Governor Babjide Sanwo-Olu said on Thursday in an interview on local station Arise TV that the chief of defence staff and the chief of army staff  called him around midday on Wednesday "to say that if indeed I require for the military to come out, they will deploy them".

READ MORE: One dead in Nigeria following shooting at protest against police brutality

He said the primary concern was the security of key business and government installations, such as Lagos' ports.

"It's really just a conversation around security support that we've got," he said.

Sanwo-Olu did not say whether he would accept the offer but called on leaders to keep young people including protesters off the streets.

Anger over abuses committed by the police's loathed Special Anti-Robbery Squad erupted into widespread protests some two weeks ago that drew thousands into the streets. the #EndSars campaign expanded after the unit was disbanded to demand greater police reforms.

Fires burned across the commercial capital on Wednesday as roving groups of young men, some protesters still on the streets, and armed police clashed in some neighbourhoods.

In this photo released by the Lagos State government press, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu (C) visits victims injured in overnight protests in a hospital in Lagos, Nigeria. October 21, 2020.
In this photo released by the Lagos State government press, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu (C) visits victims injured in overnight protests in a hospital in Lagos, Nigeria. October 21, 2020. (AP)

The Lekki shooting

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

Four witnesses told Reuters soldiers had fired bullets there and at least two people had been shot. 

Rights group Amnesty International said the Nigerian army and police killed at least 12 peaceful protesters at two locations in Lagos - Lekki and Alausa - on Tuesday.

Sanwo-Olu said he did not send soldiers to the toll gate, and President Muhammadu Buhari, while appealing for calm in a statement on Wednesday, has not directly addressed the incident.

Buhari said that CCTV cameras on Lekki Bridge, which social media posts suggested had been removed prior to the incident, were there and working at the time of the shooting and would form part of the state's investigation into the incident.

He added that he would "absolutely" make the footage public.

AUC condemns violence

The African Union Commission chairman on Thursday strongly condemned the deadly violence and called on all parties to "privilege dialogue".

Moussa Faki Mahamat "strongly condemns the violence that erupted on 20 October 2020 during protests in Lagos, Nigeria that has resulted in multiple deaths and injuries", his office said in a statement distributed Thursday morning.

"The Chairperson appeals to all political and social actors to reject the use of violence and respect human rights and the rule of law," the statement said.

Human Rights Watch also corroborated reports that the Nigerian army had opened fire on protesters on Tuesday in "a shooting spree".

The use of lethal force by security forces drew international condemnation, with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet saying reports suggested it could have been premeditated.

The Nigerian army has on Twitter called reports of soldiers firing on protesters "fake news".

Faki's statement on Thursday did not specifically denounce the security forces' actions.

It said he welcomed Nigeria's decision to disband the Sars unit.

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Source: AFP