Biden says US ‘must stand with Nigerians’ peacefully demonstrating for police reform

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Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said the United States “must stand with” protesters in Nigeria who are peacefully demonstrating for police reform following reports that security forces in the country opened fire on protesters in Lagos earlier this week. 

“I urge President Buhari and the Nigerian military to cease the violent crackdown on protesters in Nigeria, which has already resulted in several deaths. My heart goes out to all those who have lost a loved one in the violence,” Biden said.

“The United States must stand with Nigerians who are peacefully demonstrating for police reform and seeking an end to corruption in their democracy. 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,” he continued. 

The hashtag #EndSARS went viral on Twitter this month as lawmakers, celebrities and other prominent figures have tweeted support for protests demonstrating against police brutality and pushing for an end to Nigeria’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad, or SARS.

According to Amnesty International, the police unit, which was formed over three decades ago to tackle violent crimes, has a history of alleged abuses, with “at least 82 cases of torture, ill treatment and extra-judicial execution by SARS between January 2017 and May 2020.”

The unit was dissolved earlier this month, according to The Washington Post, after officers were recorded dragging two men from a Lagos hotel and later shooting one of the men outside.

However, protests continued following reports that some members from the disbanded unit were reportedly hired for other roles.

The African nation drew international attention weeks later after security forces in Nigeria were allegedly seen opening fire on protesters near the Lekki toll gate plaza in Lagos on Tuesday, according to the Post. The shooting prompted the #LekkiMassacre hashtag to go viral on Twitter this week.

A 24-hour curfew had reportedly been implemented in the city at the time. Protestors told the Post the shooting happened shortly after the streetlights cut off in the area.

Amnesty International said Wednesday that at least 12 peaceful protesters were killed by police and military forces between the Lekki protest and another protest that happened the same day in Alausa. 

In a statement on Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States “strongly condemns the use of excessive force by military forces who fired on unarmed demonstrators in Lagos.”

“The right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression are essential human rights and core democratic principles,” he said, while also calling on the security services to “show maximum restraint and respect fundamental rights and for demonstrators to remain peaceful.” 

“We extend our condolences to the victims of the violence and their families,” Pompeo added.

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