Buhari Readies New Plans To Appease Nigerian Protesters

At least 56 people have died in demonstrations, Amnesty says. President to speak after meeting with security chiefs.

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Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari will announce new measures on Thursday to address the grievances of youths who’ve staged mass protests against police brutality that have cast Africa’s most populous nation into turmoil.

Buhari will deliver a televised address at 7 p.m. local time, following an earlier briefing with security chiefs, his office said in an emailed statement. The president has so far largely remained silent through the crisis, mainly using aides and statements to deliver his response to demands for reforms, despite the demonstrators’ insistence that he address them directly.

The protests, which erupted on Oct. 5 and have spread to about half of Nigeria’s 36 states, pose the most serious challenge yet to Buhari’s authority and have dealt another blow to an economy that was already reeling from the coronavirus. While human rights group Amnesty International tallies show at least 56 people have been killed in protest-related violence, the government hasn’t announced a death toll.

Burhari is expected to “come up with certain solutions that will be agreeable to the entire federation” Babagana Monguno, the national security adviser, told reporters on Thursday in Abuja, the capital.

The protests have disrupted commerce in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial hub, and prompted the state government to impose a 24-hour curfew. Violence peaked on Oct. 20 when about 38 people died, including 12 who were killed after security forces opened fire on protesters who’d gathered at two sites in Lagos, in defiance of the lockdown, Amnesty said, citing witnesses.

While the Nigerian army’s Twitter page labeled reports that troops had fired on protesters as “fake news,” Lago governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said he’s ordered a probe into the conduct of the military, which falls under the federal government’s control. He’s confirmed that two persons died of their injuries.

The streets of Lagos and Abuja, the capital, were largely devoid of protesters on Thursday, and demonstrations in the oil-producing Rivers and Delta states that erupted on Wednesday also appeared to have died down. At least 10 states have imposed curfews.

“These past days have been tough, people have lost their friends, people have been injured, so I am not sure about going back on the street,” said Lagos resident Precious Nwachukwu, who joined the protests. “We will keep using our social media and online pages” to raise concerns about police brutality, she said.

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The largely peaceful demonstrations persisted even after Buhari promised to disband a police unit at the center of the brutality allegations. The situation in Lagos deteriorated from Oct. 18 as “criminal elements” took advantage of directives given to the police not to use force, said Sanwo-Olu, who imposed the curfew after police stations were burned down and financial institutions were looted.

The violence has drawn international condemnation, with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres among those who’ve called on the authorities to exercise restraint. U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo issued a statement condemning “the use of excessive force by military forces who fired on unarmed demonstrators in Lagos, causing death and injury.”

The unrest and the authorities’ increasingly heavy-handed response has begun to unnerve financial markets, with the naira dropping as much as 1.2% against the dollar on Thursday, the most of any African currency.

The risk premium that investors demand to hold Nigeria’s dollar debt rather than U.S. Treasuries has widened 20 basis points this week, while the average for African nations narrowed two basis points, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co. indexes.

Most of the demonstrators are young adults, who don’t appear to have a clearly defined leadership structure and communicate using social media — which the government says has frustrated efforts to negotiate with them.

– Bloomberg

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