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Tensions rise in Nigeria as some 2,000 inmates escape in attacks on prisons

20 October 2020

Nigerian authorities said on Tuesday that nearly 2,000 inmates had broken out of jail after crowds attacked two prisons, while officials announced a 24-hour curfew in the megacity of Lagos in an attempt to quell the unrest stemming from two weeks of protests against police brutality.

The Inspector-General of Police deployed anti-riot police across Africa’s most populous nation and ordered forces to strengthen security around Nigerian prison facilities.

“The force will henceforth exercise the full powers of the law to prevent any further attempt on lives and property of citizens,” a police statement read.

Interior Ministry spokesman Mohammed Manga said armed crowds had attacked two prison facilities, subduing the guards on duty. At the last count, 1,993 inmates were missing, he said Tuesday. It was unclear what the prisons’ exact populations had been before the attack.

“Most of the inmates held at the centers are convicted criminals serving terms for various criminal offenses, awaiting execution or standing trial for violent crimes,” he said in a statement.

Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu warned on Twitter that the protests against police brutality in Nigeria have “degenerated into a monster that is threatening the well-being of our society”, as he announced a 24-hour curfew in the megacity.

He said the curfew would cover the entire city of some 14 million people and surrounding areas. The announcement came after a police station was burned down in the city and two people were shot dead by police.

Gunshots fired at protesters

After the curfew announcement, protests continued on Tuesday in many cities, including Abuja, the capital, where troops have been deployed.

In Lagos, protesters gathered at a city centre tollgate were dispersed by gunshots, according to four witnesses who spoke to AFP. It was unclear who shot at the protesters, but several hundred people were present at the site that has become the epicentre of widespread demonstrations.

Authorities had also imposed a curfew in Benin City on Monday after the prisons were attacked.

The protests began two weeks ago after a video circulated showing a man being beaten, apparently by police officers of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).

SARS forces accused of abuses for years

Young protesters marched in cities across Nigeria under the banner #EndSARS. In response, the government announced it would ban the anti-robbery squad, which for years has been accused by human rights groups for widespread abuses, including torture and killings.

The demonstrators have not been satisfied with the disbandment of the SARS unit and are demanding an end to abuses and respect for human rights in all parts of the police force. The protests have stopped traffic in Lagos, Abuja and many other large cities in the country of 196 million people.

Lagos is the main centre of the protests, which have also blocked access to that city’s airport, the country’s largest, and protesters have in addition barricaded the roads leading to the country’s main ports.

A version of this report first appeared on France 24.

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