Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Nigeria looting hits capital

Huge crowds ransacked food warehouses in Nigeria's capital Abuja on Monday in the latest looting to hit the country during a wave of unrest.

Lines of residents could be seen carrying away sacks of supplies meant for distribution during coronavirus lockdowns as authorities struggled to halt the pillaging.

"We are hungry, you understand," a man with a package of noodles in his hand told AFP.

"There is plenty of food in this country but people are suffering. The government is cheating us by parking away this food."

"We are not stealing, it's our food and our right."

The minister for the federal capital, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello, told local media that a number of government and private warehouses were vandalised.

The looting comes after days of violent rioting in Nigeria following the shooting of unarmed protesters in largest city Lagos on Tuesday.

The situation has calmed in Lagos and elsewhere but widespread pillaging of government supplies has been reported across the country.

Authorities have slapped round-the-clock curfews on a string of regions and the police chief has ordered the mobilisation of all forces.

Fuelling the anger are accusations officials have horded much-needed food supposed to have been handed out to the poor during lockdowns earlier this year.

A coalition of state governors has denied allegations of graft and said the supplies were held back as a "strategic reserve" in case of a second wave of the virus.

But activists said that authorities needed to be more transparent.

"It's now vital that the federal and state government clarify why the palliatives had not been disbursed, investigate and prosecute anyone implicated in corruption," said Anietie Ewang of Human Rights Watch.

Peaceful protests against police brutality erupted on October 8 and quickly turned into one of the biggest challenges to Nigeria's ruling elite in years.

Chaos spiralled after peaceful protesters were gunned down in central Lagos on Tuesday, sparking international outrage and violent rioting.

Amnesty International said the army and police killed 12 protesters in that incident, and 56 people have died overall since the demonstrations started.

The chief of army staff on Monday insisted soldiers have "continued to exercise restraint" and blamed a "smokescreen of falsehood and deliberate misrepresentation of facts being orchestrated by enemies of Nigeria".

"We will not allow any force, elements or destabilising agents in or outside our country to set our beloved country on fire," General Tukur Yusufu Buratai said in a statement.

AFP

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Nigerian Citizens Justify Massive Looting of COVID-19 Supplies

Amid the ongoing protests in Nigeria over police brutality, mobs of citizens have overrun several government-owned warehouses and looted food meant to be distributed during this year’s coronavirus lockdowns. In the latest incident, a mob looted packages of rice, sugar, salt and noodles Monday from a facility in the Nigerian capital.On Saturday, security officials dispersed mobs at another storage facility under attack in Abuja.

Some protesters were demonstrating in front of a facility in Garki, Abuja, as military and police vans barricaded the entrance to the facility.

Earlier, mobs of people trying to attack the facility and make away with some food items were dispersed after security officials fired their guns into the air.

But many, like David Ojo, remained adamant and said they wouldn't leave until they got some food.

"We need our palliatives. It is our right. My neighbor almost died of hunger because of COVID-19," said Ojo. "He used to work as security guard at a government institution, but he was sacked. What do you want him to do? I gave him beans and rice, he almost died of hunger."

Storage facilities holding tons of relief materials have been burglarized and looted in nine states across Nigeria over the last few days.

A private sector coalition against the coronavirus, known as CA-COVID, had collected tens of millions of dollars' worth of aid for coronavirus victims and given it to the government.

But many state authorities have halted distribution of the aid since the easing of lockdowns.

Some Nigerians accuse authorities of hoarding items while millions of people experience hunger.

Abuja residents like Sunday Chukwu say they didn't receive any government assistance during lockdowns.

"They didn't share anything here," said Chukwu. "Maybe they shared for themselves. But they didn't share for everybody and these ones now they are hiding it so that people may leave it, they'll now gather them, they'll be selling it to the people."

The coronavirus pandemic exacerbated hunger for many of the country’s extremely poor, who number some 83 million, about 40 percent of the population, according to the country’s statistics bureau.

Vivian Bellonwu, the head of Social Action Nigeria, says the amount of food kept in storage is an indication of “systemic failure.”

"To think that certain persons could lock down this quantum of food and materials as we are seeing them in their premises, in their custody and watching while people wallow in poverty and difficulty, is really unthinkable," said Bellonwu. "I think that it is quite mean, I think it's highly insensitive and I think that this is a betrayal of trust of the people.”

The Nigeria Governors' Forum (NGF) on Monday said the looted items in warehouses in some states were being held for vulnerable people, not hoarded.

As security officials monitor facilities across Nigeria more closely, various state authorities are making plans to commence distribution.

By Timothy Obiezu

VOA

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Monday, October 26, 2020

Nigeria seeks to halt looting amid fury over ‘food warehouses’

Nigerian security forces are struggling to contain increasing cases of looting on government-run warehouses across the country, in the latest incident of unrest following widespread, youth-led protests against police brutality.

The storage facilities hold tonnes of relief materials including food meant for distribution during lockdowns previously enforced to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.


While the distribution programme had been temporarily halted across several states in the country in recent months, it emerged this week relief items were still stored in some of these facilities, as well as the private homes of politicians.

The news angered many in the country with the biggest number of people living in extreme poverty globally.

“The food items belong to Nigerians. Why are they hiding them? This is wickedness. How do you hide food from hungry people?” asked Ibironke Babalola, a resident of Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos.

“There are many families who are struggling to even get just one meal a day, yet we have food in warehouses that were kept by some politicians,” the 41-year-old told Al Jazeera.

Tens of thousands of peaceful protesters have taken to the streets across Nigeria this month to demand an end to police violence and other sweeping reforms.

Amid rising tensions, criminals this week vandalised public buildings and damaged property while others took advantage of the unrest to attack the warehouses holding food items and other supplies.

On Saturday, police officers in the capital, Abuja, shot sporadically into the air and used tear gas to disperse residents who had approached a warehouse.

It was a different scenario in the southern city of Calabar where security forces were unable to stop the ransacking of homes of local politicians, where the attackers suspected some of the COVID-19 relief materials were being kept.

In Ilorin, in central Kwara state, security officers faced difficulties in containing attacks on a government facility in recent days. The state governor has declared a 24-hour curfew to prevent further escalation of violence.

Authorities in Adamawa state, in the country’s northeast, also imposed a round-the-clock curfew on Sunday after looters attacked a large food warehouse.

Home to more than 200 million people, Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and the continent’s top oil exporter.

But according to the National Bureau of Statistics, almost 83 million people, or 40 percent of the population, live below its poverty line of 137,430 naira ($381.75) a year, with millions depending on daily income for survival.

Some states which have previously suspended handing out coronavirus relief materials had pledged to resume distribution of the food items to poor residents – but some were unconvinced.

“Big fat lie,” said Effiong Zachariah, an Abuja resident.

“Some of the food items people found in the warehouses had gone bad,” the 35-year-old told Al Jazeera. “It shows you how wicked our people are. What would it cost them to share these rice and other items amongst the poor? People are hungry and they need to eat,” he added.

“The government should ensure that the warehouses still having food in them should be opened and the food distributed to avoid further clashes between security forces and poor Nigerians looking for food.”

Government officials have issued statements urging looters to stay away from warehouses and called on the police to arrest and prosecute those breaking the law.

On Saturday, Muhammed Adamu, inspector general of police, said he had ordered the “immediate mobilisation” of all police resources “to bring an end to the wanton violence, killings, looting and destruction of public and private property, and reclaim the public space from criminal elements masquerading as protesters in some parts of the country”.

Meanwhile, some government agencies warned looters against the consumption of some of the stolen items.

“Some people even made away with pre-fermented corns preserved for planting. All these items are poisonous and not fit for consumption,” Akin Omole, Ekiti state’s commissioner for information and civic orientation, said in a statement.

“We, therefore, appeal to our people not to consume these items because they can kill,” Omole said.

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a civil rights organisation, expressed disappointment at the non-distribution of food items to poor Nigerians and called for an urgent inquiry.

“Unless promptly investigated, the allegations of hoarding and diversion would undermine public trust in any efforts to bring the spread of the pandemic under control, exacerbate the negative impact of the crisis, and deny those most in need access to basic necessities of life,” SERAP stated.

According to SERAP, “the alleged hoarding of COVID-19 palliatives in several states and the apparent failure to timely, effectively, efficiently and transparently distribute the palliatives to the poorest and most vulnerable people have continued to deny many citizens the much-needed support.”

By FidelisMbah

Al Jazeera

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Friday, October 23, 2020

Nigerian president leaves protest shootings out of speech

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari spoke to the nation about the unrest that has gripped the nation in recent days but without mentioning the shootings of peaceful protesters at Lekki toll plaza on Tuesday night that prompted international outrage.

The military opened fire without warning on thousands of peaceful protesters singing the national anthem Tuesday night, killing at least 12 people, according to Amnesty International.

The shootings have been widely condemned but Buhari did not speak of them at all during his Thursday address, instead urging calm.

Demonstrations began early this month with calls for Nigeria's government to shut down the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a police unit known as SARS. The squad was launched to fight crime, but it carried out torture and killings, according to Amnesty International.

But on Tuesday night security forces fired without warning into crowds of thousands of protesters singing Nigeria's national anthem, killing 12, Amnesty said. The Nigeria military has denied shooting at the protesters.

Violent unrest erupted Wednesday in Lagos as mobs vandalized and burned police stations, courthouses, TV stations and a hotel. Smoke billowed from several locations in the city as police battled angry crowds with tear gas and gunfire.

Looting and gunfire continued in Nigeria's second-largest city on Thursday.

Looting gangs stormed through parts of Nigeria's largest city Thursday, spreading violence for a second day in Lagos in the wake of two weeks of peaceful protests against police brutality.

Plumes of smoke rose from a prison where gunfire could be heard, and a resident of the neighbourhood where the Ikoyi Correctional Center is located, Tunde Oguntola, said he heard gunshots as soldiers and police officers put down what appeared to be an attempted jailbreak.

Police spokesman Olamuyiwa Adejobi told The Associated Press later Thursday that an incident inside the prison "has been put under control as our men have moved in there to assist prison security." He did not describe the nature of the disturbance or say if anyone had been killed.

Gangs continued to vandalize properties in Lagos, he said. The police spokesman distinguished the "hoodlums" from the thousands of demonstrators who had been peacefully protesting police brutality on the city's streets.

"They are looting properties, looting shopping malls and attacking ATM machines," Adejobi said.

Scores of rioters broke into a warehouse and stole food. Gunfire was heard in several parts of Lagos. By the afternoon, eight people with bullet wounds had been taken to Ikeja General Hospital, said a medic who spoke on condition of anonymity for lack of authorization to speak to journalists.

In other parts of the sprawling city of 14 million, the streets were empty and shops were shuttered, as residents largely obeyed a government curfew meant to curb the chaos. Protesters active on social media disavowed the violence, saying their demonstrations had been hijacked by criminals.

The .EndSARS demonstrations began early this month with calls for Nigeria's government to shut down the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a police unit known as SARS. The squad was launched to fight crime, but it carried out torture and killings, according to Amnesty International.

The government has agreed to disband the unit, but the protesters broadened their demands to include more widespread reforms to end human rights abuses and pervasive government corruption.

Nigeria has massive oil wealth and one of Africa's largest economies, but many of the country's more than 200 million people live with high poverty levels and without basic services because of rampant graft, according to rights groups.

The protesters who were on the streets earlier blocked traffic throughout Lagos and other cities in Nigeria but were peaceful, although 10 people died during the demonstrations, according to Amnesty International, which accused authorities of using unnecessary force.

But on Tuesday night security forces fired without warning into crowds of thousands of protesters singing Nigeria's national anthem, killing 12, Amnesty said. The shootings drew international outrage and new attention from around the globe to the protests.

Violent unrest erupted Wednesday in Lagos as mobs vandalized and burned police stations, courthouses, TV stations and a hotel. Smoke billowed from several locations in the city as police battled angry crowds with tear gas and gunfire.

President Muhammadu Buhari -- who has been largely silent about the protests engulfing his country -- was set to address the nation Thursday night.

Activists in the U.S.-based Black Lives Matter movement issued a statement Thursday in support of Nigeria's anti-police brutality protesters.

"We join others around the world in demanding the Nigerian government end the attack on protesters and we call for justice for those who have been injured and killed by all Nigerian forces," said the statement from the Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of more than 50 grassroots groups that make up the broader Black American liberation movement.

Following a summertime surge of U.S. and international protests over the killing of Black people by law enforcement, the BLM activists said the reason Nigerians were demanding an end to SARS is the same reason Black Americans have called for the defunding of police.

"The epidemic of police violence against Black people in a country led by Black faces proves what we have said time and again: violence imposed by law enforcement is about more than a few bad apples, the institution itself is irredeemable and exists to use violence to maintain a false sense of order in an unequal and unjust society," the statement read. "We are one movement, one people, and we stand with the people of Nigeria."

Also Thursday, the U.S. State Department issued a statement strongly condemning "the use of excessive force by military forces who fired on unarmed demonstrators in Lagos, causing death and injury."

"We welcome an immediate investigation into any use of excessive force by members of the security forces. Those involved should be held to account in accordance with Nigerian law," the State Department said.

International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said her office in the Netherlands was closely following the events around the current protests in Nigeria and the reaction of Nigeria's law enforcement and security agencies.

"Any loss of life and injury is concerning. We have received information alleging crimes and are keeping a close eye on developments, in case violence escalates ... I call for calm and restraint."

By Sam Olukoya

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Nigerians in Toronto worry for safety of relatives as police, protesters clash back home

The Nigerian community in Toronto is watching with growing worry and anger as violent clashes between police and protesters continue to escalate in Africa's most populous nation.

"My family is not safe. My mother, my sister, my father, my brothers ... just because the government failed what it's supposed to do," said Olalekan Taiwo, who moved to Toronto a few years ago from the west African country's largest city, Lagos.

"It's chaos right now. The killing is so massive," Taiwo told CBC Toronto Thursday.

Nigeria came into the global spotlight after two weeks of nationwide protests. A video showing officers from a police unit called the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) killing a man in Delta state sparked outrage. Police denied the incident happened but the violence has led to renewed anger, with thousands of Nigerians taking to streets to call for law enforcement reforms and an end to police brutality.

"It's overwhelming, and I'm a little traumatized," said Chelsea Coker, another Nigerian local in Toronto. "I haven't slept in two days."

The police unit was disbanded on Oct. 11 but protests persist, and so does the violence. On Tuesday, there were reports of police shooting into a crowd of protesters, killing several people. Since then, the country has seen an escalation in demonstrations with looting and fires erupting across the streets.

On Wednesday, President Muhammadu Buhari spoke to protesters directly and put Lagos under a round-the-clock curfew enforced by police roadblocks, as smoke rose from a flashpoint area in Lagos where soldiers shot at protesters the previous evening, witnesses said. The Lagos state governor said 30 people were hurt in the shooting at a toll gate in the Lekki district.
Calls on Ottawa to step in

Protests in Toronto supporting those in Nigeria have also flared up as the local community calls on the Canadian government to take action. Another protest is planned for Saturday at Yonge-Dundas Square beginning at noon.

"No one should ever have to die exercising their human right; no one should ever have to die for peace; no one should ever have to die for prosperity of a nation," said Patience Evabagharu, one of the organizers behind the Toronto demonstrations.

"It is our human right to do peaceful protest."

Evabagharu is with the City Youth Council of Toronto, a non-profit aimed at engaging youth in civic participation in the city.

"We are saying no to SARS, we're saying no to bad governance. We're saying no to corruption. And we stand in solidarity no matter where we are in the world."

CBC Toronto reached out to Global Affairs Canada, who referred us to the Minister of Foreign Affair's tweet from Wednesday.

"I contacted my counterpart from Nigeria to express Canada's deep concerns following reports of excessive use of force, injuries and deaths, during the ongoing protests," Fran├žois-Philippe Champagne tweeted.

"Those responsible for human rights violations and abuse must be held accountable."

Members of the local Nigerian community in Toronto say they're not giving up.

"We in the diaspora, we have the opportunity because we're safe to speak with everyone who cares to listen to help people back home," said Coker.

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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Video - Waving flags, they sang Nigeria’s anthem. Then they were shot at

 

Nigerian protesters have defied a curfew during a face-off with security forces, as demonstrations against police brutality threaten to paralyse the nation. The rights group Amnesty International says at least 12 people were killed in Lagos on Tuesday night, blaming the violence on the military. The protests started two weeks ago over a police unit accused of murder, extortion and disappearances. Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris reports from the capital, Abuja, Nigeria.

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Nigerian forces killed 12 peaceful protesters, Amnesty says

Amnesty International said in a report Wednesday that Nigeria's security forces fired upon two large gatherings of peaceful protesters Tuesday night, killing 12 people calling for an end to police brutality.

At least 56 people have died during two weeks of widespread demonstrations against police violence, including 38 on Tuesday, the group said. The Nigerian government did not immediately comment about Amnesty International's allegations.

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

Despite the growing violence, the Nigerian protesters defied a curfew and faced off with security forces Wednesday as gunfire rang out and fires burned in Lagos, a day after shots were fired into a crowd of demonstrators singing the country's national anthem.

The security forces opened fire without warning on the protesters Tuesday night at the Lekki toll plaza, Amnesty said in its report, citing eyewitnesses, video footage and hospital reports.

"Opening fire on peaceful protesters is a blatant violation of people's rights to life, dignity, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Soldiers clearly had one intention - to kill without consequences," said Osai Ojigho, country director of Amnesty International Nigeria.

Amnesty said it has received reports that shortly before the shootings, CCTV security cameras at the Lekki toll gates, where protesters had been camped for two weeks, were removed by government officials and electricity was cut to prevent evidence emerging of the violence.

Some of those killed and injured at the toll plaza and in Alausa, another Lagos neighbourhood, were taken away by the military, Amnesty alleged in the report.

"These shootings clearly amount to extrajudicial executions. There must be an immediate investigation and suspected perpetrators must be held accountable through fair trials," said Ojigho.

Amnesty's report backs up posts and images on social media that have shown widespread violence against protesters.

Amid global outrage, Nigeria's military denied responsibility for the Lekki shootings, posting a tweet that labeled several reports as fake news.

More gunfire rang out across Lagos on Wednesday and into the night, including at the Lekki toll plaza, where young demonstrators rallied again despite an order for everyone to stay off the streets. At the sound of the shots, some protesters were seen on a live broadcast by The Associated Press running away, though it wasn't clear if the crowd was fired upon.

Police also fired tear gas at bands of demonstrators and smoke was seen billowing from several areas in the city's centre. Two private TV stations were forced off the air at least temporarily when their offices were burned by unidentified attackers.

"People are aggrieved over the deaths. They are aggrieved by police violence and they are going out on the streets to show their anger," said Lagos resident Michael Oladapo Abiodun, who said he has supported protesters on social media.

Demonstrations and gunfire were also reported in several other Nigerian cities, including the capital city, Abuja.

In response to the .EndSARS movement, the government announced it would disband the unit, which Amnesty International says has been responsible for many cases of torture and killings. But that has failed to satisfy demonstrators, who are now demanding more widespread reforms to end human rights abuses committed by security forces of all stripes and pervasive government corruption.

Though Nigeria has massive oil wealth, and is one of Africa's largest economies, many of its more than 200 million people face high levels of poverty and lack basic services -- because of rampant graft, according to rights groups.

The protests drew increased international attention after videos were posted on social media in which gunfire could be heard echoing over protesters as they sang the national anthem at the Lekki toll plaza in the darkness Tuesday night.

It's not clear in the videos who was firing, but many agree with the Amnesty report that Nigeria's military is responsible. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said "there is little doubt that this was a case of excessive use of force, resulting in unlawful killings with live ammunition, by Nigerian armed forces."

Lagos governor Obajide Sanwo-Olu has ordered an investigation into the military's actions at Lekki plaza. He said that 25 people were injured and one person had died from blunt trauma to the head.

President Muhammadu Buhari -- who has said little about the protests engulfing his country -- did not mention the Lekki shootings in a statement Wednesday but issued a call for calm and vowed police reforms.

Buhari's statement said the dissolution of the SARS unit "is the first step in a set of reform policies that will deliver a police system accountable to the Nigerian people."

Nigeria's spiraling crisis has drawn international attention, and denunciations of the violence by foreign dignitaries and celebrities, including U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden and Beyonce.

Anti-riot police are being deployed across Nigeria and security has been strengthened around correctional facilities, the inspector-general of police announced. On Tuesday, authorities said nearly 2,000 inmates had broken out of jail after crowds attacked two correctional facilities a day earlier.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Video - Is SARS gone or has it been rebranded?

 

Nigeria authorities say they have abolished a notorious police unit after a week of huge protests sparked by a viral video that showed two officers shooting a man - but demonstrators are not convinced by the move.

The protests, during which Amnesty International says at least 10 people were killed, have continued. Activists say disbanding the Special Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was not enough and that campaigning will continue until there is root and branch reform of the police force and an independent investigation into abuses.

President Muhammadu Buhari insists “extensive police reforms" will take place. The country's top police officer has promised to investigate allegations of abuse involving SARS officers and ensure former officers go through a medical and psychological evaluation before being reassigned. Protesters, though, are sceptical. 

An announcement that a new unit, the Special Weapons and Tactics team (SWAT), would be formed to replace SARS prompted activists to claim the unit was simply being rebranded. The #EndSars movement on social media was quick to launch a second campaigning hashtag, #EndSwat. 

SARS has been around since 1992 and has repeatedly been accused of corruption, torture, arrests and extrajudicial killing. The #EndSars hashtag was first used in 2017 when other videos of alleged abuse went viral. 

Amnesty International documented at least 82 cases of torture, ill treatment and extra-judicial killings between January 2017 and May this year - the victims mainly men aged between 18 and 35. 

In this episode of The Stream, we'll discuss the latest developments in this-fast moving story, ask why it has galvanized Nigerians both at home and abroad, and look ahead to what may happen next.

Al Jazeera 

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Soldiers open fire on Nigerian protesters in Lagos, witnesses say

Soldiers opened fire on Nigerian protesters in the Lekki district of the commercial capital Lagos on Tuesday, shooting at least two people, three witnesses told Reuters.

Protesters have demonstrated for more than a week over allegations of police brutality in Nigeria.

"They started firing ammunition toward the crowd. They were firing into the crowd," said Alfred Ononugbo, 55, a security officer. "I saw the bullet hit one or two persons," he said.

Lagos state government said it would open an investigation into the shooting, which witnesses said took place around 7 p.m. local time.

"There have been reports of shooting at the Lekki Toll Plaza," Gboyega Akosile, a spokesperson for the governor, said on Twitter. "The State Government has ordered an investigation into the incident," he said in another tweet.

A Nigerian army spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Inyene Akpan, 26, a photographer, said more than 20 soldiers arrived at the toll gate in Lekki and opened fire. He said he saw two people being shot.

Akinbosola Ogunsanya, a third witness, said he saw around 10 people being shot. He also said he saw soldiers remove bodies.

A Reuters witness heard sirens and gunfire.

Authorities on Tuesday imposed a round-the-clock curfew on Lagos, which contains Africa's biggest city, in response to the protests, which the state governor said had turned violent.

The national police chief also ordered the immediate deployment of anti-riot forces nationwide following increased attacks on police facilities, a police spokesperson said.
Amnesty calls reports 'credible'

Amnesty International said late Tuesday there was "credible but disturbing evidence" that security forces had fatally shot protesters in Lagos.

The Lagos state commissioner for information, Gbenga Omotoso, said in a statement Tuesday night only that "there have been reports of shooting at the Lekki Toll Plaza following the 24-hour curfew imposed on Lagos."

"The state government has ordered an investigation into the incident," he said.

Video shown on Nigeria's Channels Television appeared to capture audio of live rounds being fired at the scene.

CBC

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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Official warns protests in Nigeria could speed up COVID-19 transmission

As tens of thousands of demonstrators continue to take to the streets across Nigeria against extra-judicial killings and brutality by police, a senior official warned that mass gatherings may speed up COVID-19 transmission in the next two weeks.

The prediction was due to a total disregard for the preventive measures against the virus exhibited by thousands of citizens protesting in the ongoing #Endsars campaign across various cities in the country, Boss Mustapha, secretary to the Federal Government and chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, told the media in Abuja on Monday.

Thousands of Nigerians in the past days took to the streets across the country to protest against reported police brutality, harassment and extra-judicial killings by the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a police unit for anti-robbery purpose.

According to Mustapha, any mass gathering that does not adhere to the non-pharmaceutical interventions that have been put in place, which include wearing masks, social distancing, keeping personal hygiene and avoiding mass gatherings, could become super spreader events.

"So I can say with a definitive voice that two weeks from today, get everybody that congregated in those places...we would definitely be contending with an increase in infections," Mustapha told reporters.

According to the Nigeria Center for Disease Control, the country's tally of COVID-19 infections has hit 61,558 with 118 new cases on Monday. 

 Xinhua

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Nigerian Protesters Shut Down Africa’s Largest City, Escalating Standoff With Government


Tens of thousands of protesters brought the largest city in Africa to a standstill on Monday, mounting the biggest demonstration in a two-week campaign against police brutality and escalating a standoff with a government that has pledged to restore order.

Groups of placard-waving protesters blocked major roads across Lagos, Nigeria’s sprawling commercial capital and home to an estimated 20 million people. The city’s Ibadan expressway, the country’s busiest road, was blocked by groups chanting: “We want change.” Protesters closed off the city’s airport and stormed the terminal. In a city infamous for hourslong traffic jams, columns of Lagos residents could be seen walking along emptied streets and causeways.


The Lagos protests were the largest of a series of demonstrations on Monday across the West African nation of 206 million people that appeared to significantly raise the temperature between demonstrators and the government.

Nigeria’s army deployed to several intersections in the capital, Abuja, at sites of a planned protest, while police fired tear gas, days after local authorities issued an executive order banning demonstrations in the city. Over the weekend, Defense Minister Bashir Magashi warned protesters against breaching national security and the information minister, Lai Mohammed, said the government wouldn’t “fold its arms and allow the country to descend into anarchy.”

Protesters in Lagos accuse the government of deploying agitators to create a pretext for a crackdown, a charge the government denies.

“I know they will try to bring the military to make us scared,” said Gbenga Abioye, a student taking part in a Lagos protest blocking access to Murtala Muhammed airport, where young people sang with raised fists as the national anthem blared through tinny speakers. “We aren’t going to fight. But we will stay on the streets.”

The escalating rhetoric raises the prospect of a showdown between President Muhammadu Buhari and a protest movement that has evolved from a single-issue campaign into a more diffuse protest against alleged government corruption, economic mismanagement and nepotism.

The protests have flared in a context of profound economic malaise, as a an oil-price crash and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic have slammed Nigeria’s economy, which is failing to keep pace with rapid population growth. More than 55% of Nigerians are underemployed or unemployed and youth unemployment is even higher, according to official statistics. More than 90% of Nigerians work in the informal sector, meaning the government’s lockdown of major cities to slow the spread of the new coronavirus deprived tens of millions of people of the cash they need to survive.

Mr. Buhari, a former general who briefly ruled Nigeria at the head of a military junta in the 1980s before returning as elected civilian president in 2015, has deployed the army against other protests in recent years, including in 2018, where government forces killed 45 Shiite Muslims marching to support a jailed cleric. He has urged the protesters to give the government time to address their concerns.

The current protests began with demands to ban a notorious police unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, or SARS, which was long accused of extortion, torture and extrajudicial killings. The largely peaceful protests, organized under the hashtag #EndSARS, won the backing of celebrities and business leaders around the world, including the rapper Kanye West and Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey, who urged people to support protesters by donating bitcoin.

Nigerian diaspora communities in the U.S. and Europe have attended street protests in solidarity with a movement that has sought to bridge the country’s traditional sectarian and economic divides.

“This protest is different because it is the first time Nigerians are speaking with one voice and the government cannot find anything to divide us,” said Chalse Inoji, a popular Nigerian comedy actor, who was marching wrapped in a Nigerian flag. “EndSARS is a rallying point for all of the years of bad governance, maladministration and institutional highhandedness. We are asking for a total reformation of our political system.”

Nigeria’s government agreed to disband the police unit and establish a new elite police force—SWAT—whose officers would be trained by the International Committee of the Red Cross. But tensions have continued to rise on the streets across the country, as protesters vow not to withdraw until promises are delivered and the government releases those arrested at the recent demonstrations.

In Edo state, authorities imposed a curfew after hundreds of prisoners escaped from a jail in the melee of protests. Elsewhere, groups of men armed with clubs and bats attacked groups of protesters camped at strategic intersections.

The protests are being driven by the youth in Nigeria, a country with an average age of 18 and one of the world’s fastest-growing populations, projected to overtake the U.S. to become the third-largest by 2050. The demonstrations fit into an emerging global pattern of youth-led calls for change from Hong Kong to Sudan and Chile.

Nigeria’s youth-led protests “could start to redraw the political landscape,” said Amaka Anku, an analyst at Eurasia Group, a risk consultancy.

“The current generation of Nigerian youth have paid very little attention to politics to date….That reality is now likely to shift as young protesters grow more conscious of their political power,” she said.

Inside the protest movement, fractures are appearing between those who want to keep the focus on police brutality and those who want more fundamental change.

“The biggest strength of the protests has also become its biggest liability, which is total absence of centralized leadership,” said David Huneydin, a journalist critical of the government who has marched in the protests. “A military intervention is now highly likely.”

The protests were no longer about police brutality and had become political, said a senior Nigerian security official. “This is a platform that is being hijacked by people opposed to the government. It is well funded.”

There were signs that Mr. Buhari’s allies were hardening their position against the protesters. Governors from Nigeria’s majority Muslim north have rejected the total disbandment of SARS, stressing it has been instrumental in fighting the Boko Haram insurgency and should be reformed rather than scrapped.

Nigeria’s army said over the weekend that it would begin a two-month national exercise—Operation Crocodile Smile—the first time the annual exercise, typically concentrated in the oil-producing Delta region, will be nationwide.

As night fell on Monday, thousands of protesters gathered at a bridge toll gate, swaying the lights on their cellphones as musicians sang protest songs through booming speakers. The vast digital advertising banner on the bridge was lit up with the protest slogan “Soro Soke,” or Speak Louder.

Lagos protesters have pledged to continue the citywide shutdown for three days. “These protests are happening in phases and we are not ready to leave the streets anytime soon,” said Uche Nnadi, a 36-year-old Nigerian actor. “We are tired of bad leadership.”

By Joe Parkinson and Gbenga Akingbule

The Wall Street Journal

Related stories: Video - Nigeria protests: Rallies disrupt major cities

Why Nigeria's anti-police brutality protests have gone global

Video - Nigeria protests continue even after gov't disbands police squad

Monday, October 19, 2020

Video - Nigeria protests: Rallies disrupt major cities

 

Protests have been held again in cities across Nigeria in a row against police brutality. Human rights activists accuse an anti-robbery unit of killing and torturing people. The unit - Special Anti-Robbery Squad - has now been officially scrapped, but people are worried it will return under a different name. Al Jazeera's Ahmed Idris reports from Abuja.

Video - Nigeria national welterweight champion aims for Olympic glory

 

Nigeria used to be home to some of the best boxers on the continent but in recent years the sport has taken a nosedive with the country's last Olympics medal in boxing coming in the 1996 Games. However, one young Nigerian boxer is aiming to change the narrative for the sport in Nigeria. CGTN's Deji Badmus has his story.

Why Nigeria's anti-police brutality protests have gone global

Protests in Nigeria against a police unit accused of human rights abuses were expected to spread to London this weekend, in a further sign of the international solidarity that has formed around the movement.

As social media posts and local TV coverage showed people take to the streets again in several towns and cities in the West African country, there were also reports on Sunday that a march was on its way from Marble Arch in the English capital to the Nigerian High Commission.

It's part of a now global campaign against a branch of Nigeria's police called the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS), which has even drawn the backing of the likes of Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, Star Wars actor John Boyega, US rapper Kanye West, and footballers Mesut Ozil and Marcus Rashford.

So, what is SARS?

SARS was set up in 1984 to tackle a growing problem of people stealing from each other using force in Nigeria.
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Supporters say it initially succeeded, but critics say it has been linked to the deaths of people it has investigated.

Since the 1990s, rights groups like Amnesty International have documented a series of allegations involving the unit, which campaigners say have worsened in recent years.

In June, Amnesty released a report that documented at least 82 cases of torture, ill treatment and extra-judicial execution by SARS between January 2017 and May 2020.

What are the allegations?

One of SARS' alleged victims told Amnesty he was arrested in 2017 after being accused of stealing a laptop, but was then held for 40 days and tortured before he was brought before a court.

The 23-year-old, Miracle, said: "They started using all manner of items to beat me, including machetes, sticks, inflicting me with all kinds of injuries. One of the officers used an exhaust pipe to hit me on my teeth, breaking my teeth. I was left on that hanger for more than three hours."

Another, 24-year-old Sunday Bang, was allegedly held in detention in 2018 for five weeks, where he suffered bone fractures and other injuries due to torture and other ill treatment after being accused of robbery.

Many other Nigerians have been killed, according to human rights groups.

What's been happening?

Ongoing concern about SARS' activities led in 2017 to a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #EndSARS, which was successful in getting Nigeria's police chief to order an immediate re-organisation of the anti-robbery unit.

But when a video circulated online more than a week ago showing a man being beaten, apparently by police from the SARS unit, protests began in earnest.

On Friday, in Lagos, protesters blocked the road to the international airport and the main highway into the city, and protesters in the capital, Abuja, dedicated the day to Nigerians they say had been killed by SARS.

But the protests have been met with further violence, with 10 people killed and hundreds injured, according to Amnesty.

The largely peaceful protesters have been attacked by gangs armed with guns, knives, clubs, and machetes.

What else is happening?

The ongoing allegations of brutality have inspired thousands of people around the world to support those trying to improve policing in Nigeria.

The #EndSARS campaign has attracted support from Black Lives Matter activists in the US and Twitter's Dorsey, who created an emoji of a clenched fist in the colours of the Nigerian flag to allow people to support the campaign.

Since the start of the latest phase of the #EndSARS campaign, the hashtag has been tweeted thousands of times, it has been reported.

Protests have spread to other countries already with several dozen demonstrating outside the Nigerian High Commission in London earlier in the week.

What has the Nigerian government said and done?


In response to the widespread demonstrations by young Nigerians, the government said it would disband SARS, but the protesters are continuing, saying they want an end to all police brutality.

Protesters say the people who have attacked them are backed by the police, according to reports in the local press, and have vowed to continue because of this.

Nigeria's military has issued a warning against what it called "subversive elements and troublemakers," saying the army would "maintain law and order, and deal with any situation decisively".

Authorities in Abuja have called for an end to all protests in the city, saying the gatherings risk spreading COVID-19.

On Sunday, as more protests got under way, Senate president Ahmed Lawan called for an end to the protests rocking the country, local media reported.

What's going to happen now?

One protester in Abuja told AP those involved in the demonstrations are ignoring any order to disperse.

"If they are sincere, they would have banned the crowded rallies politicians have been holding," protester John Uche said.

By Philip Whiteside

Sky News

Related story: Video - Nigeria protests continue even after gov't disbands police squad

Friday, October 16, 2020

Plans to castrate rapists and execute paedophiles in Nigeria are condemned as ‘draconian’ by UN

The UN has condemned plans to castrate rapists and paedophiles in Nigeria and called the measures 'draconian'.

In September, the governor of Nigeria's Kaduna state signed a law saying men convicted of rape would be subjected to surgical castration - with those found guilty of raping a child under the age of 14 facing the death penalty.

The measures followed public anger over a recent increase of rapes amid Covid-19 restrictions, which prompted the nation's state governors to declare a state of emergency.

Today, the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet condemned the plans, calling them 'draconian'.

'Tempting as it may be to impose draconian punishments on those who carry out such monstrous acts, we must not allow ourselves to commit further violations,' she said.

In a statement regarding the adoption of the law in Nigeria, Bachelet said the main argument made for instituting the death penalty is to deter rape. She added that the assumption that the punishment prevents sexual assaults is wrong.

She said 'the certainty of punishment, rather than its severity, deters crime'.

'Penalties like surgical castration and bilateral salpingectomy will not resolve any of the barriers to accessing justice, nor will it serve a preventive role,' Bachelet argued.

'Surgical castration and salpingectomy violate the absolute prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under international human rights law.'

Reported cases of rape in Nigeria have risen dramatically during the months of coronavirus restrictions.

Women's groups have called for tougher action against rapists, including the death penalty.

Kaduna state's new law is the strictest against rape in Nigeria, Africa's most populous country.

The state's newly amended penal code also says a person convicted of raping someone over age 14 will face life imprisonment.

The previous law carried a maximum penalty of 21 years' imprisonment for the rape of an adult and life imprisonment for the rape of a child.

A woman convicted of rape of a child under 14 faces the removal of her fallopian tubes.

Daily Mail

Protesters march on Nigerian parliament after army threatens to step in

Hundreds of protesters marched to the gates of Nigeria’s parliament on Thursday, hours after the army said it was ready to step in and restore order after more than a week of demonstrations against police brutality.

The protest defied a ban on mass rallies in the capital Abuja that the government said was imposed earlier on Thursday to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Chanting crowds also blocked roads and waved flags and banners in the commercial hub Lagos, where protesters reported clashing with unidentified men wielding weapons.

Video on social media appeared to show men coming out of a bus and chasing protesters, though Reuters could not verify the footage.

“We have suffered enough. We youths want to stand - no more brutality,” one demonstrator, Obinna Paul, said in another part of the city where crowds blocked a toll gate funnelling traffic to and from the main airport.

Lagos state governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said on Twitter he condemned the attacks on peaceful protesters “by armed and unscrupulous elements trying to cause chaos”.

Lagos state set up a 200 million naira ($525,000) compensation fund for victims of police brutality, a core demand of protesters, and a presidential spokesman said on Twitter that the government had directed all governors to establish victim compensation funds. He also said judicial panels of inquiry would investigate police brutality.

Late on Wednesday, the military issued a statement titled “Nigerian Army warns subversive elements and trouble makers”.

“The NA (Nigerian Army) is ready to fully support the civil authority in whatever capacity to maintain law and order and deal with any situation decisively,” it said.

Protesters have staged daily marches since Wednesday last week, calling for an overhaul of police forces.

Police had responded to the demonstrations with beatings, tear gas and gunfire, which human rights group Amnesty International said had killed at least 10 people. But the police agreed on Tuesday to stop using force against protesters.

In response to the protests, the head of Nigeria’s police force on Sunday dissolved the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a unit that demonstrators have accused of beatings, killings and extortion.

Demonstrators have called for more meaningful reforms. Protesters say they fear a new unit, whose creation to “fill the gaps” left by SARS was announced on Tuesday, was just a rebranding of the squad.

By Alexis Akwagyiram, Camillus Eboh

Reuters

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Video - Nigeria protests continue even after gov't disbands police squad

 

The Nigerian government's decision to abolish a police squad implicated in extrajudicial killings and torture has failed to placate protesters. A new unitcalled SWAT was formed to replace the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad. But the protesters are now saying they want to hold the police and government officials accountable.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Nigeria’s bus drivers battle thugs, a union and police in Lagos

It is 7pm on a Wednesday in late September. Afeez* has just left a bus park at Iyana Isolo, a small busy road near the popular Ojuwoye street market in the district of Mushin.

In a leased danfo – the privately run yellow and white minibuses that serve as unofficial public transport in Nigerian cities – the 32-year-old plies through the busy streets, breaking off before traffic signals, in a rush to get his passengers to the nearby suburb of Oyingbo.

“I am in a hurry to return to the park and do more trips,” the driver explained. His conversations with passengers are terse; he has no time to listen to their complaints. “I have to deliver [the rental fee] to the owner of the bus tonight.”

The only thing momentarily slowing him down along his route are the agberos – the motor park touts he hands 100 naira ($0.27) bills to every time he passes their junctions. Some run after the bus, demanding their due.

In Yoruba, agbero means “to carry passengers”, but this does not connote what the agberos do. These men, mostly clad in white and green uniforms but sometimes in plain clothes and carrying sticks or canes, collect dues from motorcycle, tricycle, and danfo bus drivers on behalf of the drivers’ union – a toll that allows them to pick up passengers.

The cost of dues can vary. But drivers say they generally pay three types: “booking” is paid so they can start work at the motor parks every morning; before each trip, they pay a “loading” fee, which is usually a sum equal to the fare of two passengers; and “tickets” are undefined charges which are paid once or twice a day depending on the parks they use.

Some drivers told Al Jazeera they hand over about half their daily earnings to the agberos, and altercations sometimes occur if dues are not paid.

“I have had countless fights with them, we fight often,” Afeez said. “It is trouble if you don’t give them money.”

Early in August, he was involved in a brawl with some agberos at Fadeyi, a bus stop along the route he was taking to Oyingbo.

“It was close to noon that day and the particular agbero was asking for afternoon due,” he recalled. “My conductor said it was not afternoon yet … and that we needed to work more before paying.

“I was at the steering wheel and I heard their argument. I told him when we go on one more trip, we would pay. The argument continued and all of a sudden he stabbed my conductor in the face with a key. He wounded him and I could not take it; I came down from the driver’s seat and we fought each other.”

The agbero was joined by his friends and a big fight broke out until they were all separated by other drivers, Afeez explained. “In the end, nothing happened because the chairman … did not get involved, it was just me and their boys,” he added, expressing relief that he did not encounter a union boss at the bus park.

The union

The National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) is an independent union that oversees all danfo bus drivers, commercial motorcycle drivers, and tricycle drivers.

In its own words, it “serves the interests of transport workers in the road transport sector”. But according to many drivers, the union only serves itself.

Unlike regular unions, NURTW is amorphous and without a defined and transparent structure. Its membership mainly comprises people who are not drivers, but rather motor park attendants. They started off as touts, canvassing passengers onto buses and maintaining order at motor parks. But over the years they have assumed total control of Nigeria’s informal transport sector.

The union has now become exclusively for “outsiders who have no business in driving”, drivers told Al Jazeera, at least in part because of what some say is a troubling alliance between union leaders and state officials. One driver who identified himself as only Tunde said the top echelons of the union are people who are rewarded by politicians for their service.

The problems with the union have long been a point of national discussion. In Oyo, another state in southwest Nigeria, Governor Seyi Makinde banned NURTW “to maintain peace and tranquillity in the state in order to engender commercial and human development” following “alleged security breaches and factional clashes of the union member in some areas of Ibadan, the state capital”. Since then, the state government has taken control of the bus parks in Oyo.

Some analysts say the challenges in the transport industry are rooted in the evolution of Nigeria’s socioeconomic landscape, and that the steady rise in unemployment after the country’s gradual economic downturn in the 1980s led to the birth of the agbero phenomenon.

Agbero originally grew out of “area boys”, a slang term usually used to refer to loosely organised groups of teen street gangs. These young male residents of a particular area would casually lay claim to “ownership” of that location, extorting money from passersby and serving as informal security in the hope of some compensation. In later years, the area boys, who were already mostly unemployed, found refuge within the largely unregulated transports system, economists and public policy analysts have said. They have grown into the more sophisticated association known as agbero today.

Nigeria as a whole has no policy that guides the transport sector and in high population density cities like Lagos, with a rising scourge of unemployment and consistent migration from other states, the transport system has become a mine of quick, daily cash for young people without work.

According to Professor Gbadebo Odewumi, the dean of the school of transport at Lagos State University, the public transport system in Lagos has been infiltrated by unskilled, illiterate youths ready to do the bidding of well-known thugs at the helm of the union because the state government has refused to implement standard policy guides that have been drafted by various commissions.

“First of all, there is no policy framework. Sanity can only begin with policies. Without policies, nothing can work,” Odewumi told Al Jazeera. “That is why there is this level of extortion and violence. Do you know how much the government makes per day? There is serious money in transportation. I mean billions.”

Although not formally connected with the government, the union has become one of Lagos’s – and much of the southwest’s – social mainstays as they are a visible presence in the daily experience of millions of commuters.

A Premium Times report in 2019 said that most of the money being generated on the street is disbursed into the pockets of union leaders owing to the informal structure of the financial relations between the union and the government.

Al Jazeera approached some of the union leaders at Oshodi, a transport hub in the state, for their response to these and other claims, but they refused to comment.

“The union leaders just reap from the chaos of the system and enrich themselves,” Odewumi said.

“The relationship is parasitic; each component is taking advantage of the other with the drivers at the base. The government takes advantage of the union and uses them for what they want, like using them to challenge political opponents during elections; the union takes advantage of the drivers.”

‘You are at their mercy’

“As a driver, I am in the union because the union is for those who are transport workers like me,” said Muyideen*, a danfo driver and father-of-three who ferries passengers from motor parks in Mushin and Oshodi every day.

“What is sad is what the union has become.”

The 61-year-old has a diploma in business administration but began working as a driver in 2001 after he could not find a job in his field. Now he is on the road from 5.30am to 9pm every day. But his income, he said, averages just 5,000 nairas ($13) a day.

“I am a father of three grown children and I need to struggle to make sure they don’t end up with this kind of job,” Muyideen said. “They need to go to school and be well-off; this is not what I want for them. Not all drivers are illiterates as people think, I am a graduate but due to unemployment, I found myself in this job.”

He has grown weary of the shady, unaccounted charges he pays the union for every trip he makes. The charges are not official and could be invented at any time, he lamented. And his inability to challenge the exorbitant levies, he said, lies in the free rein the government has given the union leadership to operate public transport in Lagos state.

“The union is mainly for thugs and the government is not doing anything about it. Nothing is being done with the dues we pay, we just pay,” he said.

Muyideen starts out every morning paying a 1,700 nairas ($4.59) booking fee at the motor park, and the dues pile up from there. Although he can make about 700 nairas ($1.89) from a single trip at full capacity, before he is able to pocket the cash, between 200 and 300 nairas ($0.54-0.81) – almost half – go to the agberos.

“Once you are driving [in public transport] in Lagos, you are at their mercy. Drivers are silently suffering because most of the reward of our labour goes to them,” he said, pointing to a union official lounging on a bench on the other side of the road.

“And you cannot do anything. They can do whatever they want at any time,” he said, dejectedly, before looking around to see if it was his turn in the queue. “If you fight them, you will suffer for it. You will either be beaten or be sent away from the park.”

Informal transport sector

Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital, is the most populated state and also its smallest. Public transport accounts for 98 percent of the traffic in the state according to Professor Odewumi, but the system is “chaotic and terribly organised”, he explained.

Nigeria’s public road transport system is predominantly informal and that part of the sector is largely regulated by the NURTW. According to the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA), there are 75,000 minibuses in the state and 50,000 tricycles according to a 2020 report by Techcabal.

In 2008, the government tried to improve Lagos’s formal transport sector with the introduction of the Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) system. However, there are just 474 BRT buses available and they only work on main highways. The BRT system does little to meet the demands of the eight million commuters who use the road network in the metropolis daily.

BRT buses, with off-board ticket purchase, only have a capacity of 40 to 85 passengers and are usually more expensive than the minibuses. They use dedicated lanes on main highways so do not have the flexibility in routes of the minibuses.

That is why many passengers choose commercial shared transport like danfo or smaller tricycles that carry a driver and just two passengers.

Tricycles, popularly known as maruwa or keke, are used to navigate feeder routes and penetrate the inner crevices of the city by using the streets rather than main roads. Tricycle riders are also governed by NURTW and are subject to the same demands as danfo drivers, only they pay a cheaper toll as they carry fewer passengers.

A series of misfortunes

One morning in August when the lockdown had just been lifted, tricycle rider Yusuf Hassan decided to help two middle-aged women who could only afford to split a single passenger fare between them, by letting them share one seat. Locally, this is called lapping, where one passenger carries another on their lap – and Yusuf understood that it did not contravene regulations because even though there were three passengers, only two seats were occupied.

He was halfway through the trip when another tricycle with three policemen approached and stopped him. “Before I knew it, they were all over me. The three of them speaking at once, accusing me of disobeying the state government’s regulations.”

He said they ignored his explanations, seized his keys and pushed him out of the vehicle, taking it to their police station in Mushin.

“When I got to the station, they refused to attend to me, saying I had violated the law. It wasn’t until I involved a union executive … that they bothered to attend to me and they said I had to pay 10,000 naira [$27.02] before it could be released to me.”

The amount was reduced after a union representative negotiated on his behalf, and Yusuf finally paid 4,000 nairas ($10.81) to get his tricycle back, because it was all the money he had.

When asked if the union had helped him pay the fine, he shook his head. “Which union?” he smirked. “The executive was only there to talk to the policemen, to negotiate the bribe. His presence only helped reduce it.”

The police seize vehicles instead of arresting drivers for these offences, he said. “Why would they arrest you? They need the money, not you. So it is your bus or tricycle that will be driven to their station.”

This was the first of a series of “misfortunes” that Yusuf says has affected his business. In the middle of September, he misjudged a traffic signal which seemed to malfunction and moved ahead.

“All of a sudden, I noticed I was being chased with a motorcycle,” he said. It was a plain-clothes policeman, but instead of stopping, Yusuf sped off, and a chase ensued.

“I thought if he chased me for some minutes, he would let me go but we both kept going and going. And he was faster, being on a motorcycle. When I knew I did not stand a chance, I looked for a place where there were a lot of people by the roadside and parked the tricycle there.”

Yusuf beckoned passersby to help him, and some tried to reason with the officer, saying the young driver, who is in his 20s, was a relative of theirs. Finally, the policeman agreed not to arrest him, but called him aside and insisted on some money instead.

“He said I had to pay 15,000 naira ($40.54) for him not to take my tricycle.” Again, Yusuf was able to negotiate, eventually paying 3,000 nairas ($8.1) on the spot.

“Up till now, I can say I have not fully recovered because the series of arrests interrupted my plan and I can’t pay back the microfinance,” Yusuf explained, referring to the 970,000 nairas ($2,622) loan he had to take to buy his tricycle.

He pays back 17,000 nairas ($46) weekly. But more than a year later, he is yet to pay it off.

“There is no sense in working for the police because that is what it is,” he added about the fines and bribes.

Threats from law enforcement

Although most commercial drivers centralise at motor parks, there are some who choose not to, and instead, drive around the city looking for passengers. Although this reduces their dues to the union, it also has challenges, Afeez explained.

These drivers still pay the agberos who stop them along the way, and they are more at risk of getting unwanted attention from law enforcement. “They [police] don’t come into the parks to arrest drivers, only outside on the road,” he said, explaining that the parks offer drivers at least some protection.

Drivers complained about problems with law enforcement agencies like the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA), Vehicle Inspection Service (VIS), the police and the government’s Task Force.

The Lagos State Environmental Sanitation and Special Offenses (Task Force) was created in 1991 by military edict when Brigadier General Raji Rasaki was the military governor of Lagos state. Over time, the edict has been redesigned for various purposes which now includes arresting and prosecuting “violators of the provision of the Road Traffic Law 2012”. Among the drivers, the task force has become widely notorious for arbitrary arrests and huge bribes the officers demand.

“You want to talk about the task force? Where do you want to begin because there are a lot of things to say,” Afeez said, sitting in a leased danfo at the park in Iyana Isolo one rainy Tuesday. Despite his numerous encounters, one stands out because it cost him the most.

“It was the task force that made me lose my former bus,” he said, explaining that it was seized and he was arrested three times in the space of three weeks in August and September. He had to spend all his earnings extricating himself from either task force or LASTMA officials – as well as paying 8,000 nairas ($21.6) to get the bus back – which meant he was unable to make payments to the owner and lost the bus.

“We are often arrested because there are no designated bus stops along this route, so we usually use the roadside to drop and sometimes pick [up] passengers. But that is considered an offence,” Afeez explained, saying that officials were “very aggressive” and there was no way to talk to them about the charges.

“Sometimes they beat drivers; a lot of drivers who challenge them have been beaten,” he said.

Afeez started driving 10 years ago but has never owned a bus of his own. He has been on the streets fending for himself through odd jobs since he was a teenager, but managed to take out longer leases on buses in the past. Now, after losing the certainty that came with the previous bus, he rents vehicles on a day-to-day basis; on days he cannot find one, he does not get to work.

“I don’t have my own now, so I look out for friends who may not be driving on a particular day and use their bus to work. I pay them after work,” he said.

The last arrest left a mark on him. He is now afraid because he cannot afford to be arrested with a borrowed bus. He splayed his palm on the dashboard in resignation. “We work in fear; it is as though we are thieves. We are always on the lookout for task force, the police and LASTMA officials; you never can tell which one is around.”

Muyideen also fears law enforcement officials – even more than he does the union. When asked why, he said the fines they demand are far higher than what the union will collect if he is arrested.

Several drivers from different routes have also alleged that Task Force officers use agberos they personally employ as decoys, to make arrests. “They [Task Force officials] are government thugs,” Muyideen lamented.

“The enforcement agency is a hopeless thing. Who will enforce the law?” Professor Odewumi said. “Any laws made, rather than the enforcers looking to enforce them, they are looking to exploit them. Anytime in the day, 70 to 80 percent [of the enforcers] are on the road not enforcing anything but collecting money.”

Muyiwa Adejobi, a superintendent of police and the public relations officer for Lagos Police Command, responded to the allegations about “decoys” in a phone interview with Al Jazeera.

“Using decoy by the police force is not a problem. It is acceptable in the force. Not all personnel in the task force are police officers, there are also paramilitary personnel [that work in the task force],” Adejobi said.

“In fact, according to the law [Administration of Criminal Justice Act of Lagos], even individuals are permitted to arrest offenders; the only thing is you can’t detain the offenders.”

“Although, we have deviants within the police force … we have said it and we reiterate that we have zero tolerance for corruption. It takes two to tango … the drivers should stop giving bribes to the police officers. We have told them to identify the [erring] Task Force officers and report them to the [disciplinary] mechanism we have set up in the police force,” he added.

A history of violence

According to Odewumi, the union is loosely organised and populated by people who have a history of violence and, as a result, politicians have been able to utilise them as political tools for their own agendas.

Often, riots that have broken out in the ranks of the NURTW have caused widespread vandalism and the killing of innocent people. These riots are usually the result of an internal leadership tussle in the motor parks.

“They could be violent. Their number can unleash violence,” Odewumi said.

The union is registered under the National Labour Congress (NLC) and as such is subject to government oversight through the ministry of transport. While the relationship between the NURTW and the ministry is not entirely clear, the political links between politicians and top union leaders are known and usually manifest during elections.

“Agberos have become political. They can determine who becomes the commissioner or governor. During elections, who will be used to snatch ballot boxes and disrupt the electoral process?” Odewumi said. “They are now political tools, the instrument of winning elections. That is the problem.”

The commissioner for transport in Lagos State, Frederic Oladeinde, was contacted for a comment on this article, but he was unable to speak “due to the lack of clearance by the state’s Ministry of Information” for him to talk to the press at the time.

When Al Jazeera visited his office in Ikeja, Lagos, on August 31, 2020, an interview was not given due to the aforementioned reason. Subsequent calls and emails directed to the deputy director of public affairs at the ministry of transport were not acknowledged.

Strengthen the 98 percent

Numerous attempts have been made to modernise Lagos’s ailing public transport system over the years, including things like the imported, modernised BRT system. But the implications of this for public drivers and passengers are increased route restrictions and rising fares.

“It is laughable when you say you want to eradicate the carrier of the 98 percent. We should regularise and modernise the buses, rather spending the millions of dollars spent on psychedelic ones which make no impact,” Odewumi told Al Jazeera.

“With all those innovations, they are just impressing themselves. The idea is to phase out agbero and danfo drivers but it won’t work. The government should rather strengthen the carrier of 98 percent [buses and tricycles] and provide a framework for it to operate efficiently,” Odewumi added.

“The yellow [danfo] buses have higher frequency than the BRT, they are more flexible and move into routes that the large BRT cannot move into, they adapt with demands. The highly modernised buses have no taproot in our technology.”

Tricycle driver Yusuf used to work as a barber before he decided to venture into public driving. He thought it would help him make a better living.

One year after starting, he has changed his route due to the increasing charges demanded by the union and the police along his former route. Frustrated with the official rule changes made during the pandemic that greatly affected the transport business, he is considering changing jobs again.

“At the end of the day you check the money you have earned and you see it is nothing. You ask yourself if this is all I have worked for since daybreak,” Yusuf bemoaned.

“On days that I wake up late, I always decide not to go to work again. I must start working as early as 6:30am to meet up the demands of the union and earn something tangible for myself. If I start work by 8am, I can’t meet [targets] for the rest of the day.

“You pay the union in the morning, afternoon and evening … And sometimes you don’t even know the reason, you just pay.”

While the likes of Yusuf, Afeez and Muyideen work daily to eke out a meagre living for themselves and their families, union leaders live lavish lives. The income generated from the dues they collect cements their place among the socialites of Lagos.

“Almost all the money you make from this business leaves you in the end,” Muyideen said.

“You take a bus on hire purchase and pay back to the owner, you pay agebro, you pay the police and others, you buy petrol … repair the bus and – in the end – only little remains.”

* Names have been changed to protect the drivers’ identities.

By Ope Adetayo

Al Jazeera