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Protesters have taken to the streets every day for more than a week across Nigeria, posing a major challenge to President Muhammadu Buhari. Photo: AFP

Why protesters paralysed Africa’s biggest city Lagos, Nigeria

  • Nigeria has been rocked by demonstrations by people protesting alleged police brutality
  • Protests were sparked by video of man beaten by members of police squad called SARS

Nigerian protesters paralysed Africa’s biggest city Lagos on Monday, blocking the airport as widespread demonstrations sparked by police brutality spiralled.

Hundreds of mainly young protesters waving flags and placards marched outside the international departures terminal in the economic hub.

The wave of demonstrations began some 10 days ago when crowds took to the streets over abuses by the police’s loathed Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).

The outpouring of anger forced the government to scrap the unit a week ago and promise reforms – but protests have continued to swell as the young demonstrators demand more sweeping changes.

Reports of violence have begun to rise following a lull in bloodshed as officials promised to rein in the security forces after an initial harsh response from police.

Protesters block the entrance to the international airport in Nigeria’s economic capital Lagos. Photo: AFP

Amnesty International said five people had died since Friday, taking the overall number of fatalities to 15 since demonstrations started.

Amnesty on Wednesday reported 10 dead, including two policeman, and hundreds injured.

The protests in Lagos were peaceful on Monday but demonstrators cut roads across the sprawling megacity of 20 million.

In the capital Abuja security forces fired tear gas at protesters on Monday.

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Around 50 youths in civilian clothes armed with machetes were seen chasing away demonstrators on a road leading to the presidential compound.

Police in southern Benin City said one of their facilities was attacked on Monday by “persons posing as #EndSARS protesters”, leading the local governor to impose a 24-hour curfew.

Demonstrators confront a police officer in Lagos on October 12. Photo: Reuters

“Reports indicate that the protesters carted away arms and ammunition from the armoury and freed the suspects in custody before setting some of the facilities ablaze,” the force said on Twitter.

A resident in the city said that several hundred people were protesting there.

The spread and scale of the demonstrations have rattled the government of President Muhammadu Buhari as they have snowballed into the largest show of people power in years.

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The #EndSARS rallying cry has trended on social media and drawn support from high-profile celebrities in Nigeria and abroad.

Officials have urged an end to the demonstrations to give the authorities a chance to implement a promised overhaul of law enforcement.

Last week the head of Nigeria’s police announced a new SWAT force would replace the disbanded SARS unit.

The police said the unit was set to begin training Monday but it faces huge scepticism from the crowds on the street who doubt it will bring real change.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Lagos gridlockedat standstill as protests against brutality spiral