Thousands of Nigerians took to the streets in a string of cities once again Tuesday for fresh protests against police brutality, bringing traffic to a standstill in economic hub Lagos.
Demonstrations organised on social media erupted earlier this month calling for the abolition of a notorious police unit accused of unlawful arrests, torture and extra-judicial killings.
The government gave in to the demand on Sunday, announcing that the federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was being disbanded in a rare concession to people power in Africa’s most populous nation.
President Muhammadu Buhari insisted that move was the first step in “extensive police reforms”.
But many have greeted the announcements with scepticism after previous vows to improve Nigeria’s notorious police went unfulfilled, and protesters are in the streets to keep up the pressure.
The demonstrations have largely been peaceful, but violence has flared in the face of heavy-handed police tactics.
Authorities said a police officer and civilian were killed during protests in Lagos on Monday, bringing the overall nationwide death toll to at least five since last week.
Some of Nigeria’s most celebrated stars have thrown their weight — and considerable followings — behind the protests.
Afropop duo P-Square and rapper Falz were leading the movement on Tuesday in Lekki, a neighbourhood of Lagos, where several thousand people blocked a major highway.
Protesters have called for an independent body to investigate police abuse, according to a list of demands widely spread on social media.
But the demonstrations are also channelling anger among the youth over unemployment, economic mismanagement, poverty and corruption in the oil-rich nation.
“They need to rebuild everything. They need to protect us, not kill us. But it’s not only about SARS anymore,” David Adedeji, a 26-year-old international relations student, told AFP.
“Government needs to start providing for the youth. We need roads, health facility, power.”
Protesters also hit the streets in the capital Abuja, in Oyo and Ondo states, and Port Harcourt, capital of the oil-producing region.
Nigeria’s police chief on Tuesday sat down with civil society activists at a meeting convened by the presidency and agreed to demands including stopping the use of force against protesters.
Analyst Confidence MacHarry from Lagos-based research consultancy SBM Intelligence said ire at abuses runs through all sections of Nigerian society.
“Police brutality is a common theme that resonates between the elites and the common man,” he said.
Now that grievance is being fuelled by an economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the fall in oil prices.
“Unemployment has jumped significantly, so the economic situation is a trigger,” MacHarry said.
“Economic discontent feeds into this resentment against rising police brutality.”