“Fellow Nigerians, it has become necessary for me to address you having heard from many concerned Nigerians and having concluded a meeting with all the Security Chiefs.”
So began the long awaited speech of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who had been criticized for his silence following the killing of protesters in Lekki Lagos.
On Tuesday evening, horrifying video clips of #EndSARS protesters being shot at by men in Nigerian Army uniforms at the Lekki Toll Gate surfaced online, drawing the condemnation of concerned Nigerians and the international community. It was described as “Lekki Massacre”, as the peaceful protesters were seen waving Nigerian flags, singing the national anthem, and being hit by bullets.
As empathy and outrage from world leaders trail the ugly incident, many questions beg for answers. Who are the killers? Who gave the order to kill unarmed protesters? Who will hold them accountable? The Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu was at the receiving end of these serious questions.
In his attempt to answer, Sanwo-Olu said the gruesome act was executed by “forces beyond our direct control”, promising that the killings will be investigated.
In Nigeria, governors don’t have control over armed forces. Therefore, going by Sanwo-Olu’s statement, analysts believe he implied that the Nigerian Army, ordered by the federal government, were the “forces” who carried out the execution.
In his subsequent speeches in the wake of the incident, the Lagos State governor could not provide answers to the many questions that have trailed the killings, though he reiterated his promise of investigation and accountability. Upon this promise, lies the hope for justice, many thought.
Amidst the anguish, curiosity and hope for justice, the world was waiting for the commander in chief of Nigeria’s armed forces, Buhari, who Sanwo-Olu said he has not been able to reach, and who the world believes is in a better position to provide answers to the intriguing questions and ensure justice; not only because he is the commander in chief of armed forces, but because he swore an oath to protect Nigerians from harm.
So on the eve of Thursday, when the president’s media aide, Bashir Ahmad, tweeted that Buhari will address the nation by 7pm, there was emotional eagerness around the world to hear what the president has to say. After all, it has been nearly 48 hours of uncomfortable silence, which many described as a sign of insouciance and total disregard of the plights of Nigerian people.
On the 12th of October, Nigerian youths had taken to the streets to demand the disbandment of a rogue police unit, robbing, maiming and killing people – the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The protest, unprecedentedly, became an international movement that put the Nigerian government on the spotlight all over the world.
There was intense pressure from the Nigerian youths, the international community and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), forcing the Nigerian government to shove its attempt to reform SARS and disband it. But disbandment of SARS was just one of the demands made by the protesting youths.
The 5 of 5 demands presented to the Nigerian government by the #EndSARS movements are; 1. The release of arrested protesters. 2. Justice & compensation for families of victims 3. Independent body to oversee prosecution of officers (within 10 days) 4. Psychological evaluation of disbanded officers before redeployment, and 5. Increase in police salaries.
While the government made promises to address the demands, the protesters refused to call the protest off, due to the wide gap of trust deficit. They said they don’t trust the government to keep its promise. So the campaign continued, amidst several attempts by the government to quell it, including the alleged hiring of thugs to attack protesters and killings by security forces.
In the wake of the violence that followed the involvement of thugs, some state governors introduced curfews. Lagos, which has been the epicenter of the campaign, imposed curfew on Tuesday while the protestors were in the streets. It unfortunately birthed the events that resulted in the gruesome Lekki killings, which have been begging for answers.
So as Buhari read through the paragraphs of his script, in what appeared to be a prerecorded video, people couldn’t wait to hear him talk about the Lekki killings, until he got paragraph seven.
“Sadly, the promptness with which we have acted seemed to have been misconstrued as a sign of weakness and twisted by some for their selfish unpatriotic interests,” he said.
Though many found it odd, that the president sees responding to the demands of his people promptly, as a sign of weakness, they waited patiently for more.
At the end of 13 minutes, Buhari had said a lot of things, including the efforts his administration is making to alleviate poverty through schemes such as tradermoni, N-power, farmermoni and so on.
He praised security forces for their conduct during the protests, and eulogized those of them who lost their lives. Buhari made mention of the incident at the palace of Oba of Lagos, the monarch whose palace had been invaded by hoodlums who eventually discovered a sealed warehouse where COVID-19 palliatives were hoarded, and looted it all. “The sanctity of the palace of a Peace Maker, the Oba of Lagos has been violated,” he said. People said the president was not concerned that the Oba of Lagos hid the palliatives while Nigerians were dying of hunger during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Furthermore, Buhari asked neighboring countries and the international community, who have expressed concern over the Lekki killings to “seek to know all the facts available before taking a position or rushing to judgment and making hasty pronouncement.”
He said the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission has been directed to expedite action on the finalization of the new salary structure of the Nigerian Police Force. Buhari asked the youths to discontinue the protest as it may result in chaos that will undermine national security, which will not be tolerated under no circumstances.
As the national anthem echoed to mark the end of his speech, many wondered if that was all. The president did not talk about the Lekki killings, the major reason he was addressing the nation.
“Is Buhari’s memory so short that he forgot about the Lekki shooting?” Social Entrepreneur Adam Bradford asked after Buhari’s speech.
Buhari’s omission of the incident has consequently been interpreted in so many ways. To many, it shows lack of empathy for the lives lost and indicates government’s complicity. To others, it is a plausible deniability which brings back memories of similar incidents in the past.
“Nothing tangible was said. No condolences to victim’s families. He did not address #LekkiMassacre or promise to bring perpetrators to book. He did not present a coherent plan on the way forward. He insulted #EndSARS. Took no responsibility. He should GO!” Reno Omokri, ex media aide of former president Goodluck Jonathan said.
In 1977, activist, Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was visiting her son, renowned musician Fela Kuti, when about 1,000 soldiers stormed and surrounded the property. They threw her off from the second floor’s window, and eventually she died a year later. The government didn’t take responsibility for the incident; in fact, the military denied sending soldiers her way.
In their response, the Nigerian military said the soldiers were unknown. It inspired the “unknown soldier’s” song by Fela.
Ever since then, there have been other cases where men in uniform have been accused of killing unarmed Nigerians, and there were either denial or justification for the killing.
In 2015 when over 350 members of Shiites were allegedly killed and buried in Zaria, Kaduna State, by the military, they denied killing anyone. It was a year later, in 2016, following an investigation, that the Kaduna State government acknowledged the killings.
Former president Olusegun Obasanjo said it is worrisome that the Army is denying the Lekki killings despite overwhelming visual evidence. The Nigerian Army spokesman, Major General Enenche said the shooting “videos were photoshopped”, a troubling response that has added embers to the burning fury.