Nigerian army admits shooting in air at deadly protest

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Nigeria’s army has said after weeks of denial that its troop did fire shots into the air to disperse a large crowd at the Lekki Toll Plaza in Lagos where several peaceful protesters were killed late in October.

The October 20 incident at the plaza caused both local and international outrage. At least 10 protesters were killed in the Lekki plaza shooting, according to Amnesty International, which charged that army troops opened fire on protesters without provocation. The government says two people died and 20 were hospitalized. The army denied shooting at protesters.

Brig. Gen. Ahmed Taiwo, Commander of the 81 Military Intelligence Brigade, told a judicial committee over the weekend that “Blank ammunition were fired upward to scare the hoodlums from the crowd,” but added that no protester was fired at.

The crowd consisting mainly young Nigerians were singing the country’s national anthem and waving its flags as they peacefully protested against police brutality under the hashtag #EndSARS.

Brig. Gen. Taiwo said the military was at the toll plaza at the request of the Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to enforce a curfew he imposed earlier that day.

The governor, however, had previously said the state has no authority over the national army. He said that security camera footage showed Nigerian soldiers firing at the peaceful protesters at Lekki plaza.

Many Nigerians question why the soldiers were deployed at the peaceful protest, in which thousands had gathered at the Lekki plaza.

Amnesty International issued a report in October citing security camera footage that it said shows army vehicles leaving the Bonny Camp barracks and arriving at Lekki plaza shortly before shots were fired.

The army had initially maintained that its troops were not at the site of the shooting, but in late October they said soldiers had been deployed.

The #EndSARS protests began amid calls for Nigeria’s government to close the police Special Anti-Robbery Squad, known as SARS and a much wider demand for better governance in Nigeria.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s government agreed to disband the SARS unit, but the protests continued with participants demanding sweeping reforms of police and action against corruption.

A judicial panel has begun investigating the shooting. The panel is also investigating allegations of abuse against the police unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, known as SARS.

Last week a Court in the Federal Capital Abuja asked the Police to investigate 50 people mostly top Nigerian celebrities accused of having links to the #EndSARS protests

A court has also frozen the accounts of 19 individuals and a public affairs company linked to the protests.

Although the protests were largely peaceful, at least 56 people have died across the country since the protests began, according to Amnesty, which accused security forces of using unnecessary force.

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