LAGOS – Nigeria’s top police official on Saturday ordered the immediate mobilization of all officers to “reclaim the public space from criminal elements masquerading as protesters” after days of peaceful demonstrations over police abuses and then violent unrest that left at least 69 people dead.
The police order could further heighten tensions in Africa’s most populous country after its worst turmoil in years. Nigeria’s inspector general of police, M.A. Adamu, ordered colleagues to “dominate the public space” while announcing that enough is enough, a statement said.
Nigerians on Tuesday evening watched in horror as soldiers fired on a peaceful crowd of mostly youthful demonstrators singing the national anthem in the country’s largest city, Lagos, with Amnesty International reporting at least 12 killed.
Some dismayed Nigerians then criticized President Muhammadu Buhari for not mentioning the killings and instead warning citizens against “undermining national security.” The government has insisted that the protests, while well-intentioned, were hijacked by thugs who looted and burned vehicles and businesses in the two days after the soldiers opened fire.
Buhari has said 51 civilians were killed, along with 11 police officers and seven soldiers.
The scenes in Nigeria have struck a chord with the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States, and the shootings by soldiers sparked immediate international condemnation.
By not taking action against security forces, some Nigerians have warned, the president could inspire further abuses.
The new police order came even as a 24-hour curfew loosened for the first time Saturday in Lagos, a city of some 20 million where glittering wealth and grinding poverty are in sharp contrast, inflaming grievances over inequality and corruption.