Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari acknowledged Friday that “many lives have been lost” in weeks of unrest in the country but failed to denounce the police killing of peaceful protesters demanding an end to police brutality.
Buhari made the comment in a meeting with former heads of state on how to address some of the country’s most intense violence in years.
"In the mayhem that ensued, many lives had been lost and there are a number of public and private properties completely destroyed or vandalized… The mayhem has not stopped,” he said. “Through all the disturbances, security agencies observed extreme restraint.”
The government “will not fold its arms and allow miscreants and criminals to continue to perpetrate these acts of hooliganism," he said.
Buhari did not, however, clarify how many people were killed, but after the meeting he said in a written statement that 51 civilians, 11 police officers and seven soldiers were killed during the violent confrontations.
Major roads in Lagos, a major city and former capital of Nigeria, were blocked Friday by groups of people armed with knives and sticks, with many of them demanding more widespread reforms of the police and an end to corruption.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Friday that Nigerian authorities must “not abuse force when dealing with demonstrations” and added that he received assurances from Buhari.
“I heard from the president his strong commitment to do everything possible to avoid these kinds of incidents and I hope it will be the case in the future,” Guterres said.
On Thursday, the United States condemned the police brutality in Lagos, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling for an investigation.
“We welcome an immediate investigation into any use of excessive force by members of the security forces. Those involved should be held to account in accordance with Nigerian law,” Pompeo said in a statement.
Congressional Black Caucus member Sheila Jackson Lee, along with caucus members Barbara Lee and Frederica Wilson, has sent a letter to the Nigerian president demanding an end to the violence, the release of those who have been arrested and an investigation into the shootings at the toll plaza.
Lee told VOA she and her colleagues also wrote to the U.N. Security Council “to ask for an investigation because this is a violation of human rights and the violation of human rights should not be tolerated by the United Nations.”
Democratic members of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa also condemned the police brutality and called for “an immediate end to the violent crackdown on peaceful protestors.”
“That security forces have used live ammunition against peaceful protestors demonstrating against police brutality is especially alarming. We urge security forces to act with restraint and for Nigerian authorities to deescalate the situation and hold perpetrators of violence to account,” Senators Chris Coons, Cory Booker, Tim Kaine and Chris Murphy said in a statement.
Amnesty International on Wednesday reported that a total of 38 people died in protest-related incidents on Tuesday. Amnesty International also said at least 56 people have been killed over the past two weeks in protests directed at the police Special Anti-Robbery Squad, known as SARS, which the international rights group accused of torture and murders. The government disbanded SARS last week, but that has not tempered the outrage.
Lagos authorities have not been able to fully enforce a curfew as anger continued to escalate. They said on Friday the curfew would be eased on Saturday, remaining in effect from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. local time.