Friday, October 30, 2020

Nigeria to push back on U.S. rejection of WTO candidate

Nigeria will lobby for its candidate to head the World Trade Organization, the country’s foreign ministry said in reaction to her last-minute rejection by Washington that threw the regulator’s leadership selection process into confusion.

The United States on Wednesday spurned Nigerian former finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala hours after a high-powered WTO panel recommended her to lead the global trade watchdog, teeing her up to become its first African and first woman head.

“Nigeria will continue to engage relevant stakeholders to ensure that the lofty aspiration of her candidate to lead the World Trade Organization is realised,” the country’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Thursday evening.

The ministry said the WTO’s 164 member states were expected to adopt Okonjo-Iweala as the watchdog’s director-general by consensus, but the United States was the sole country to oppose her, flouting the organisation’s rules.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s office later released a statement officially backing the only other remaining candidate, South Korean trade minister Yoo Myung-hee, praising her as a successful trade negotiator with the skills needed to lead the trade body at a “very difficult time”.

Next steps are uncertain, but a WTO spokesman said there was likely to be “frenzied activity” before a Nov. 9 meeting, less than a week after the U.S. presidential election, to secure the required consensus from all 164 member states for Okonjo-Iweala.

Reuters

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Thursday, October 29, 2020

Netflix shines light on Nigerian sex trafficking



Set in the shady underworld of Lagos brothels, Nigerian thriller Òlòtūré gives viewers an inside look at the sex trafficking schemes that ensnare thousands of Nigerian women each year.

The film is fictional but aims for a realistic and gritty picture to raise awareness of what is a persistent and little-discussed problem, said 36-year-old director Kenneth Gyang.

For decades, scores of Nigerian women and girls have been lured to Europe with promises of work, then trapped in debt bondage and forced to sell sex.

The United Nations migration agency estimates that 80% of Nigerian women arriving in Italy - more than 11,000 in 2016 - are potential victims of sex trafficking.

“I know people are not always receptive to documentaries, so sometimes you have to put these things in fiction so that people will see it,” said Gyang, who won international acclaim for his first film, Confusion Na Wa, in 2013.

His thriller debuted on Netflix this month and quickly became the streaming service’s most-watched film in Nigeria, reaching the top-10 list in another 13 countries.

“For me it’s about people watching the film and then trying to push for policies that will protect these young women from getting trafficked,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In the movie, a journalist goes undercover as a sex worker to expose human trafficking and quickly gets in over her head.

It is worlds away from the films that are usually popular in Nollywood, Nigeria’s massive film industry, which favours comedies and light-hearted tales about rich people, said Gyang.

“The producers were not sure how it was going to be received,” he said.

“When the film came out, it was #1 on Netflix in Nigeria and on social media, everybody was talking about it. People were angry. People were talking about the fact that they didn’t know this is what happens when people get trafficked.”

In one scene, sex workers undergo a religious ritual that binds them to their traffickers with black magic - a common practice that renders women too fearful to mount an escape.

Gyang said he sought support from NAPTIP, Nigeria’s anti-trafficking agency, to make sure he got the details right.

Part of his motivation, he said, was seeing Nigerian women on street corners when he travelled in Europe.

Foreign donors have poured money into anti-trafficking programmes in the traditional industry hotspot, Edo State, but experts say sex traffickers are now moving to other parts of Nigeria to avoid detection.

"I hope what will happen is that the right people in the right places will see the film, and then the relevant bodies will push for policies to try to help these young women," said Gyang. (Reporting by Nellie Peyton, editing by Lyndsay Griffiths; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit news.trust.org)

By Nellie Peyton

Reuters

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Nigerian woman creates country's first mental health helpline

In February of 2016, Hauwa Ojeifo considered taking her own life. She had spent a significant part of her teenage and early adult life years battling symptoms such as mood swings, bouts of exhaustion, fainting spells and difficulty recollecting daily events.

She told CNN that growing up, there were days she could not get out of bed to carry out mundane activities like brushing her teeth.

At the time, she did not realize she was experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder, a mental health condition where a person's mood swings from high and overactive to low and dull.

"There were a lot of things leading to that moment where I thought about dying. I had an abusive relationship -- well, I can't call it a relationship now because I was like 14 or 15 at the time. But he used to punch me, beat me and gaslight me," Ojeifo explained.

She added that she was sexually abused in 2014 and did not know how to express being raped by a trusted partner to the people around her.

Her experiences, she said, piled up till she eventually snapped and started nursing suicidal notions.

"Trying to explain what was going on in my head was difficult. I looked fine physically, but it started to affect me mentally. I could go a day without being able to construct sentences, and I was a research analyst at the time which meant I had to write daily reports but I couldn't," she said.

After expressing her suicidal thoughts to a friend, she was encouraged to see a psychiatrist at a psychiatric hospital in Lagos, one of Nigeria's largest cities.

She was diagnosed with Bipolar and post traumatic stress disorder with mild psychosis. "I poured out my heart, got some tests done and eventually got a diagnosis."

Creating awareness

Two months after Ojeifo's diagnosis, she said she decided to turn her difficult experiences around. She started to create awareness on the far-reaching impacts of mental health in Nigeria.

In April 2016, she created She Writes Woman, a non-profit organization focused on providing mental health support for those who may need it in the west African nation.

There is minimal mental health awareness and there are not enough mental health professionals in Nigeria.

In a country of more than 200 million people, there are only 250 practicing psychiatrists, according to the Association of Psychiatrists of Nigeria.

Ojeifo told CNN that She Writes Woman started as a blog but she realized she could do more with it, "At first, I was just using it as an outlet to share my experiences and that of other women," she explained.

Eventually, it morphed into a support community for people with mental health conditions.

The 28-year-old got trained as a mental health coach so that she could start a helpline to talk to people experiencing overwhelming mental health symptoms.

"From sharing stories on the blog and social media, She Writes Woman blew up into a helpline which was run by me for a while, and then to a support group for people in vulnerable conditions," she said.

24-hour mental health helpline

She Writes Woman provides a 24-hour mental health helpline for anyone within Nigeria.

The helpline serves as a first point of contact for people in distress or those who just want to talk about their mental health and symptoms.

"People call the helpline to get what we call a first-aid treatment. On the call you don't get immediate professional counseling, what happens is you get a first response communication where someone listens to you and what you have to say," Ojeifo explained.

She added that after the first responders, callers can be referred to mental health professionals for therapy or a diagnosis if needed, "depending on what the issue is we que people in to either a therapist or a psychiatrist."

Data on mental health in Nigeria is hard to find, but according to a 2016 report in the Annals of Nigerian Medicine journal, an estimated 20-30% of the country's population is suffering from mental disorders.

And in 2017, a World Health Organization report found that Nigerians have the highest incidences of depression in Africa, with more than 7 million people in the country suffering from depression.

Despite the numbers, there is an absence of effective mental health legislation setting standards for psychiatric treatment or encouraging mental health awareness in the country.

In February, following deliberations by legislators to pass a proposed mental health bill, Ojeifo became the first person to testify before the Nigerian parliament on the rights of persons with mental health conditions in the country.

The bill has yet to be implemented.

To close the mental health gap in Nigeria, Ojeifo's organization also offers a support group for women and girls called Safe Place in six Nigerian states.

"Safe Space provides a community of shared experiences for women and girls. It provides a space for women to connect and share their experiences on whatever topic, to be there for one another and understand that they are not alone in their journeys," she explained, estimating that there have been over 50 meetings of the support group since the inception of the organization.

In the beginning, Ojeifo, a former investment banker, self-funded the organization.

But now, with donations and grants from organizations such as One Young World, Airtel Nigeria and Disability Rights Advocacy Fund, it is able to expand and carry out more activities in Nigeria's mental health space.

In 2018, the activist received a Queen's Young Leaders Award in in recognition of her work with the 24-hour mental health helpline and Safe Space support group.

Changemaker Award Winner

On Tuesday, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation named Ojeifo as its Changemaker Award winner for 2020 for her work with She Writes Woman.

The Changemaker Award is one of the Goalkeepers Global Goals Awards pushed yearly by the foundation. It celebrates individuals who have inspired change from a position of leadership or using their personal experience.

In a statement released Tuesday, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said it recognized the activist for her work in promoting Gender Equality, the fifth global goal for sustainable development prescribed by the United Nations.

Ojeifo said that she was in "disbelief" when she first received the email alerting her that she was a recipient of the award.

"It was so unexpected and it came as a surprise because I was not expecting it. It's like an added validation to the work She Writes Woman does," she said.

"During one of the meetings with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation I asked them how I was selected because I was just so blown away. I was told that it was because I had used my personal experience to build hope for people and to drive change," she added.

Through the 2020 Changemaker Award, Ojeifo is hoping to gather a network that will help amplify the work She Writes Woman does even more.

"The Changemaker award means I am part of this network that is dedicated to amplifying my cause and giving me visibility," she said.

By Aisha Salaudeen

CNN 

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Nigeria's army admits its soldiers were at Lagos shootings

Nigeria's army has admitted its soldiers were deployed at the Lekki Toll Plaza in Lagos where live rounds were fired last week, killing several peaceful protesters prompting global outrage.

At least 10 protesters were killed in the Lekki plaza shooting on Oct. 20, according to Amnesty International, which charged Wednesday that army troops opened fire on protesters without provocation.

The army had previously maintained that its troops were not at the site of the shooting, but Tuesday night a military spokesman, Maj. Osoba Olaniyi, reversed that position, saying soldiers had been deployed there to enforce a curfew. However, he denied that the troops shot at the protesters.

"At no time did soldiers of the Nigerian army open fire on any civilian," Olaniyi said in a statement.

The military's admission of its presence at the plaza came after Lagos State governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said security camera footage showed Nigerian soldiers firing at the peaceful protesters at Lekki plaza.

Olaniyi said soldiers were deployed on orders from the Lagos state government, but the governor has said the state has no authority over the national army. 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 Wednesday, 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.

"What happened at Lekki Toll Gate has all the traits of the Nigerian authorities' pattern of a coverup whenever their defence and security forces commit unlawful killings," said Osai Ojigho, Amnesty's Nigeria country director.

"Nigerian authorities still have many questions to answer: Who ordered the use of lethal force on peaceful protesters? Why were CCTV cameras on the scene dismantled in advance? And who ordered electricity to be turned off minutes before the military opened fire on protesters?" Ojibho asked.

"Many people are still missing since the day of the incident, and credible evidence shows that the military prevented ambulances from reaching the severely injured in the aftermath," he said.

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.

A widespread .EndSARS campaign erupted in Nigeria in early October after a video circulated showing a man being beaten, apparently by SARS officers. The peaceful, organized protests disrupted traffic in Lagos and many other Nigerian cities. 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.

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. On Oct. 20 the government imposed a curfew, ordering everyone to stay at home and that evening the shootings occurred at Lekki plaza. For two days after that Lagos saw widespread rioting. In order to restore order in Lagos, Nigeria's largest city with more than 14 million people, officials have imposed a curfew from 8 p.m. until 6 a.m.

By Sam Olukoya

CTV 

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Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Nigeria considers social media regulation in wake of deadly shooting

Nigeria’s information minister said “some form of regulation” could be imposed on social media just a week after protesters spread images and videos of a deadly shooting using Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Images, video and an Instagram live feed from a popular DJ spread news of shootings in Lagos on Oct. 20, when witnesses and rights groups said the military fired on peaceful protesters.

The protesters had been demonstrating for nearly two weeks to demand an end to police brutality. The army denied its soldiers were there.

Social media helped spread word of the shootings worldwide, and international celebrities from Beyonce and Lewis Hamilton to Pope Francis since called on the country to resolve the conflict peacefully.

Information Minister Lai Mohammed told a panel at the National Assembly on Tuesday that “fake news” is one of the biggest challenges facing Nigeria.

A spokesman for the minister confirmed the comments, and said “the use of the social media to spread fake news and disinformation means there is the need to do something about it.”

Officials have said some videos and photos posted during the protests were fake news but have not said that about the shootings.

In the weeks before the shootings, protesters had also used social media to organise, raise money and share what they said was proof of police harassment, which increased pressure on authorities to respond to their demands.

Twitter Inc TWTR.N CEO Jack Dorsey Tweeted to encouraged his followers to contribute, and the hashtag #EndSARS was trending for several days, referencing the widely feared Special Anti-Robbery Squad that they successfully demanded be abolished.

Reuters

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Judge Dismisses Case Against 47 Men Charged Under Nigeria’s Anti-Gay Law

A Nigerian court on Tuesday threw out a case against 47 men charged with public displays of affection with members of same sex because of what the judge called the failure of prosecutors to appear in court and call witnesses.

The trial, heard in Lagos, Nigeria’s biggest city and commercial capital, was widely seen as a test case for a law introduced in 2014 that bans same-sex “amorous relationships.” The law carries a jail term of up to 10 years.

The men were arrested in a police raid on a Lagos hotel in the city’s Egbeda district in 2018. Police officers said the men were being initiated into a gay club, but the defendants said they were attending a birthday party.

Prosecutors failed to attend a hearing at the Federal High Court in Lagos, having previously failed to present witnesses in a case that had been adjourned on several occasions.

Justice Rilwan Aikawa said he was dismissing the case because of the “lack of diligent prosecution.”

The Nigerian law banning gay marriage, punishable by a 14-year prison term, and same-sex “amorous relationships,” stoked an international outcry when it came into force under Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s former president, in 2014.

Before the court’s judgment, prosecution and defense lawyers in the case told Reuters that nobody had yet been convicted under the law. Some of the men previously told Reuters they had been stigmatized because of the hotel raid and a televised news conference held by the police in which they were identified the day after their arrest.

Homosexuality is outlawed in many socially conservative African societies where some religious groups regard it a corrupting Western import. Gay sex is a crime in countries across the continent, with punishments ranging from imprisonment to death.

The New York Times 

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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," François-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.

CBC

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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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