Nigeria’s information minister called on activists to drop plans for a protest in the commercial capital Lagos over the reopening of the site where demonstrators against police brutality were shot last year, saying it risked being “hijacked by hoodlums”.
Protesters were shot on October 20 by people, witnesses said were soldiers at the toll gate in the affluent Lekki district of Lagos. Rights group Amnesty International said soldiers and police killed at least 12 protesters in Lekki and another district. The military and police have denied involvement.
A judicial commission in Lagos is looking into the allegations that the army and police opened fire on protesters on October 20.
Social media campaigners said a demonstration would be held at the toll gate on Saturday in protest at its reopening before the commission had completed its investigation.
In response, Information Minister Lai Mohammed said the planned rally could turn violent because of “hoodlums”.
“We therefore strongly warn those who are planning to re-occupy Lekki Toll Gate on Saturday to desist,” Mohammed told a news conference on Thursday in the capital Abuja.
“While peaceful protests are the constitutional rights of Nigerians, violent protests are not. At this time, the chances that any peaceful protest will be hijacked are very high.”
Violence would not be tolerated, he said, adding: “The security agents are ready for any eventuality.”
The unrest in October led to the deaths of six soldiers, 37 policemen and 57 civilians, as well as the destruction of 269 private and public properties, Mohammed said.
Nigeria’s president vows to prevent repeat of anti-police brutality protests
Protests against an elite police force, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, or SARS, last year led to the worst civil unrest in Nigeria since the return to civilian rule in 1999.
Thousands of Nigerians took to the streets under the slogan “ENDSars” to protest against the force, which the demonstrators blame for killings, torture and extortion.
Though the protests were initially peaceful, demonstrators in an upmarket Lagos district were shot at on October 20 by men witnesses said were soldiers. Rights group Amnesty International said 12 protesters were killed. The army denied involvement.
In days of unrest that followed, police said 22 of their personnel were killed and 205 buildings including police stations were damaged.
“Mr President assured Nigerians that he will do whatever it takes to ensure the repeat of ‘ENDSars’ protests does not occur in Nigeria again,” Police Minister Muhammad Dingyadi told reporters on Tuesday after a meeting of security officials and President Muhammadu Buhari in the capital, Abuja.
“What we are saying is that government will continue to dialogue, it will continue to listen and will continue to carry all stakeholders along in ensuring that there is no repeat of what happened that destroyed a lot of properties,” Dingyadi said when asked for more details on Buhari’s comments.
Buhari, a military ruler in the 1980s before being elected president in 2015, has previously said that his administration agreed to implement police reforms sought by protesters.
The SARS unit was officially disbanded in the wake of the protests, but Buhari’s critics say it has simply been renamed.