LAGOS (Reuters) - Nigerian soldiers blocked roads, fired shots into the air and burned several buses in Lagos on Friday after a soldier was killed in a bus accident, an episode residents said recalled the country’s former military dictatorship.
Nigeria has been a democracy since shortly after the death of military ruler Sani Abacha 1998, but rights groups say abuses and indiscipline by its troops remain a problem, especially in the remote northeast, where an Islamist insurgency threatens stability across Africa’s largest economy and top oil producer.
“The rampaging soldiers already burnt five ... buses,” Femi Oke-Osanyitolu, director general of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, told Reuters by telephone, calling it “barbaric and uncivilised.”
There were no deaths or injuries in the incident, he said.
The soldiers, he said, were reacting to the killing of one of their number who was hit by a bus while riding a motorcycle. Nigerian bus drivers have a reputation for reckless driving, although it was not clear whose fault the accident was.
“The governor of the state is currently talking with the superior officers of the army to restore order within the area,” around Ikorodu Road, on the sprawling Lagos mainland, Oke-Osanyitoluhe said.
The defence spokesman did not immediately comment on the soldiers’ behaviour. Disturbances continued for several hours from the morning into the afternoon.
Local TV stations broadcast pictures of the buses up in flames. Twitter buzzed with comments from Lagos residents comparing it to the days of military dictatorship in the 1970s and 80s. Then, Lagos was Nigeria’s capital and scenes of military indiscipline in its streets were commonplace - and well publicised in the songs of Afrobeat star Fela Kuti.
“They were armed to the teeth, we are all afraid, everybody was afraid of stray bullets because the soldiers were shooting sporadically (in the air) to scare away people,” Bunmi Ajayi, a publisher of children books who had to shut his office, said.
Another witness, Segun Alabi, said soldiers were preventing buses from passing through and confiscating and destroying people’s smartphones to prevent witnesses filming them.
(Corrects title of body to Lagos State Emergency Management Agency)
Reporting by Oludare Mayowa and Tim Cocks; Writing by Tim Cocks, editing by Mark Heinrich