In his first address to Nigerians on the #EndSARS protest, President Muhammadu Buhari refused to condemn the attack on peaceful protesters by armed security operatives.
Dozens of people including protesters and police officers have been killed in the violence that has resulted from the protests in many states.
The protests began as peaceful protests in major cities in Nigeria a fortnight ago. However, across major cities in places like Abuja, Oyo and Delta, peaceful protesters were attacked by security operatives who used live bullets and tear gas to disperse the protesters.
Arguably, the worst of such incidents was the attack on protesters at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos on Tuesday when soldiers shot at peaceful protesters gathered there.
At least two people have been confirmed dead from the Lekki incident.
The protests across Nigeria have since been hijacked by hoodlums who have killed police officers and attacked public and private facilities.
In his address to Nigerians Thursday evening, the president condemned the violence but did not specifically condemn the attack on the protesters; neither did he promise to ensure the shooters are brought to book.
He instead condemned the attack on police officers and called on security operatives not to harm citizens.
“And I call on all Nigerians to go about their normal businesses, and enjoin security agencies to protect lives and properties of all law abiding citizens without doing harm to those they are meant to protect. Let me pay tribute to officers of the Nigeria Police Force who have tragically lost their lives in the line of duty,” Mr Buhari said.
The president also condemned the violence carried out by hoodlums on citizens, security operatives, as well as public and private facilities.
“The result of this is clear to all observers: human lives have been lost; acts of sexual violence have been reported; two major correctional facilities were attacked and convicts freed; public and private properties completely destroyed or vandalised; the sanctity of the Palace of a Peace Maker, the Oba of Lagos has been violated. So-called protesters have invaded an International Airport and in the process disrupted the travel plans of fellow Nigerians and our visitors.”
Mr Buhari accused some Nigerians of spreading ‘deliberate falsehood’ on social media about his government.
“The spreading of deliberate falsehood and misinformation through the social media in particular, that this government is oblivious to the pains and plight of its citizens is a ploy to mislead the unwary within and outside Nigeria into unfair judgement and disruptive behaviour,” he said.
Mr Buhari’s Thursday speech is the first since the #EndSARS protests began a fortnight ago.
Before now, his aides and other officials including Vice President Yemi Osinbajo have been addressing the public on behalf of the president.
While the president did not condemn the shooting of protesters on Tuesday, world leaders and the international community have condemned the attack.
The U.S. Democratic Party presidential candidate, Joe Biden, on Wednesday, tasked the federal government to stop using soldiers against peaceful protesters.
He declared support for Nigerians peacefully demonstrating for police reform and seeking an end to corruption in their democracy.
The United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, also called on Nigerian authorities to investigate the incidents and hold the perpetrators accountable,
The European Union, in a statement by Josep Fontlles, the high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy, said Tuesday’s killings were alarming.
Speaking for the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS), Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Adodo urged President Buhari to dialogue with protesters and find a lasting solution to the protracted clashes between the government and the protesters.
Earlier on Thursday, the African Union (AU) and the United States government also condemned the Lekki shootings.
Prominent Nigerians who have condemned the shooting of protesters include Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka and former president Olusegun Obasanjo.
The Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, has also condemned the Lekki shooting and promised to investigate the incident.