Anthony Joshua and Odion Ighalo Weigh in on Violence in Nigeria as Soldiers Open Fire on Protesters

Sports stars of Nigerian heritage have taken to social media to condemn the brutal crackdown on protesters in Nigeria’s commercial capital Lagos and other cities following days of protests in the country.

Since October 8, protesters have been carrying out peaceful demonstrations across the nation and social media calling for the disbanding of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police.

However, the protests assumed a violent dimension last week when thugs attacked peaceful protesters in Lagos and Abuja. And on Tuesday 20 October, the violence escalated with 43 protesters and six policemen reportedly killed. There were also reported cases of arson and looting.

Two-time unified heavyweight boxing champion Anthony Joshua posted on social media that he was praying for peace in the country and doing his best to support victims. The WBA, WBO, IBF and IBO champion, whose full name is Anthony Oluwafemi Olaseni Joshua, was born in Watford, England to Nigerian parents.

In a video uploaded on his Twitter handle, he said:

“This is a message to the people of Nigeria. Even though i’m no there with you in the physical, we’ve been making some tangible efforts to try and support your protests on the ground.

“I know it’s getting to a stage where things are heating up and tensions are high, but in my prayers at night, i’m praying for peace and positivity, because i know that the people on ground aren’t trying to be heard for their own benefit. It’s for the benefit of the next generation.

“Me myself, i’ve had to take time to understand the issues that people in Nigeria are facing. Why sometimes i’m silent is because i’ve learnt that my silence can’t be misquoted. So me and my family and my close friends have been trying to do something tangible things and we’re organizing many care packages for the people on the ground. So even if i’m in my training camp and we’re in London, we can support you guys from a distance.

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“December the 12th, i’m competing and after that i’m going to try and make some plans to come to Nigeria to meet my friends and family and meet some of the people trying to make long lasting change. But for sure, from London and far and wide, your voices are definitely being heard.

“So keep on pushing, keep on striving. You have my support through and through. My ears and my eyes have been opened. I understand the issues that you guys are facing and for some people what i’m going to do will be enough. And for some people it may not be enough. But together as we hold hands and push for a better change, we all move forward in a positive direction. So keep on pushing. Your voices have definitely landed in my ears. And you definitely have my support.”

It was announced last week that Joshua would make a mandatory title defense against Bulgaria’s Kubrat Pulev on December 12 at the O2 Arena in London.

However, Manchester United and former Nigeria international Odion Ighalo was particularly scathing of the authorities, condemning the violence and urging the UK government, the UN and world leaders to act.

Also speakng in a video posted on his Twitter handle, he said:

“I’m sad and heartbroken and i don’t know where to start from. I’m not the type of guy that talks about politics but i can’t keep quiet anymore about what is going on back home in Nigeria.

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“I would say to the Nigerian government, you guys are a shame to the world for killing your own citizens. Sending military to the streets to kill unarmed protesters because they are protesting for their rights is uncalled for.

“Today 20th October 2020, you people will be remembered in history as the first (civilian) government that sent the military into cities to start killing its own citizens.

“I am ashamed of this government. We are tired of you guys and we can’t take this anymore. I’m calling on the UK government, calling on leaders all over the world, to please see what is going on in Nigeria and help us. The government is killing its own citizens. We are calling on you guys and the UN to see to this matter. And i want to call on my brothers and sisters back home to remain safe. Stay indoors and don’t come out because this government are killers and they will keep killing if the world does not talk about this.”

Ighalo posted the video after Manchester United won 2-1 at the Parc des Princes in Paris against Paris Saint-Germain in their opening Group H match of the UEFA Champions League. He was an unused substitute.

In the Lekki area of Nigeria’s commercial capital Lagos, armed soldiers allegedly shot sporadically at protesters, killing no fewer than seven persons in the process. The soldiers had been deployed to enforce a curfew announced by the Lagos State governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu.

Many protesters were also said to have sustained bullet wounds as a result of the attack that occurred suddenly after the giant video billboard on a tollgate where the protesters have been demonstrating for days and the streetlights within the area were switched off.

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The Nigerian government, led by President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired military general, had announced the scrapping of the SARS unit as well as a raft of reforms over a week ago. Officials called for the demonstrations to be suspended to give the authorities time to make good on their pledges. However the move failed as protesters responded that they had no trust or faith in the government.

Around half of Nigeria’s 200 million population is estimated to live in extreme poverty. Unemployment is widespread among the youth who have been reportedly targeted for arbitrary arrests, extortion, abduction, torture and extra-judicial killings by the security forces, especially the much loathed and dreaded SARS.

Africa’s biggest oil producer is currently facing a recession as the fall in crude prices sparked by the coronavirus pandemic has battered government finances creating much social unrest.

The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) estimates the Nigerian economy could have lost an estimated N700 billion (over $1.7 billion) to the #EndSARS protests in the last 12 days.

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