On this day, a year ago, Nigerian youths had gathered at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos, following days of protest against police brutality dubbed #EndSARS. The EndSARS protest, which unprecedentedly spiraled into a global movement, was described as the most successful demonstration in Nigeria’s history.
It was a situation the government, under President Muhammadu Buhari, did not want to see. In the eve of October 20, 2020, Nigerian soldiers had arrived at the Lekki Toll Gate and started shooting on the protestors, killing scores and putting the protest to a deadly end.
The shooting of October 20, 2020, has come to be known as “Lekki Massacre,” a bloody stain that has further strained the relationship between the Nigerian government and its young people. A year later, in remembrance of their brothers, sisters and friends, who sustained injury and those who lost their lives to the brutal firepower of those in uniform, Nigerians have convened #EndSarsMemorial, in outcry for justice for the victims and reforms for safe policing.
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“On the first anniversary of October 20th, 2020, like many Nigerians, I have struggled with coming to terms with the sobering events of that day,” former President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki said. “My thoughts and prayers are with those who lost their lives, loved ones, and sustained injuries or other losses at the Lekki Toll Gate and at various locations in Lagos and around the country when security agencies were deployed to clamp down on the protests and non-state actors took advantage to cause chaos and mayhem.”
As the memories of the ugly incident reechoe through pictures, videos of the victims and blood stained Nigerian flags circulating on social networks, the pain deepens. Not only because no one has taken responsibility for what happened in Lekki Toll Gate nor because the victims of the massacre are yet to get justice, but also because one year after, not much has changed.
SARS was disbanded in an apparent attempt (which has been a ritual for years) to appease protesters, and a seeming move to meet their 5 for 5 demands. A new anti-robbery squad named SWAT was formed, in what many believe to be a whitewashing of the same characters that constitute rogue police units.
The 5 for 5 demands of EndSARS protestors are: (1) Immediate release of all arrested protesters; (2) Justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families; (3) Setting up and independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all aspects of police misconduct (within 10 days); (4) In line with the new Police Act, psychological evaluation and retraining (to be ascertained by an independent body) of all officers of the defunct SARS before they can be redeployed and (5) Increase police salary so that they are adequately compensated for protecting lives and property of citizens.
Out of these five demands, none could be said to have been fully implemented. Although EndSARS panels of inquiry were convened across several states in the country, awarding hundreds of millions of naira in damages to a few victims of police brutality who summoned courage to file complaints, most of the officers involved in the crime are yet to be prosecuted.
A recent report noted that about 300 EndSARS protesters are still languishing in different correctional centers (prisons) across the country.
“It is worrying that despite the acceptance of the “5 for 5 Demands,” nothing has really been done to resolve the issues that caused the protest in the first place. None of the policemen accused of torturing and extrajudicially murdering Nigerian citizens have been brought to justice, there has been no marked improvement in the funding or quality of equipment available to the Nigerian Police Force and these incidents of torture continue in many security facilities nationwide,” Saraki said.
“None of the perpetrators of the attacks on Nigerians exercising their rights to peaceful assembly have been arrested or prosecuted, despite many of them being identified,” he added.
A typical evidence of this is in the statement issued by the Lagos State Police Commissioner, Mr. Hakeem Odumusu, warning that the police will not allow any kind of street protest. In his words, “the police will use legitimate means within their constitutional powers to suppress the planned protest… therefore, individuals or groups sponsoring such protest are warned to desist from such unpatriotic plan or face the full weight or wrath of the law.”
The question that many have not stopped asking is; which law was Mr. Odumusu talking about when he issued this statement? Given that the right to protest is constitutionally enshrined in Section 38 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and the Court of Appeal ruling in IGP vs ANPP 2008, stated that it is the right of citizens to conduct peaceful processions, rallies or demonstrations without seeking and obtaining permission from the police.
Contrary to this constitutional provision, the Nigerian Police Force, like always, have taken their station at Lekki Toll Gate in their numbers, in a show of force designed to deter the commemoration of Lekki Massacre. Across other states where the protest is billed to take place, the measures are the same. Reports coming from the protest grounds say that many have been tear-gassed and arrested.
According to rights advocates and civil liberty organizations, the unfolding events in a democratic society is an indication that Nigerian security agencies have lost the capacity to learn or show the civility that their work requires. It is also an indication of failure by the Nigerian State, to modernize its institutions and educate its personnel to reflect democratic ideals in their operations.
At the high cost of blood and livelihood, the status quo has been sustained to the detriment of Nigeria’s young generation, who inadvertently have to reckon with the institutionalized brutality by those who are supposed to protect them.
“I can’t even describe how I feel seeing this picture (talking about a slain youth). This is one of the Many Untold Stories,” Actor Mr. Macaroni wrote on Twitter. “Pelumi Onifade, a 20 year old journalist, covered the viral video of a Nigerian politician shooting at protesters. He was arrested and killed in custody.”
For generations Y and Z who wanted a change and have given their blood and resilience for it, the backdrop indicates that they will have to wait longer for it.