The Nigerian Army criticized for rampant human rights abuses, appeared to adopted words used by President Trump this week to justify their own use of deadly force that resulted in the killing of least 45 protesters of the Islamic Movement.
On Monday, the Nigerian soldiers released fire on a march of about 1,000 Islamic Shiite activists who had blocked traffic, protesting and demanding the release of their leader, Ibraheem Zakzaky, who has been in custody for 34 months, on the outskirts of the capital, Abuja.
Videos that circulated on social media showed several protesters hurling stones at heavily armed soldiers who then started shooting back at the protesters.
Amnesty International and leaders of the protest said more than 45 people were killed at the march and two smaller marches, with more than 100 wounded by bullets. A Reuters reporter counted 20 bodies at the main march.
Human rights activists and many Nigerians were outraged at the military’s response, which echoed a similar confrontation in 2015 when soldiers killed nearly 350 protesters from the same group, the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, the largest and most recognizable face of Shiite Islam in the country.
Early Friday morning, the military responded to the criticism.
The army’s official Twitter account posted a video and captioned it, “Please Watch and Make Your Deductions,” showing Mr. Trump’s ominous warning at the White House to migrants on Thursday, in which he said if they throw rocks at the military, the military will consider it a rifle and respond with lethal force.
“We’re not going to put up with that,” Mr. Trump said in the clip. “They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back.”
The army deleted the post hours later without explanation after it had caused an uproar on social media.
The Nigerian director of defense, Brigade General John Agim, told the BBC the tweet was in response to Amnesty International which had criticized what it called the military’s use of excessive force.
“We released that video to say if President Trump can say that rocks are as good as a rifle, who is Amnesty International?” he said. “What are they then saying? What did David use to kill Goliath? So a stone is a weapon.”
“Our soldiers sustained injuries,” he continued. “The Shiites even burnt one of our vehicles, so what are Amnesty International saying?”
The army has said as many as six soldiers were wounded during the protest after “thousands” of members of the sect overran a police checkpoint and blocked traffic along a highway.
Soldiers had arrived to assist the police, a news release said, and were met with protesters who threw canisters of fuel, “large stones, catapults with dangerous objects and other dangerous items.”
The military posted photos of six slingshots and one pocketknife on its Facebook page as evidence.
“They wanted to take over the checkpoint with their weapons,” Mr. Agim said. “They knew it was there. We responded to them.”
Ibrahim Musa, a spokesman for the Shiite group, said that on Monday security forces refused to let protesters, who numbered about 1,000, pass the checkpoint as they marched toward their destination. He said 13 protesters were killed during two other matches this week, one before and one after Monday’s deadly march.
“Rocks are not equal to bullets,” he said. “The use of force is disproportionate. I don’t think President Trump is a good example — even in America, many are critical of him. I am surprised that the army will use Trump as a role model.”
There was no immediate comment from the White House on the Nigerian Army’s posting. But Samantha Power, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called it “sickening.”
Sickening. Under scrutiny from human rights orgs for firing on a crowd of protesters, the Nigerian Army tweets Trump from yesterday telling US troops that any migrants throwing rocks should be handled as if they are armed with “a rifle” 1/2 pic.twitter.com/2udS9fgAhm
— Samantha Power (@SamanthaJPower) November 2, 2018
The United States Embassy in Nigeria expressed concern over deaths resulting from the clashes between the Nigerian security forces and IMN, issuing a statement urging Nigeria’s government authorities to “conduct a thorough investigation of the events and to take appropriate action to hold accountable those responsible for violations of Nigerian law.”
There were also social-media expressions of support for the military’s response.
If the military in my country doesn't shoot back at a group of people who chose to block the highway and throw rocks at them, how would I trust them if they had to go toe-to-toe with a foreign enemy?! Please, use bullets to cure those fanatics of their madness!!
— Gbenga Olorunpomi (@GbengaGOLD) October 28, 2018
“If the military in my country doesn’t shoot back at a group of people who chose to block the highway and throw rocks at them, how would I trust them if they had to go toe-to-toe with a foreign enemy?!”Please, use bullets to cure those fanatics of their madness!!