Ghana’s former president Jerry John Rawlings has encouraged Nigerians to move towards non-violent engagement as they address the fallout from the #EndSARS demonstrations by young Nigerians calling for police reform.
“My heart goes out to Nigeria and Nigerians and I encourage all to move towards non-violent engagement. All conscientious citizens of Africa must condemn the bloodshed and call on all parties to act with integrity before the crisis gets out of control. We call for integrity and the circumspection of all personnel involved,” Rawlings said in a tweet.
The former president’s message follows nearly three weeks of demonstrations by young Nigerians nationwide calling for police reform, and particularly the abolition of the Nigeria Police’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
Akufo-Addo calls for dialogue
On Wednesday evening President Nana Addo Akufo-Addo of Ghana called for calm as the prolice reaction to the protests threatened to spiral out of control.
President Akufo-Addo, who is the chairman of ECOWAS, urged dialogue to help resolve the impasse, arguing that violence is not the answer to the situation.
“I join all well-meaning persons in calling for calm and the use of dialogue in resolving the #EndSARS impasse in Nigeria. I have spoken with President Buhari, who is committed to this end, and has begun the processes that will lead to reform,” he said in a Twitter post.
“Violence, be it on the part of the police or protesters, cannot be the solution. To the families who have lost their loved ones, I express my sincere condolences, and I wish the injured a speedy recovery,” Akufo-Addo said.
Protests erupted across Nigeria early this month, calling for the abolition of the Nigerian Police Force Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), which has gained notoriety for carrying out a long list of human rights abuses.
Although the protests have been taking place nationwide, the greatest disruption has been in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital. The peaceful street marches have spurned a movement, mostly involving young Nigerians. Activists have used the social media hashtag #EndSARS to gather large numbers of demonstrators and sympathisers in the country and across the globe. Nigerian and foreign celebrities alike have helped raise funds to support the campaign.
But this week the largely peaceful protests became tainted with violence as protesters accused agitators of infiltrating their ranks to carry out acts of violence to discredit the movement.
The confrontations came to a head when protesters in Edo State set over 2,000 prisoners free from jail. In Lagos State, the heart of the protests, infrastructure and property has been destroyed, prompting the governor to declare a 24-hour curfew from 4pm on Tuesday (20 October) to calm the unrest.
Officials say that protesters in some parts of the city of Lagos defied the order. The protesters in turn claim that those who stayed put on the streets when the curfew fell were simply following the law. On Tuesday night, some at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos were allegedly fired on by armed men, believed to be military officers.
Witnesses claim that many protesters died in the attack, with some reports putting the number of those killed at 20. Amnesty International says it has seen evidence that at least 15 people were killed. But the Lagos State authorities say that only one person died and 25 others were injured.
The clashes have lit up social media, with eyewitness accounts and clips of the violence in Lekki changing hands internationally.
The Nigerian army however denies that it opened fire on unarmed demonstrators. There have been suggestions that armed agents provocateurs have been using the #EndSARS events as cover for violent actions aimed at undermining the state.
President Muhammadu Buhari has also appealed for calm as the government seeks a solution in earnest to the problems that sparked the #EndSARS protests.