* Business group estimates protests cost economy $1.8 bln
* National police chief deploys anti-riot forces nationwide (Adds Ekiti state curfew, alters third bullet point)
By Libby George and Alexis Akwagyiram
LAGOS, Oct 20 (Reuters) – Authorities on Tuesday imposed a round-the-clock curfew on the Nigerian state of Lagos – including Africa’s biggest city – in response to protests against alleged police brutality which they said had turned violent.
The national police chief also ordered the immediate deployment of anti-riot forces following increased attacks on police facilities, a police spokesman said.
The Lagos state governor’s spokesman, Gboyega Akosile, said: “The curfew will not end tomorrow. A 24-hour curfew means all round the clock, day and night. It is indefinite. Nobody moves until we lift the curfew.”
Citizens in the commercial capital stocked up on food after the announcement. Staples such as tomatoes and eggs were sold out in some places as women in markets closed shops and people queued at cash machines.
GT Bank, one of the largest lenders in Nigeria, said all its branches would remain closed for the duration of the curfew.
Thousands of Nigerians demanding an end to alleged police brutality have taken to the streets every day for nearly two weeks across the country. Amnesty International said at least 15 people had been killed since the protests began.
Rights groups had for years accused the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a police unit targeting violent crime, of extortion, harassment and torture. But a video allegedly showing SARS officers killing a man in Delta state sparked the protests. Police denied the incident, and disbanded SARS on Oct. 11, but protests have persisted.
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said the curfew would apply to all parts of the state, including the metropolis of Lagos, Africa’s largest city with 20 million inhabitants. Only essential workers were exempted.
It had been imposed as the protests had turned violent, he said.
“I have watched with shock how what began as a peaceful #EndSARS protest has degenerated into a monster that is threatening the wellbeing of our society,” Sanwo-Olu said.
A police station in the Orile Iganmu area of Lagos was set ablaze on Tuesday, TV news station Channels reported.
The Lagos Chamber of Commerce said Nigeria’s economy had suffered an estimated loss of 700 billion naira ($1.84 billion)in the last 12 days due to the disruption.
Early in the protests, police fired on protesters in the Surulere area of Lagos and elsewhere. Armed gangs have attacked protesters in Lagos and the capital Abuja.
The southwestern state of Ekiti imposed a curfew hours after the announcement in Lagos. Its governor said protests had been “hijacked” by criminals who sought to “rape, assault, rob and extort innocent citizens”.
The southern state of Edo on Monday imposed a similar curfew after a jailbreak by prisoners during protests. Police said they had strengthened security around prisons nationwide.
The speaker of Nigeria’s lower chamber of parliament, Femi Gbajabiamila, said he would not sign off on the federal budget for 2021 unless it included provisions to compensate victims of police brutality over the past two decades.
Youth minister Sunday Dare said on Monday the government had met demonstrators’ demands for talks on reforms in law enforcement and urged them to enter into dialogue..
Officials say they fear a surge in coronavirus infections due to people attending demonstrations. (Additional reporting by Camillus Eboh and Chijioke Ohuocha in Abuja, Seun Sanni in Lagos and Tife Owolabi in Yenagoa, Writing by Chijioke Ohuocha and Alexis Akwagyiram, Editing by Angus MacSwan)