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Losses Mount From Nigerian Police Brutality Protests - BLOOMBERG

OCTOBER 20, 2020

BY  Ruth Olurounbi  

Protests against police brutality in Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer, have cost the economy an estimated 700 billion naira ($1.8 billion), according to a leading business association.

While the demonstrations have served to highlight governance failings in Nigeria and shown the power of the youth to effect change, they had also had unintended consequences, the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry said in an emailed statement on Tuesday. “Over the past 12 days, economic activities have been crippled in most parts of the country and has been particularly profound in the urban areas,” it said.

The protests that erupted on Oct. 5 have continued despite the government bowing to demands to dissolve the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a police unit that’s borne the brunt of the brutality allegations. The organizers now also want President Muhammadu Buhari to deliver a special state-of-the-nation address, and for the government to pay compensation to those who have died and improve welfare benefits for police officers.

Three people were killed during clashes that erupted during a march in Abuja, the capital, on Monday, bringing the total killed so far to 18, according Amnesty International. It blamed the police and armed thugs for orchestrating the attacks.

‘Excessive Force’

“That police are still using excessive force on peaceful protesters,” shows there is no commitment to ending human rights violations, the human rights group said on Twitter.

Activist Aisha Yesufu said the violence was part of a government strategy to deter further demonstrations. “It is the modus operandi of the government and they get away with it because people are frightened,” she said.

There were no signs of demonstrations on Abuja’s streets on Tuesday, and the police and military maintained a low profile. There were calls on social media for protesters in Abuja to form a single group to deter future attacks by the security forces.

In Lagos, the commercial hub, protesters stormed the Murtala Muhammed International Airport on Monday, disrupting flights. The Lagos state government ordered schools to close in a bid to shield pupils from the escalating violence.

‘Genuine concerns’

Lagos Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu appealed for the demonstrations to be suspended, saying his government has shown sincerity and willingness to address all the concerns raised.

“Let me reiterate that I am on the side of the young people out there,” he said in a statement. “I understand your pain and I know your concerns are genuine and legitimate. While we are able to immediately acquiesce to some of your demands, some others will require time. We ask you to bear with us as we dutifully work on your demands.”

While most previous uprisings in Nigeria have been quashed by the security forces, the scale of the current protests and the fact that they have been organized on social media and have no clear leaders have made them difficult to quell.

Japheth Omojuwa, a political activist from Abuja, said the demonstrators appeared determined to continue their campaign until all their demands were met.

“The Nigerian government is not used to something like this,” he said. “It’s difficult to say it can go this way or that way, but ultimately, the government will always have a say in how far it goes.”

(Corrects acitivist’s name in second paragraph below ‘Excessive Force’ subheadline)

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