Nigerian riot police fired tear gas to disperse thousands of protesters who marched in Lagos on Tuesday to remember victims of a deadly police shooting at the toll gate on the edge of Lekki Free Trade Zone last week.
About 10,000 people — an unusually large crowd in Nigeria’s commercial capital — flocked to the Oshodi-Apapa road in solidarity with victims of last week’s shooting that killed five people and injured two. Demonstrators said the incident, which took place shortly after the death of a Lagos public hospital administrator, sparked increased road rage and heightened discontent with government in Africa’s most populous nation.
Police fired tear gas at protesters who they say armed with bottles and, in some cases, knives, stormed into Lekki Gate, a toll gate that connects Lagos’ Central Business District with the residential area of Victoria Island, starting a riot that police called a “major security lapse” by some of those present.
There were conflicting reports as to whether the victims, who had gathered at the toll gate to pay a tribute to a Lagos hospital administrator who had died days earlier, were carrying weapons.
A woman who identified herself as the family member of an deceased victim said the demonstrators had access to a knife and machetes and that some had shot a rubber bullet at police. A security guard who was stationed on the toll gate told reporters that there were no victims suffering gunshot wounds. Another witness claimed police shot at the crowd.
Police initially broke up the protest with tear gas and used water cannons to disperse demonstrators who said they had agreed on an alternative route. Police then moved into the crowd and shot tear gas at people.
“They started shooting at the protesters,” Mustapha Osuala, a protester, told journalists at the scene. “People ran away and we didn’t know what was happening. We didn’t know if it was a gun or a pepper ball. People are still running away and police are surrounding us.”
A Lekki-Ikoyi resident said she was seated in her car when police opened fire on demonstrators on the bridge linking the outskirts of Lekki to Victoria Island.
“I am a business woman. I was in my car having my lunch when they started shooting on the bridge,” Chinyere Mba, a businesswoman, told journalists. “It was really painful that police used live bullets because I didn’t have a knife.”
People later regrouped at the toll gate and started burning tires in the street. Police said at least 15 people were arrested during the melee.
“Protesters are still re-grouping,” Police Spokesman Chike Oti told reporters, adding that heavy-duty truck carrying water cannons is at the scene.
The deadliest protest in Nigeria last year was in Lagos, where demonstrations spiraled into violence after police shot dead hundreds of people at a Shiite protest in March. One protester, 37-year-old Samuel Musa, was shot in the leg and was hospitalized for a month. That violence and other deaths in protests related to the banning of a Muslim sect in Nigeria led to harsh crackdowns by the police and a surprise resignation by Lagos state governor Akinwunmi Ambode.