Businesses were shut in major cities across Nigeria on Monday as sustained demonstration by protesters against police brutality intensified.
A number of air passengers in Lagos missed their flights as the protest paralysed activities and disrupted traffic along the Ikeja, Oshodi and Airport Road routes.
Physical bank transactions were also hampered in Lagos, Abuja and Benin City as some banks shut their branches, while schools hurriedly ended their classes and sent pupils and students home.
The protest, which began with a humble gathering of Nigerians over a week ago, campaigning against the excesses of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Police Force in Lagos, has steadily evolved in scope with the focus now shifted to demand for better governance, youth development and education reforms, reduction in cost of governance as well as constitutional, public office, health and institutional reforms.
In Lagos, the commercial base of Africa’s largest economy, activities were grounded to a halt by young Nigerians, with road blocks on roads leading into local and international airports.
A visit by BusinessDay to the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, showed passengers stuck in traffic, while some who were already around Ikeja carried their luggage on their heads and on motorcycles to avoid missing their flights.
“I left Festac (in Lagos) by 9am in the morning but was surprised to discover that all the roads leading to the airport were blocked by protesters. I tried to get to the airport but it was futile. I couldn’t even find a commercial motorcycle. I still missed my flight,” a passenger identified as Chibuzor said.
Disruptions to traffic crippled movement at Lagos routes including Ikeja-Oshodi; Allen Roundabout-Awolowo Road, Ikeja; Alausa, Ikeja; Isheri Olowora, Magodo; Agbara, Lagos-Badagary Expressway; Lekki Toll Gate; Ikotun Roundabout; Arepo, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Mushin Bus Stop; Apapa Oshodi-Expressway; Ojuelegba; Surulere; Ikorodu Roundabout, and Mile 12-Ketu, among others.
Physical bank transactions were abruptly halted with some banks’ management ordering closure of branches as the continued protests began to breed a tense atmosphere.
Plain-clothed security personnel who spoke with BusinessDay at different bank branches around Jakande Gate, Isolo and Okota, in Lagos said their management ordered the branches closed for safety purposes.
“Oga, we no open today because of the protest in front of our office. You fit do your transactions online. Na so management talk,” said a guard at a bank branch at Jakande Gate in Alimosho area of Lagos.
At an old generation bank branch at Okota-Ago Palace Way roundabout, where #EndSARS protesters turned into a carnival ground, a guard said the bank had to be shut to forestall possible attack by hoodlums who might have infiltrated the #EndSARS protest.
School premises in most parts of Lagos and Edo State were also shut and students sent back home. In Lagos and Abuja, many students who got to their school earlier in the day were seen on the roads trekking home.
“Our head teacher asked us to go home today because some of our teachers did not come to school. Nobody to teach the class,” said one of the students at Okota.
In the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, routes leading to the Central Bank of Nigeria’s headquarters were barricaded several minutes before the intervention of the police.
There was a tense situation along Abuja Airport Road (Juke Airport Junction) when soldiers from Brigade of Guards barricaded the area. There was palpable fear that the protest could turn bloody.
Protesters also blocked Jabi Upstairs (opposite Apostolic Church) as youths played football on the road.
A violent fallout of the protest in Benin City led to break-in on the Benin Correctional Centre, Sapele Road, where it was alleged about 100 inmates escaped, and another attempt on Oko Medium Correctional Centre by some suspected hoodlums, attracting the imposition of a 24-hour curfew across the state by Governor Godwin Obaseki.
As at 11:30am, an unnamed presenter on the #EndSARS ‘Soro Soke’ radio station, a new radio frequency founded by the protesters, called for the sustenance of the protests country-wide, saying the current injustice in Nigeria must be resisted by all well-meaning Nigerians.
The presenter debunked claims that the group had an Instagram account, urging funders to give money to a feminist coalition that had been judicious in the management of funds so far.
“We hear the protest has begun in Kano and Uyo, and we are waiting to hear from you what is happening there. Be careful and stay with a group. This is a peaceful protest. We want an end to bad governance,” the presenter said.
Few hours after the invasion of Benin Correctional Centre by the suspected hoodlums, the Oko Medium Correctional Centre was also attacked.
It was gathered that inmates were freed, while several vehicles and a ‘provision store’ were set ablaze. BusinessDay also gathered that about four police stations were burnt by hoodlums including: Ugbekun, Idogbo Police Post, Textile Mills, and Oba Market Police Stations. The Edo State office of DAAR Communications, operator of Africa Independent Television and Raypower, was also attacked and vandalised.
Pundits say a threat to Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Abeokuta-Benin Expressway and Abuja Expressway, the busiest highways in Nigeria, implies Nigeria and its economy could be on its knees, at the mercy of this protest.
Lagos and Ogun states have the largest industries in Nigeria and as such, stifling these states puts the Nation in peril. Lagos’ GDP was estimated at $136 billion in 2017 by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), which means at least $372.60 million could be lost in just one day.
Lagos GDP has, however, been smaller since then due to recession, devaluation and economic slump. Economists say the state is still worth over $100 billion. It has 12-13 million micro, small and medium businesses, according to NBS and the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN).
According to Adelaja Adeoye, ADP national publicity secretary, the protest is a clear message to the political class that Nigerian youths are gradually waking up.
“As you can also see, they have been pushed to the wall by the notorious SARS officers across Nigeria,” Adeoye said.
“Many Nigerians such as Deji Adeyanju, Segun Awosanya and myself have led various protests in this regard, but what makes this one bigger is the fact that people can no longer take it, and they kept trooping to the streets to defend their lives.
“No person, political party or government can stand in the way of this organic protest. I led a protest against police brutality at Fela’s Kalakuta in Ikeja when Johnson Kolade was gruesomely killed by trigger-happy police, so I know what is going on now.
“There are many atrocities being perpetrated by many of the SARS officers such as the notorious one called James Nwafor, who has been sacked by Anambra State governor, Willie Obiano. People are demanding for his immediate arrest and prosecution,” he further said.