Joe Biden has urged Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and the Nigerian military to “cease the violent crackdown on protesters” in the country amid weeks of peaceful nationwide protests against police brutality.
The Democratic presidential nominee called on the U.S. to stand with Nigerians who have for the past two weeks led peaceful demonstrations to protest against a police unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), which has long been accused of having a reputation of abuse that includes extortion, rape, torture and extrajudicial killings, according to Amnesty International.
Recent protests against SARS emerged after a video circulated online earlier this month allegedly showing officers of the unit shooting a man in the country’s southern Delta state, Reuters reported. Police have reportedly denied the shooting. The hashtag #EndSARS began trending internationally on Twitter this week in support of the movement to end police brutality.
“The United States must stand with Nigerians who are peacefully demonstrating for police reform and seeking an end to corruption in their democracy,” Biden said in his statement. “I encourage the government to engage in a good-faith dialogue with civil society to address these long-standing grievances and work together for a more just and inclusive Nigeria.”
Last week, Buhari announced the government’s decision to disband SARS among other promises of police reforms, in response to widespread protests led by Nigerians in the nation and Nigerian diaspora communities across the world.
The move was met with skepticism, though, since the government has made promises to reform the unit a number of times in previous years to no avail. Furthermore, Nigerian citizens feared that SARS officers would be redeployed to other units.
On Tuesday night, after Governor of Lagos State Babajide Sanwo-Olu had imposed a 24-hour curfew which began at 4 p.m. local time, witnesses at a demonstration reported seeing shots fired at the Lekki Toll Gate located in Lagos, Nigeria. Protesters accused soldiers of the Nigerian army of firing into the crowd.
Gunshots could be heard in disturbing videos posted on Twitter by protesters who said they were filming from the Lekki Toll Gate area on Tuesday night. In some videos, demonstrators can be heard singing Nigeria’s national anthem amid sounds of gunfire.
Amnesty International tweeted on Tuesday that it had “received credible but disturbing evidence of excessive use of force occasioning deaths of protesters at Lekki toll gate in Lagos.”
On Wednesday, the group said that it had learned through its own investigation that at least 12 peaceful protesters were allegedly killed at Lekki Toll Gate and at another location in Lagos called Alausa on Tuesday night.
The Nigerian army has responded to allegations of involvement via its official Twitter account by tweeting media reports covering the violence against protesters with the words “Fake News” printed in red. In one tweet, the army claimed, “No soldiers were at the scene.”
Sanwo-Olu released a series of statements on Twitter Wednesday, writing, in part, “For clarity, it is imperative to explain that no governor controls the rules of engagement of the army.”
“I have nevertheless instructed an investigation into the ordered and the adopted rules of engagement employed by the men of the Nigerian Army deployed to the Lekki Toll Gate,” he continued.
The governor later noted that he was “taking this up” with the high command of the Nigerian army and that he would be seeking Buhari’s intervention to “unravel the sequence of events that happened yesterday.”
Nigerian music artists and actors, including Tiwa Savage, Burna Boy and John Boyega, have continued to tweet about the #EndSars protests.
“As wayward leaders run to western lands, Nigerians in the diaspora will be here to welcome you,” Boyega, the British-Nigerian “Star Wars” actor tweeted Wednesday. “You will not get comfort here.”