It is exactly one year today, Wednesday, October 20 since the #EndSARS Protests were brought to a screeching halt with what has become known as the Lekki Tollgate Shootings. Soldiers reportedly mobilised from a brigade stationed in Lagos State, allegedly opened fire on the crowd of protesters on the evening of October 20, 2020. They were reportedly there to enforce a curfew imposed by government. Blood, sorrow, tears, spent bullets, and some swear, dead bodies, were left behind after the macabre dance of the soldiers. An event no one has been bold enough to admit to even after an expose by a major world news outlet but rather posing the lingering question “where are the bodies?”
Amnesty International said Tuesday that one year after the protests ended in a brutal crackdown by Nigerian security forces in Abuja, Lagos and other parts of the country, no one has been brought to justice for the torture, violence, and killings of peaceful protesters, while reports of human rights violations by the police continue.
A statement on its website amnesty.org said: “An investigation by the organisation found that Nigerian army and police killed at least 12 people on 20 October 2020 at Lekki Tollgate and Alausa in Lagos. Amnesty International was able to establish that pro-government supporters instigated violence at many of the demonstrations, providing cover for the police to use lethal force against peaceful protesters. The organisation also found that detained protesters were tortured and refused or denied immediate access to lawyers”.
The carnival-like protests had gone on for weeks at the Lekki location and in Alausa near the seat of power in Lagos State as well as in many places across the country including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja galvanising youths to peacefully fight for the soul of their country Nigeria. They had five demands but the major one was to bring an end to the brutality of the Special Anti-Robery Squad (SARS) of the nation’s police force. The lives of many, particularly that of young citizens, had been cut short by the bullets of these ruthless members of the Nigerian Police Force, who had constituted themselves into a killing squad rather than do the one job assigned to rid the country of criminals, especially armed robbers.
Almost every state in the country, even in the northern part where the killing squad seemed to have been getting support during the protests, had suffered the consequence of SARS’s loss of direction. There were gory tales from Yaba to Yobe of people already challenged by the mere fact of being Nigerian having to add police brutality to the ever mounting list of many lacks. Men of the SARS squad had instead turned the arms given to them in good faith on law-abiding young Nigerians whose only crime was trying to get ahead in life.
There had been protests before whenever a killing came to light leading to a hasty reform of the SARS in the past, largely resulting in a cosmetic change of uniform but last year’s #EndSARS Protests were a different animal fed by deft organising primarily on social media. There was food for those who were hungry, drink for the thirsty, and music to keep the crowd engaged. There were doctors among the protesting crowd to care for the sick, motor mechanics to help fix cars and even a crowdfunding drive for some of the less privileged members of the protesting crowd who came from all walks of life doing their utmost to give a glimpse of what a new Nigeria could look like.
But not everyone was pleased with the movement that had no known leaders but was strangely thoroughly organised.
Suddenly, those in high places who had left the animal alone thinking it would die in its infancy envisioned its growing teeth poised to bite them where it hurts and started to strategise in dark corners. The first strike was at the Alausa location of the protest when suspected hoodlums said to have emanated from a Lagos State run BRT bus attacked the crowd of protesters with machetes and other crude weapons.
The attack was the precursor to the lootings, destructions and deaths that marred the #EndSARS Protests.
But this was not enough at first to send the young people back home, some of whom had lost their jobs during the ongoing pandemic or were home from a prolonged Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) strike action and therefore tired of the many disruptions to their lives. They all stayed put resulting in an increase in the number of protesters.
But the days of the protest were numbered what with the failure of its leaders to step forward and negotiate with the government. The fact that celebrities including singers like Davido, Wizkid, Falz and a host of others had endorsed the protests was not enough. Add to that the unknown gunmen who started to run rampage across the country and you had a protest that had been infiltrated by fifth columnists and their backers in high places with the sole desire of crushing the baby snake before it could grow threatening fangs.
Nothing was sacred anymore, police stations were razed to the ground, brand new BRT buses were torched in more than one location in Lagos, and prisoners were sprung from jail houses in a couple of cities including Benin and Asaba. Chaos had taken over and unknown gunmen had become king. In fact, the massive violence that culminated in the Lekki Tollgate Shootings and end of the #EndSARS Protests have become ingrained in the society one year after. Nothing seems to have changed. The government went after those it perceived to be leaders of the protest with a forceful ferocity, freezing their bank accounts. Many even argue that the current ban on micro social blogging site, Twitter may not be unconnected with the protests.
When the dust settled, at least 255 police stations and formations, including other critical private and public infrastructure across Nigeria were damaged by hoodlums during the hijacked protest.
Policemen were killed in Lagos, Oyo, Anambra, Benue, Abia, Ogun and Ebonyi states. Lagos and Oyo states had the highest figure of slain policemen, with six each, followed by Anambra State Police Command with four, Abia and Ebonyi had two each while Ogun recorded one.
And although the Muhammadu Buhari administration set up Judicial Panels of Enquiry in the states and FCT, it has emerged that many of the protesters who were arrested are still languishing in prison at the Kirikiri Correctional Centre in Lagos for instance.
A civil society group, New Nigeria Network (NNN) has disclosed that 300 #EndSARS protesters were still in detention in Lagos alone.
Co-convener of the group, Mr. Adesina Ogunlana, told Vanguard: “It is disheartening to note how the system is mangling the lives and destinies of those captured by government over #EndSARS disturbances in October 2020″.
Hundreds of citizens, he said, who were arrested as “#EndSARS protest criminals” by security agencies are languishing in prisons, with none of them undergoing trial at the courts.
“Information at our disposal does not indicate any arraignment at all of those already slated for trial at the High Court, courtesy of the legal advice of the Director of Public Prosecution, DPP, Lagos State, acting on behalf of the Attorney-General of the state since 2020.
“For the other category slated for trial at the Magistrate Courts, there has been no significant progress in the ‘alleged prosecution’ which is more of window dressing.”
The judicial panel sitting in Lagos completed its work a few days before the first year anniversary of the shootings at Lekki Tollgate, compensating only 25 of the many that came forward as a result of the pain they suffered in the hands of the police. In Abuja the panel has adjourned to a later date, while many of the 29 states where the panels were set up, have completed sitting and submitted reports.
Across the country, 2, 458 petitions were reportedly filed against the police by victims across 19 states for investigation before the panels.
In Lagos also, there has been drama over whether protests to mark the anniversary of the shootings will hold or not. The police said no but rapper Folarin Falana (Falz) and comedian Debo Adebayo (Mr Macaroni), who was arrested during the original protest, insist on protesting.
Lagos State Commissioner of Police, CP Hakeem Odumosu, Tuesday, warned #EndSARS protesters against organising protests on the streets of Lagos in commemoration of the first anniversary of #EndSARS Protests.
The CP in a statement, also said plans are underway to arrests erring #EndSARS protesters across the state.
He warned members of the public to disregard a post being circulated on social media insinuating that the police in Lagos have agreed to allow street protests in commemoration of the one year #EndSARS anniversary on 20th October, 2021.
”Attention of the Lagos State Police Command has been drawn to a post being circulated on the social media insinuating that the police in Lagos have agreed to allow street protests in commemoration of the one year #EndSARS anniversary on 20th October, 2021.
“In view of the conflicting interest between the pro and anti- EndSARS anniversary groups and threat to cause mayhem, the Command once again warns both groups against any form of street protest between now and 20th October, 2021 and beyond,” he said.
Already, there is heavy presence of armed security operatives in some parts of Lekki and other areas of the state evidently to forestall any activity of protesters.
However, Falz and Mr Macaroni, have announced a car procession to mark the anniversary. They both took to their respective verified Instagram pages on Tuesday October 19 to make the announcement.
They also shared e-fliers of the car procession planned to hold on Wednesday, October 20 at Lekki Tollgate.
“In memory of those who died that day and those we have lost to police brutality, we will: drive through the toll gate from 8-10 am; blast our horns in unison as we drive through and wave our flags,” the information on the e-flier read in part.
They urged those interested in the car procession to stay guided and endeavour to stay in their vehicles throughout the procession and also stay in groups for safety reasons.
It is shaping up to be a tense Wednesday indeed.