LAGOS, Nigeria—The first sign that something was wrong at Lekki Toll Gate came when the lights went out.

David Emmanuel, Feyishara Temitope and hundreds of?other Nigerian protesters had gathered on Tuesday for the 13th straight night at the intersection in an upscale zone that had become the symbolic home for two weeks of nationwide demonstrations against police brutality in Africa’s most populous nation.

Shortly before?7 p.m., the fluorescent streetlights that illuminate the neighborhood of shopping malls and office towers fizzled out, plunging the street into darkness, according to several of the protesters present. Within 30 minutes, Nigerian soldiers had emerged from gun trucks,?the protesters said.

As demonstrators began to sing Nigeria’s national anthem, “Arise O’ Compatriots,” the soldiers fired live rounds at the unarmed protesters, leaving a number of people dead and flags stained with blood, and filling Nigerian social-media feeds with images?that have prompted condemnation from around the world.

“We thought they wouldn’t shoot anyone singing the national anthem,” said Mr. Emmanuel, a 26-year-old?cellphone salesman who was tasked to hold the largest Nigerian flag.

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