A curfew was defied by Nigerian protesters demanding an end to police brutality as gunfire rang out where they were setting up a blockade Wednesday, the day after shots were fired at a crowd of protesters singing the national anthem of the country. That disturbing turn attracted worldwide outrage.
It is not clear if any protesters were killed in Tuesday night's shooting at the Lekki toll plaza in the sprawling commercial capital of the West African country. The governor of Lagos said many were injured but no one was killed, but Amnesty International had previously said that there were fatalities and that it had "credible but disturbing proof" that security forces were accountable.
On Wednesday, gunfire reverberated across Lagos, including at the Lekki toll plaza, where young protesters rallied again despite an order for all to stay off the streets until further notice. Some protesters could be seen running away at the sound of the shots, though it was not clear if the crowd had been fired.
At one point, police also fired tear gas and smoke could be seen billowing from several areas in the center of the city. Two private TV stations were at least temporarily forced off the air as their offices were burned down.
In several other Nigerian cities, including the capital city, Abuja, demonstrations, and gunfire were also reported.
After anger over heavy-handed police flared in response to a video of a man being beaten, apparently by officers with the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, known as SARS, young people have taken to the streets for more than two weeks.
The government announced it would disband the unit, which Amnesty International says has been responsible for many cases of torture and killings, in response to the # EndSARS movement. But that has failed to satisfy protesters, who are now demanding more widespread reforms to end the abuses of human rights committed by security forces of all stripes and widespread corruption by the government.
Although Nigeria has massive oil wealth and is one of the largest economies in Africa, according to rights groups, many of its 196 million people face elevated levels of poverty and lack of basic services due to rampant graft. In recent weeks, Nigerians have flooded Twitter with accounts of the everyday indignities and outright abuse they face, from being shaken down regularly by police for bribes to beatings and even murders.
But 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, their demands for better governance drew new attention both inside and outside the country. People can be overheard running away after the shots.
On Wednesday, the governor of Lagos confirmed more than 20 injuries from the Lekki shooting but said no one was killed. He said that he went throughout the town to hospitals and mortuaries.
Gov. Obajide Sanwo-Olu, speaking in a televised address, said that he had ordered an investigation into the military's actions at Lekki Square, an indication that the army may be responsible.
"This is with a view to taking up this with higher military command and seeking the intervention of Mr. President in his capacity as a chief commander to unravel the sequence of events that took place yesterday night," he said.
The governor tweeted earlier Wednesday, 'This is the toughest night of our lives as forces beyond our direct control have moved to make dark notes in our history, but we will face it and come out stronger.'
On Twitter, he also warned that the protests against police brutality had "degenerated into a monster that threatens our society's well-being."
However, the army of Nigeria denied responsibility for the Lekki shootings, posting a tweet that labeled several reports as fake news.
President Muhammadu Buhari, who said little about the protests engulfing his nation, did not mention the Lekki shootings, but issued a call for calm and vowed police reforms in a statement Wednesday.
The dissolution of the SARS unit "is the first step in a set of reform policies that will provide the Nigerian people with a police system accountable to the Nigerian people," Buhari's statement said, and said his government is committed to "implementing lasting police reforms in Nigeria."
The spiraling crisis in Nigeria has attracted global attention, including from U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden, who denounced the shootings.
"I urge President Buhari and the Nigerian army to put an end to the violent crackdown in Nigeria on protesters, which has already resulted in several deaths," Biden wrote. My heart goes out to all those who, through violence, have lost a loved one. The United States must stand with Nigerians who, in their democracy, are peacefully demonstrating for police reform and seeking an end to corruption.
Beyoncé stated on Instagram that she is "heartbroken to see the senseless brutality taking place in Nigeria." The violence was also condemned by former U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Nigeria's police statement warned before the shootings at Lekki that security forces would now "exercise the full powers of the law to prevent any further attempts on citizens' lives and property."
After two chaotic weeks of social unrest, the Lekki shootings are coming. Authorities said almost 2,000 prisoners broke out of jail on Tuesday after crowds attacked two correctional facilities a day earlier.
The Police Inspector-General said that anti-riot police were deployed throughout Nigeria and ordered forces to strengthen the security around correctional facilities.
The curfew began on Tuesday afternoon in Lagos, and most businesses and shops across the city are closed, but protesters are erecting barricades in the streets. The curfew was announced after the town burned down a police station and two people were shot dead by the police.
Lagos was the center of the protests, with demonstrators blocking access to the airport at times and barricading roads leading to the main ports of the country.