ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigerians protesting against what they condemn as police brutality must end their daily demonstrations and enter into dialogue with the government on law enforcement reforms, the youth minister said on Monday.
Thousands of Nigerians calling for an end to alleged brutality and for law enforcement reforms have taken to the streets every day for more than a week across the country, posing a major challenge to President Muhammadu Buhari.
Protests have continued despite the dissolution of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) police unit on Oct. 11 following accusations of human rights abuses against the unit.
Lagos state, including some others, have set up a panel to investigate allegations of police brutality while the southern state of Edo has imposed a curfew following an escalation of protest-related violence.
Sunday Dare, minister of youth and sports development, told Reuters the government had met the demonstrators’ demands, including the creation of an independent body to investigate alleged misconduct and the release of all arrested protesters.
“It is time to move to the next stage, that next stage is dialogue,” said Dare in an interview in the capital, Abuja.
But he acknowledged the mistrust of demonstrators who say the government has promised to reform the police in the past with little discernible effect.
Even as the president and Nigeria’s police chief promised that force would not be used on peaceful protesters, police have opened fire on demonstrators in recent weeks.
At least 10 protesters have been killed, Amnesty International has said.
On Monday, the unrest spread as far north as Kano while traffic on major roads in Lagos and Abuja were disrupted despite threats from the military to dispel protesters.
Officials on a presidential task force for combating the coronavirus pandemic told a news conference in the capital, Abuja, they feared a surge in infections due to people attending the protests.
Boss Mustapha, who chairs the task force, said the mass gatherings were potentially “super spreader events”. Nigeria, with a population of 200 million people, has had 61,440 confirmed coronavirus cases that led to 1,125 deaths.
Dare said the government does not want the situation to “escalate or descend into chaos” as a result of the demonstrations and their impact on other Nigerians’ livelihoods.
“Government has a responsibility when it comes to protecting the lives, the liberties and freedoms of every other Nigerian,” he said.
Reporting by Paul Carsten; additional reporting by Tife Owolabi in Yenagoa and Desmond Mgboh in Kano; Editing by Alexis Akwagyiram, Giles Elgood, William Maclean
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