The youth have taken to the streets again in Nigeria’s largest cities as a movement against police brutality has snowballed into calls for sweeping changes in the West African powerhouse.
Anger over abuses by the police’s notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (Sars) erupted earlier this month in Africa’s most populous nation and largest economy, forcing the government to scrap the unit.
Protests in the economic hub Lagos and the capital Abuja, as well as other cities, have been largely peaceful but reported violence is on the rise.
“We have documented escalating violence and coordinated attacks against peaceful #EndSars protesters, leading to casualties in Benin, Abuja, Jos, Oshogbo,” Amnesty International said on Twitter on Monday.
Violence on the rise
Amnesty reported at least 15 people have been killed, including two policemen, since the protests began this month.
The governor of Osun state said thugs attacked his convoy on Saturday as he attended a protest in the state capital Osogbo.
Local authorities in the southwestern state said they were probing the deaths of two people, insisting one victim had died in a motorbike crash.
In the capital Abuja, tensions were high on Monday after protesters said they were attacked by suspected hired thugs on Sunday.
“The Nigerian army and police are everywhere, no doubt to stop the peaceful protest,” 24-year-old demonstrator Anita Izato told AFP.
Meanwhile, police said one of their facilities was attacked on Monday by “persons posing as #EndSars protesters” in Benin, Edo state.
“The extent of damage cannot be ascertained at the moment but the report indicates that the protesters carted away arms and ammunition from the armoury and freed the suspects in custody before setting some of the facilities ablaze,” the Nigerian police said on Twitter.
A new SWAT force to replace Sars was scheduled to start its training on Monday.
The unit “will operate within very high professional and ethical standards, rule of law and dictates of best international policing practices,” a police statement said on Sunday, adding that it would receive training from the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Rallying under the #EndSars hashtag and harnessing social media to raise awareness and funds and to garner support from international celebrities, protesters have built a momentum that previous actions led by civil groups and unions failed to do.
There are clear parallels with anti-government movements in places like Hong Kong and Belarus, said Antony Goldman, chief executive of London-based political risk advisory firm ProMedia Consulting.
The Nigerian protesters have drawn support from Black Lives Matter activists in the United States, including the movement’s co-founder Opal Tometi, and from Canadian rapper Drake and British-Nigerian actor John Boyega.
A Twitter account using the name of the internet activist collective Anonymous said last week it had hacked into Nigerian government websites in solidarity with the #EndSars campaign. Government officials did not confirm any breaches.