It was a bloody Tuesday evening, the gory video clips and images that greeted social media showed bodies torn by bullets, and surrounded by protesters desperately trying to save their comrades. The firing squad from the Nigerian Army had lodged bullets into many, and with no medical help in sight, the people became their own doctors.
That was the situation in Lekki Toll Gate Lagos, where protests have been taking place since nearly two weeks now. The #EndSARS protest was a fight-back movement from Nigerian youths who have had enough of police brutality and empty government’s promises to address the excesses of the police.
Having drawn unprecedented attention from around the world, the campaign became a development that Nigeria’s government didn’t see coming, and doesn’t want to go on.
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Repeatedly, the All Progressive Congress (APC)’s led governments called on protesters to call off the protest.
“Let me commend all our religious leaders, Christians and Muslims for their patriotism and high sense of responsibility at this sensitive time. I appeal to them to call on their teeming followers to call off the protests for now and give peace a chance.
“I also strongly appeal to the protesters – YOU HAVE MADE YOUR POINT. GOVERNMENT HAS MADE ITS COMMITMENT TO YOU. PLEASE, PLEASE AND PLEASE, CALL OFF THE PROTESTS. GIVE GOVERNMENT A CHANCE TO IMPLEMENT YOUR DEMANDS,” Bola Tinubu, APC’s national leader said in a statement.
In the afternoon of Tuesday, October, 20, 2020, the Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu imposed a 24 hours curfew in the State, following reports of violence in some parts of Lagos. The curfew was to go into effect by 4. pm WAT, giving the State’s residents only a few hours to get home from their various places of work and business.
Considering the hectic Lagos traffic situation, the curfew was impossible to beat, and for protesters who had assembled at the Lekki Toll Gate from many parts of Lagos, the decision to stay put was unanimous. After all, they’re causing no harm; they are only armed with a message – End Police brutality.
In the past few days, the #EndSARS campaign has been met with fierce government’s resistance, in tacit ways to discredit the movement. In Abuja, Nigeria’s capital territory, Nigerian security forces were seen camera mobilizing thugs to attack protesters. In Benin, Edo State capital, South West Nigeria, a maximum prison was broken loose and inmates were let out, forcing the governor, Godwin Obaseki to order a 24 hours curfew.
The situation was not different in Lagos. There were reports of police stations being set on fire by hoodlums, following several attempts by hired thugs to quell the protest.
Despite the chaos masterminded by pro-government elements, the protesters have distanced themselves from trouble and maintained peace. Even the governments could not find a ground to accuse them of misconduct.
A few hours after the Lagos curfew was announced, the CCTV cameras attached to the Lekki Toll Gates were removed. Eyewitnesses said those who removed them claimed they were sent by the government. A move people believed to have been a signal of premeditated plot by the authorities to massacre the protesters.
The belief became true as the day went dark. Streets lights were turned off and soldiers who had earlier rolled in with APCs went to work.
“The CCTV cameras were carefully taken out, lights turned off & and then young Nigerian peaceful #EndSARS protesters were cut down in cold blood by heavily armed men. Sad & despicable! This is not democracy! This is evil!” that’s how Clement Nwankwo, described what happened next on Twitter.
The rest of the world was only able to get a wind of what was going on in the orchestrated darkness, when DJ Switch, a protester, went live on Instagram.
Over 130,000 people watched as soldiers’ bullets flew, hitting protesters who were seen fighting to live, but eventually died. Eyewitnesses said more than 11 persons were killed and soldiers took some of the dead bodies to conceal evidence. They said protesters were barricaded and the wounded were denied the chance to get medical help.
The Nigerian Army had earlier solicited government’s approval to wade in and quell the demonstrations. A statement issued by Acting Director Army Relations on 14th October, called protestors “subversive elements and trouble makers”, adding that the Army is willing to fully support civil authority in dealing with the situation decisively.
As the world struggles to come to terms with the unfolding horror, it becomes more troubling to many that Nigeria, a country faced with security challenges in many fronts, including Boko Haram and banditry, will choose to unleash its army on harmless citizens protesting police brutality.
“We can’t defeat BH, we can’t stop bandits, we cannot stop arm robbers but have guns and bullets to spare for peaceful protestors demanding for a functional police force? Tueh!” Nigerian Journalist Kadaria Ahmed said.
But it is a long held tradition by Nigerian security forces. Many see mass killings of unarmed Nigerians as a function of Nigerian government. There was the Odi massacre, Zaria massacre, Zaki Ibiam Massacre, Shiites massacre, IPOB etc. all executed by Nigerian security forces with all impunity.
While anger blazes against all principals in the government for the bloodbath, Sanwo-Olu takes the larger share. The Lagos State governor is seen as culpable for the removal of the cameras and the darkness that preluded the shooting.
In the wake of violence, his Oyo State counterpart, Sheyi Makinde beefed up security in the State to arrest thugs causing violence and protect protesters, a precedent many thought Sanwo-Olu should have followed.
As the world reacts in shock to the incident, the Nigerian government has kept mum. Sanwo-Olu said the attack was carried out by forces not under the control of the State, implying that it’s a federal government sanctioned attack.
“This is the toughest night of our lives as forces beyond our direct control have moved to make dark notes in our history, but we will face it and come out stronger,” he said, adding that he visited many of the victims at the hospital.
The former US Secretary of States Hilary Clinton lent her voice and asked the Nigerian government to stop killing its young ones.
“I’m calling on @mbuhari and the @hqnigerianarmy to stop killing young #EndSARS protesters. #StopNigerianGovernment,” she Tweeted.
Besides being a ground for peaceful protest that it has been in nearly two weeks, the Lekki Toll Gate was a mosque on Friday, a church on Sunday, and alas, a death ground on Tuesday. It has therefore become a tragic monument stained by the blood of people who were asking the police to spare their lives but got killed by soldiers.