Nigeria launches inquiry into Lagos protest shootings

Lagos (AFP) –


A judicial panel in Nigeria's biggest city Lagos on Tuesday began an inquiry into the shooting of peaceful protesters last week and broader police brutality that had sparked demonstrations and unrest.

Africa's most populous nation has been rocked by violence since demonstrators were gunned down in the economic hub on October 20, sparking international outrage and rioting.

Amnesty International says 12 people were shot dead by the police and army at two locations, in assaults shared widely on social media.

The security forces have rejected accusations of responsibility, with the army chief decrying a "smokescreen of falsehood and deliberate misrepresentation of facts."

The authorities are pinning their hopes on the public inquiry -- streamed live on social media -- to help tamp down widespread fury.

But there is deep scepticism among Nigerians that the powerful security agencies can finally be held to account after repeated accusations of abuse.

The Lagos panel was initially hastily set up to probe complaints against the police's loathed Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) after protests erupted on October 8 over its abuses.

Its remit was then widened to include the shooting of demonstrators at the key Lekki Toll Gate protest site after the incident unleashed looting and chaos across the city.

The governor of Lagos has promised that evidence from surveillance cameras at the scene would be reviewed by the panel.

Lawyer Unyime Eyo, who is set to present a case against SARS at the enquiry, cautioned that previous efforts to get justice for victims of police violence have been stymied.

"All our attempts since 2014 have been unsuccessful," Eyo, a pro-bono advocate with Justice and Empowerment Initiatives, told AFP.

"Do we have hope? I don't know, let's wait and see. We want to give them the benefit of the doubt but for now we are just waiting to see."

The protests this month have drawn support from celebrities around the globe and turned into one of the biggest challenges to the governing elite in years.

Overall Amnesty International says 56 people have died nationwide since the demonstrations began.

The situation has calmed in Lagos since days of rioting but looting and violence rumbles on in pockets around the country.

In southeastern Ebonyi state -- a hotbed of longstanding separatist tensions -- police said a station was burnt on Monday and two officers have died from attacks in recent days.