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Nigerian Security Forces Open Fire On Protesters In Lagos

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

An activist was livestreaming a protest in Lagos, Nigeria, last night. Police approached protesters, who have shut down the biggest city in Africa over issues including police brutality, and it is thanks to that video feed that we can hear what happened next.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #1: Please. People need to stand - go and - the medical ambulance. (Non-English language spoken).

(CROSSTALK)

INSKEEP: The violence is part of a weekslong confrontation between residents and authorities, which NPR Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta is monitoring from Nairobi. Hey there, Eyder.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: What is Lagos like normally? And how have these protests changed daily life there?

PERALTA: Well, I mean, it's massive, right? It's a megacity - 14 million people. And I was talking to a resident yesterday who said he had come in from Atlanta to the airport, and he says what would normally have taken him an hour to get home took him four hours.

INSKEEP: Wow.

PERALTA: Protesters have blocked streets. And, I mean, traffic, which is normally horrendous, has just come to a complete standstill. Planes were diverted yesterday. That tells you just how disruptive this has been.

INSKEEP: And what is it that has caused people to protest in that way?

PERALTA: So it started with a viral video of a police shooting. And this started about two weeks ago. And protesters, they were demanding that the government disband this brutal police squad called SARS. The president did, and he ordered the squad disbanded. But protests sort of continued to grow. These protests right now are the biggest and longest-running protests that Nigeria has seen since the '80s.

But police brutality - that was just the trigger. Young people took to the streets because they had many grievances, especially economic. Nigeria's unemployment rate right now is up to 27%, and that has only been made worse by the pandemic. So this protest, I mean, it's really about young people. Many of them have college degrees, but they're sitting at home with no jobs, no prospects. It's about a generation who feels abandoned. They feel betrayed by their government.

INSKEEP: And then what happened last night in that scene that we just heard audio of?

PERALTA: Peaceful protests turned violent. Monday into Tuesday, mobs started burning down police stations across Nigeria. The governor of Lagos ordered a 4 p.m. curfew, and protesters, they defied that by staying on the streets. And that clip you heard was from the Lekki toll gate, which leads into a very affluent part of Lagos. And security forces showed up right as the sun was setting, and they opened fire. We saw footage of demonstrators trying to help other demonstrators. They were trying to stop the bleeding. They were crying for help. The governor of Lagos said that a couple of dozen people were at hospitals. And human rights groups and activists are reporting fatalities, but we have not confirmed those.

INSKEEP: Now the sun is up again in Lagos. What are authorities saying now?

PERALTA: They're expressing some regret. But today, Sen. Ita Enang, who was representing the government, said that they had been accommodating to protesters and that they want to craft reform to address their demands. But he also said that security forces had to take steps to restore public order. Let's listen to what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ITA ENANG: We are working hard that the situation doesn't deteriorate, and this will be perhaps the last bloodshed.

PERALTA: Perhaps the last bloodshed.

INSKEEP: NPR's Eyder Peralta. Thanks.

PERALTA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.