Soldiers and police fired live ammunition on hundreds of Nigerians demonstrating in the Nigerian capital of Abuja on Tuesday, leaving at least four people dead and dozens wounded.
The protesters had gathered to protest poverty levels in Nigeria. They chanted slogans such as “You can’t starve to death in Abuja,” and “Nigeria belongs to us.”
Trouble began when a protester was stoned by an army jeep, people told local media. Other protesters were pushed by police and army trucks. Some ran for cover.
Just then, officers opened fire, witnesses told the Reuters news agency. The army, police and local government all denied the protesters’ accusations that they used live rounds to disperse the crowd. Witnesses confirmed the deaths of four people and the wounds of dozens.
“We condemn the killing of citizens and the injury of others, but we shall not run away from the duty we are assigned,” National Assembly President Bukola Saraki said in a statement. “This is a criminal act against Nigerians, which must be urgently investigated.”
Nigeria’s military declared a state of emergency on Tuesday to halt a series of protests in the capital. Protesters argue that poverty levels have led to rampant corruption and poor infrastructure. They are demanding that the government spend more money on education, health and infrastructure development.
Nearly everyone in Nigeria is poor, one of the world’s poorest countries.
“The level of corruption in this country is high, but the rise in the cost of living is the worst,” said Ibrahim Bitrus, a lawyer and activist. “If the cost of living goes up from N100 [about $0.30] to N100,000, every single person would feel it.”
“There is no need for a state of emergency. There is already an emergency in this country. It is called starvation.”
Even the medical equipment is struggling, he said. Lack of electricity in Nigeria means all hospitals are connected by generators. Even regular electricity isn’t available in many of the city’s hospitals.
“Every hospital in this city uses generators to supply power to the equipment. After that, what do you do? You don’t feed people unless it’s for a wedding,” Bitrus said.
More than 25 million children worldwide have no access to basic health care, according to the United Nations.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country with 160 million people, suffers from one of the highest number of poor people per capita in the world. The country’s staggering poverty levels give rise to desperate protesters throughout the country demanding better government services.
But Nigerians are not always united in their outrage. In a country with the greatest development challenges in the world, protests like the one in Abuja over the weekend are largely diverse.
Several prominent political figures including President Muhammadu Buhari and political party leaders have been caught in the public outcry.
In 2013, when Buhari was a candidate in the Nigerian presidential elections, he had to keep a low profile due to ongoing security issues, including a bloody Boko Haram insurgency.
Bitrus said it’s important for Buhari to take his time and do his homework before being thrown in as president again.