Nigerian army denies firing live rounds at protest

The Nigerian army has rejected claims it killed unarmed protesters at a rally in Lagos in October, saying its soldiers were firing blank bullets.

Brigadier General Ahmed Taiwo presented video evidence to back up his claims made to a panel of inquiry.

Amnesty International says 12 people were killed when soldiers opened fire on a protest about police brutality in the wealthy Lagos suburb of Lekki.

Multiple eyewitnesses have told the BBC they saw soldiers shoot people.

Some 1,000 protesters had gathered at the Lekki toll gate on 20 October to prevent cars using a major motorway. Soldiers were reportedly seen barricading the protest site moments before the shooting started.

In video footage shared on social media at the time, shots could be heard as protesters sat down, locked arms and sang the national anthem together. Live footage was also streamed from the scene showing protesters tending to the wounded.

The attack had followed days of protests against the much-hated police unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (Sars), which had morphed into greater calls for better governance.

Brig Gen Taiwo told the judicial panel investigating alleged historic abuses by Sars there had been “a lot of misinformation” about his troops. Their “only crime was to report for duty to protect us all”.

He pointed to video showing what appeared to be soldiers at the scene. “You can see they are firing in the air, and firing blank ammunitions.”

Responding to a claim that a witness had seen a dead body at the scene, he said “the casualty she saw had been overcome by shock”, AFP news agency reports.

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It is not clear if he will respond to the many other accounts from eyewitnesses.

Since the shooting those involved in the protests say they are being targeted by the government, the BBC’s Mayeni Jones reports.

A number of protesters and companies say their bank accounts have been frozen and others have been arrested. The passport of a lawyer who organised legal aid for the protesters was seized as she tried to leave the country, although it has now been returned to her.

Nationwide protests erupted on 8 October calling for an end to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, which had been accused of widespread human rights violations, including illegal detention, torture and extrajudicial killings.

President Muhammadu Buhari disbanded the squad a few days later, but the protests continued with demands for more changes in the security forces and reforms to the way the country is run.

Following the 20 October attack, Amnesty International Nigeria said it had evidence from hospital records and witnesses to show that “the Nigerian military opened fire on thousands of people who were peacefully calling for good governance and an end to police brutality”.

The Lagos state government said 30 people had been injured with one fatality.

Lagos and other parts of Nigeria have seen buildings torched, shopping centres looted and prisons attacked since the shooting.

Nigeria’s vice-president has promised justice for victims shot during the protests amid widespread condemnation from international leaders.

Source: BBC