Nigeria has become the cynosure of all eyes globally.
Not for the positive contributions or inventions by its citizens that would move mankind a tad forward in positive progress, such as when man first visited the moon on July 20, 1969 – tributes to the pair of Americans Louis Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin; or when penicillin was discovered for the cure of smallpox in 1928 – through the ingenuity of Alexander Fleming of Scotland.
But Nigeria is in the eye of the storm for a negative reason globally, because our country’s soldiers allegedly turned their guns on innocent youths who dared to protest police brutality.
The alleged atrocity becomes even more gruesome when it is considered that the youths whose bodies were allegedly pierced viciously with bullets from the barrels of guns paid for by Nigerian taxpayers, and fired by military men, who are also paid with tax money from the sweat of patriotic Nigerians.
Guess what, all these happened to the youths while they were only armed with Nigerian flags and singing the national anthem while sitting down. Can you imagine the US army opening fire on USA athletes when they take ‘a knee’ in solidarity with Black Lives Matter (BLM) campaign before engaging in their sporting activities?
The only time that Nigerians have been killed in the manner that Lekki youth protesters were fired upon with live bullets would be during the civil war 1967-70 when the army was trying to keep Nigeria as one entity.
And, of course, the sad event of Asaba massacre, October 5, 1967 perpetrated by the federal troops comes to mind.
As horrific as the Asaba tragedy that claimed about 1,000 lives was, it was perpetrated under the cloak or atmosphere of war.
The other time that such barbarism was exhibited would be during the so called ‘Bar-beach shows’ from 1971 to the 1990s when convicted armed robbers or drug traffickers were tied to the stake by the Bar-beach in Victoria Island, Lagos and executed by a firing squad in the full glare of members of the public.
Remarkably, it happened again on April 10, 1985, when five Nigerian youths were tied to the stake and executed behind Kirikiri prison complex in Lagos for drug trafficking, which the government in power had made punishable by death under the infamous retroactive military decree No 20.
The difference between those presumably misguided and convicted drug traffickers and the youths presumably slaughtered at the Lekki Lagos toll gate on October 20, 2020, is that while the alleged armed robbers and drug traffickers were tried and convicted by firearms tribunals before execution, the October, 20, 2020 victims were not tried by even a kangaroo court. But sadly, they were allegedly executed in cold blood by their country’s army that was supposed to protect them from external aggression.
And it is even more gut wrenching that their offense, for lack of a better term, is that they dared to peacefully speak up against police brutality in a country operating a multiparty democratic system of government, which obviously cannot pride itself of liberalism, in the 21st century.
Yes, there was a period in medieval European history when the Queen of England would say “off with the head” and an indicted or convicted bandit’s head was cut off with alacrity. But that was centuries ago compared to the fact it is barely one week ago that the alleged dastardly act of murdering innocent youths at Lekki, Lagos toll gate in a similar fashion was purportedly carried out. The question of who gave the order to pull the trigger, which is reminiscent of the practice of the Queen of medieval England, giving the order, and the executioners carrying it out, about a century ago, has so far remained a mystery. That’s because the veracity of the heinous crime of shooting the protesting youths to death at Lekki toll gate, is still in question even though it is being attributed to an unknown soldier or possibly emperor.
As a fallout of the barbarism, and better still allegation of government’s act of terrorism against its citizens, look at where we are now in the optics of the free world and its leaders.
If indeed the protesting youths were actually killed by the army as alleged, the United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, African Union (AU) leaders, former Vice President of the USA, Joe Bidden, who is currently the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party; the former Secretary of State of the USA and ex presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton; and the current Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, as well as Karen Bass, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus of the USA are now weighing with advice and caution.
Similarly, notable parliamentarians in the United Kingdom, plus the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Shelby, have all weighed in with a word or two of advice and caution to our country’s current leaders and youths alike.
Even Pope Francis of the Catholic Church, with over a billion followers, from the 7.8 billion people on earth, prayed last Sunday for the repose of the souls of the presumed dead #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki toll gate.
When the list of global celebrities, ranging from sports to movie and pop music stars who have added their voices are included; the names of Nigerian international footballer, Odion Ighalo, along with race car driver, Lewis Hamilton, would be on parade against the alleged cruelty of some members of the armed forces against our protesting youths.
That ignominious and moronic act of butchering Nigerian youths on October 20,2020 (if solid evidence surfaces) for daring to express dissent against violent policing as evidenced by the epidemic and heinous crime of extra judicial killing by SARS, has now eclipsed, (amongst other sterling attributes) the settled wisdom in the world that Nigerians are the most educated set of immigrants in the USA, which is one of the laudable accomplishments of our compatriots internationally.
How can such a grisly event (when proven) at Lekki toll gate, Lagos on 20, 10, 2020 define the good people of Nigeria and the Nigerian army that has won several professional excellence awards while on United Nations peacekeeping missions abroad?
It is bad enough that our country has in the past five years taken over from India as the world’s poverty headquarters, according to the rating by the world’s poverty index; and it is competing with Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan as one of the five most terrorised countries based on the survey by global terrorism index, and ranks at No. 18 in the top 20 corrupt countries in Africa just as she occupies the 144th position in the world’s most corrupt countries rating, using the corruption perception index of the anti-corruption watch dog, Transparency International (TI).
How can it be explained that on top of the woeful records highlighted above, the alleged killing of protesting youths, another negative epitaph or toga that makes our country one of the most dangerous places in the world for youths to thrive, has just been added, if and when the bodies of the victims are presented? The ignominious and an unenviable position which our country shares with failed countries like Libya and Somalia, to say the least, is frightening, disheartening and dreadful place to be as a nation.
Given the fact that the whole of northern Nigeria, including the Middle Belt states of Benue and Plateau, have literally been floating in the blood of innocent victims of insecurity in the past half a decade, owing to the unrelenting mowing down and hacking to death of our compatriots by terrorists, bandits as well as herdsmen; one is compelled to conclude that our leaders may be the equivalent of the mystical movie character, Dracula – a vampire that takes pleasure and delight in sucking human blood.
That seemingly harsh conclusion is underscored by the fact that after all the terrorists and bandits engendered blood shedding in the north east and by herdsmen nationwide, the alleged shooting dead of youths protesting violent policing in the heart of Lagos – the economic nerve center of the nation, would be taking total disregard for lives in Nigeria, beyond the imagination of the producers of the movie The Killing Fields, which is a movie depiction of Hobbesian state of life in Cambodia during its internal crisis in 1984.
That’s simply because, one would have thought that since our country has witnessed more than its fair share of the shedding of the blood of innocent citizens, it would exercise utmost restraints before its military opens fire on protesting civilian youth in our country’s most populous city.
Assuming one can excuse the dastardly extermination of lives by terrorists and bandits, which is currently going on unabated in the countryside, how can one fathom the reality that our legitimate army (if the case of shooting to death is proven) would also take pleasure in slaying by a hail of bullets from the barrels of the guns paid for with funds from Nigerian government coffers, and fired by soldiers paid with funds from the sweat of the brows of Nigerian taxpayers, who would likely be the parents, uncles or aunties of the diseased youths?
That terrible decision to fire live ammunition at unarmed youths holding Nigerian flags and chanting the national anthem is not only preposterous and immoral, but also damning and despicable, even if and when it is discovered that no deaths were recorded.
Astonishingly, the authorities were forewarned by men and women of goodwill of the possibility of the horrific outcome, should it adopt the strong arms tactics in de-escalating the tension generated by the #EndSARS protesters. And they failed to harken to the voice of reason from the well-meaning Nigerians and foreign countries alike.
Instead, they choose the most dishonorable path to perdition by confronting the unarmed youths with live bullets fired by our own army, which is simply contemptible and horrifying.
On my part, a day before on October 19, l wrote and published an article titled “Nigeria, A President, Glory and Violent Policing”.
In the piece that was widely published across both traditional and online mass media platforms, I appealed to Mr President to show up in a broadcast to Nigerians with #EndSARS face cap on his head and a placard bearing the message #EndSARS in his hands.
I also advised that if he did as suggested, he would melt the hearts of most protesters, no matter how enraged they were. Then l also urged Aso Rock Villa not to approve the proposed military exercise tagged “Operation Crocodile Smile” scheduled by the army for the next day, Tuesday, as it would only aggravate the very volatile atmosphere. With the same aim of averting the likely ugly consequences of a confrontation with government forces, l also admonished the youth protesters not to test the resolve of the government by trying to engage in a fight to finish with security agencies.
Rather, l counselled the aggrieved youths to go into negotiations with the government where a case for the allocation of at least 25-30 of public offices to youths (from age 18-45 years) and the setting aside of the post of junior ministers in the cabinet, can be made or bargained for.
By the way, my good friend, HE Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq, Governor of Kwara State, is farsighted enough to be a leader in the engagement of our youth in government, when he recently appointed a 26 years old Joana Nnazua Kolo, as the states commissioner of youths and sports. I urge other state governors to follow suit.
Perhaps, owing to what can be referred to as the ‘leaderlessness’ of the protesters, obviously for tactical reasons, the authorities could not engage the youths in negotiations, even if they wanted to do so.
And it turned out that, rather than considering the merit of the case that l tried to make in the opinion piece, the authorities panicked after the 12 days old protest got hijacked by criminal elements. That’s what compelled the Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who was earlier in the front and centre of brokering peace, to impose a 4 pm curfew that was later extended to 9 pm.
According to an eyewitness account, at about 6:30 pm, without breaching the 9 pm curfew deadline, probably owing to breakdown in communications, guns were allegedly rolled out and trained on the protesting youths and triggers were pulled. See how the lack of respect for human lives by our leaders who allegedly ordered the shooting of protesting youths, have beamed negative light on our country.
The ugly aftermath is that, a yet to be ascertained number of youth protesters, if indeed any was killed, might have been sent to their early graves.
My heart goes out to the families of the fallen heroes (hopefully, would provide evidence of the dead soon) even as I pray that the almighty God would forgive the barbaric soldiers that perpetuated the savage act of engaging the protesters by firing live ammunition.
l equally hope that the authorities would honour the memory of the departed youths (two so far admitted by authorities) and the injured, by pursuing to its logical conclusion, and bringing to book the army personnel that pulled the trigger that led to the stamped and possibly death of unarmed youths at the Lekki toll gate on October 20, 2020.
lt is also my fervent hope that the authorities would implement in an expedited manner, the five-point police reform agenda that President Buhari had in his national broadcast to Nigerians, committed to implementing.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) National Leader, and Former Governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu, has suggested that the Lekki toll gate be perpetually shutdown or the proceeds should be used to compensate victims.
I align with his proposition and venture further to recommend that the toll gate should be a memorial monument dedicated to the victims of the shooting.
The names of all the youths whose lives were cut short by bullets in that location,(after relatives have established their loss) should be engraved on the pillars in the manner it was done in the USA at ground zero for the victims of 9/11 terrorists attack on the World Trade Center, New York, September, 2011.
Let’s ensure that the fallen Nigerian youth protesters, if the social media report is to be believed, are not forgotten like those who died in the Oko-Afa canal when on January 28, 2002, ostensibly owing to slip-up or inefficiency in the management of its armoury, military ordinances in Ikeja Cantonment exploded and the massive sound of the explosions mimicking a war situation scared some Nigerians in the suburb of Lagos into fleeing through a canal where they got stuck and drowned in droves.
Although the canal, which is their mass graveyard, has been marked, the victims have remained unsung. That, in my considered opinion, is a blight on the conscience of our leaders.
Finally, I do not subscribe to the notion by the governors and southwest political leadership, who while on a solidarity visit to Lagos State, expressed the view that the unfortunate incidents of looting and arson by depraved arsonists and vandals, who seized upon the retreat of security agencies from the streets to perpetrate heinous crimes, are calculated attempts to weaken the economy of Lagos State, and by extension the southwest.
In the first instance, the fact that the looting was spontaneous, invalidates that narrative. Secondly, the fact that Abuja, Kano, Port Harcourt, Asaba and Warri as well as Benin City and Jos witnessed similar mayhem by the nefarious ambassadors, also vitiates the notion that Yoruba nation was being specifically targeted. However, it is plausible that those seeking the collapse of the government in power, attempted to take advantage of the season of anomy.
Obviously, because Lagos is the economic nerve centre of Nigeria, the economy received a more devastating and crushing attack by the looters, which is sad and unfortunate. The critical role that Lagos plays as a melting pot is evidenced by the humongous amount of internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of N398 billion harnessed in the state monthly. That makes it the number one in lGR in our country, where the 36 states generated a total of N1.3 billion in 2019.
With Lagos alone grossing nearly N400 billion, Ogun N70 billion and Ondo N30 billion, Lagos State rakes in more than the total IGR earned by all the six western states combined.
Based on the statistics and logic above, the state was bound to bear the highest brunt of the devastation, as its population of between 15-20 million, makes it an equivalent of four to five states in Nigeria, with an average ratio of four million people per state.
The most ironic thing about the whole shebang is that the police, and indeed members of the armed forces who are the villain in this instant case, would also be the prime beneficiaries of the #EndSARS facilitated reforms about to be carried out. In the estimation of Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, the cost of replacing the ruins would set Lagos State back about a trillion naira. Given the fact that strategic assets of the state were set ablaze, I can relate to that view that he expressed during the solidarity visit to Lagos.
Unfortunately, the perils and consequences of the infrastructure deficit arising from the mindless destructions in Lagos, considered to be the equivalent of New York in the USA and London in the UK, are the burden that we Lagosians – indigenes and residents alike would have to find quick solutions to or put up with for a long time.
And Governor Sanwo-Olu would have to develop a coping mechanism to manage his double jeopardy of not only losing government properties to the brigands, which is obviously giving him nightmares, as to how he would rebuild or in particular, replace the mass transit buses damaged. But he also suffered the personal loss of his mother’s home that was torched by the arsonists, which means he has to also manage his home front.
With such double whammy of misfortune, he can be said to be one of the worst victims of #EndSARS alive. Therefore, he needs our sympathy.
l believe he would not have imagined that in the space of just two weeks, the cataclysmic events that have befallen Lagos would swing him from the bliss of being number one citizen of the state, to one without a family home, as his mother’s house, which hitherto served as home away from home for him, has now been consumed by the blistering #EndSARS protests.
While acknowledging the governor’s dilemma, he should not forget that we will hold him to his promise to pursue a reasonable conclusion, justice for the Lekki toll gate shooting, after determining if indeed youths died and how many.
To answer the question: Could tough action against #EndSARS protesters amount to govt terrorism against citizens?
Your answer is as good as mine until there is verifiable evidence of the dead from the alleged shooting at Lekki toll gate.
-Onyibe, an entrepreneur, public policy analyst, author, development strategist, alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Massachusetts, USA and a former cabinet member of Delta State government sent this piece from Lagos.