(Refiles to add time reference in paragraph 6)
ABUJA, Feb 11 (Reuters) – Nigeria’s information minister called on activists to drop plans for a protest in the commercial capital Lagos over the reopening of the site where demonstrators against police brutality were shot last year, saying it risked being “hijacked by hoodlums”.
Protesters were shot on Oct. 20 by people witnesses said were soldiers at the toll gate in the affluent Lekki district of Lagos. Rights group Amnesty International said soldiers and police killed at least 12 protesters in Lekki and another district. The military and police have denied involvement.
Nationwide protests against police brutality were largely peaceful until the Oct. 20 shooting, which spawned some of the worst civil unrest since the 1999 return to civilian rule in Africa’s most populous country.
A judicial commission in Lagos is looking into the allegations that the army and police opened fire on protesters on Oct. 20. Social media campaigners said a demonstration would be held at the toll gate on Saturday in protest at its reopening before the commission had completed its investigation.
In response, Information Minister Lai Mohammed said the planned rally could turn violent because of “hoodlums”.
“We therefore strongly warn those who are planning to re-occupy Lekki Toll Gate on Saturday to desist,” Mohammed told a news conference on Thursday in the capital Abuja.
“While peaceful protests are the constitutional rights of Nigerians, violent protests are not. At this time, the chances that any peaceful protest will be hijacked are very high.”
Violence would not be tolerated, he said, adding: “The security agents are ready for any eventuality.”
The unrest in October led to the deaths of six soldiers, 37 policemen and 57 civilians, as well as the destruction of 269 private and public properties, Mohammed said. (Reporting by Felix Onuah Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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