On Friday, November 20, Nigerians on social media remembered the unfortunate events of October 20, 2020, at the Lekki Toll Gate when men of the Nigerian Army opened fire on peaceful protesters. That day’s event has become the topic of debate as the Nigerian Government and, in particular, the Nigerian Army, have failed to admit killing peaceful protesters.
The 20.10.20 incident wasn’t happenstance. It was a culmination of years of enduring police brutality with little or no effort by the Nigerian Government to address the issue. However, in a show of cruelty, young Nigerians were slaughtered while protesting for a chance to live.
Here’s a look at why Nigerians have taken to social media to mark the remembrance of their fallen comrades, amidst the continuous denial by the Federal Government and relevant authorities.
Formation of SARS and the ensuing lawlessness
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), an arm of the Nigerian Police Force, was set up to tackle violent crimes like kidnappings and robberies.
The unit was formed in 1992 for such purposes and others that fall into the category of violent crimes.
However, reports have shown otherwise, and the body has done more harm than good by turning on the average Nigerians.
Often mistaken for other units like the Special Anti-Cultism Squad (SACS) and the Special Anti-kidnapping Squad, SARS, until its disbandment, had been synonymous with police brutality in Nigeria.
The initial modus operandi of the unit was to disguise.
For a while, their faceless mode of operations served them a great deal.
One could never identify a SARS official in plain sight as they had no uniform and visible means of identification.
They didn’t even hold weapons as it would defeat the unit’s ‘element of surprise.’
With this mode of operation, they served their purpose thoroughly.
They apprehended and brought to justice all those who were deserving of it.
However, at the time, SARS only existed in Lagos.
But until its disbandment, the unit existed in virtually every state in Nigeria with accusations of extortion, brutality, and extra-judicial killings.
In a 2020 report by Amnesty International titled, “Time to End Impunity,” the group said that between January 2017 and May 2020, at least 82 cases of torture, ill-treatment, and extra-judicial execution were recorded by the unit.
How the #EndSARS movement was birthed
On Saturday, October 3, SARS operatives allegedly killed a young man in front of Wetland Hotel, Ughelli in Delta State.
A video also surfaced in which the operatives purportedly went away with his white Lexus SUV.
This triggered another bout of social media outrage, which eventually took the outcry away from social media and into the streets.
Before then, the outrage had been limited to social media.
On October 8, Nigerians, mostly youths, gathered at the Lekki Toll Gate while others converged at Alausa to call for SARS’ disbandment and an end to police brutality in the country.
Falz, Runtown and a few other celebrities hit the streets as others like Mr Macaroni, Rinu and Eromosele also joined.
This started a 14-day peaceful protest across the nation. The protest later spread to other countries like the US, the UK, Canada, among others.
On Friday, October 9, the management of Flutterwave announced the opening of a public fund to handle the medical bills of those injured during the protest.
By Saturday, October 10, the protest had recorded some casualties with the killing of a protester in Ogbomosho, Jimoh Isiaka.
On Sunday, October 11, Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, announced the disbandment of SARS.
The announcement was made the same day Wizkid and other Nigerians protested in London.
Despite the announcement, the protesters refused to vacate the streets.
However, by then, the protest had given birth to the #5by5 demands:
- Demand for the release of all peaceful protesters who were apprehended.
- Compensation for all those who have died as a result of police brutality in Nigeria.
- An independent body is formed within ten days to prosecute and investigate all reported police misconducts.
- Psychological evaluation of all SARS officials before deploying them to another police unit.
- Increased salaries of the Nigerian police.
Once bitten, twice shy
Failure to vacate the streets was borne out of the lack of trust by the youths regarding SARS.
Between 2017 and 2020, the Government claimed to have ‘ended’ SARS multiple times. Unfortunately, the unit always returned with more vengeance.
Within that period, FG had used different words like ‘Over-hauled, re-organized, immediate disbandment’ to address the menace called SARS.
By October 12, Amnesty International disclosed that 10 persons had been killed.
Various attempts to disperse the protesters gathered momentum.
The peaceful protesters were tear-gassed, shot at with live ammunition, and even had water cannons on them by the Nigerian Police.
By this time, the movement had garnered enough international support with prominent figures lending their voices to the campaign.
The most prominent was the voice of Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey.
The Lekki Toll Gate massacre
On October 20, Lagos State Government called for a statewide 48-hour curfew, effective immediately by 4 pm.
This call came after the protest had taken another turn as hoodlums attacked peaceful protesters with dangerous weapons.
On the same day, some hoodlums had attacked Orile Igamu police station and set it ablaze.
Also, hoodlums attacked Ajeromi Local Government Secretariat.
Despite the curfew, protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate, the epicentre of the protest in Lagos State, continued their peaceful agitation.
Around 4 pm, the picture of a man allegedly removing the security cameras at the Toll Gate surfaced online.
At about 7 pm, the Nigerian Army descended on the peaceful protesters and shot at them.
This was captured on DJ Switch’s Instagram Live.
All hell was let loose as the unfortunate incident triggered more violence across the nation.
Hoodlum attacked everything in sight as stores, and malls were looted while government buildings were set ablaze.
Accusations and denials
Shortly after the incident, the Nigerian Army, in a deliberate attempt at disinformation branded every news regarding the shooting as fake.
On his part, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu tried to shift blame; though he ended up admitting knowledge of the presence of the military at the scene.
It took a lot of back and forth and finger-pointing, as well as the Judicial Panel of Inquiry, set up by the Lagos State Government for a semblance of truth to appear – Sanwo-Olu knew about the presence of military men at the Toll Gate, and the Army was there and did shoot.
However, till date, the Army insists it only fired blanks despite video shreds of evidence to the contrary.
On Wednesday, November 18, CNN released a video documentary that shed more light on the #LekkiMassacre.
The video confirmed that live bullets were fired at the protesters contrary to the claims by the Nigerian Army.
However, Nigeria’s Minister for Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, at a news conference, said the report was fake and threatened to sanction CNN.
He said: “Like everyone else, I watched the CNN report. I must tell you that it reinforces the disinformation that is going around, and it is blatantly irresponsible and a poor piece of journalistic work by a reputable international news organization.”
Be Aware!!! pic.twitter.com/pby5mHqmX1
— Nigerian Army (@HQNigerianArmy) October 20, 2020
No answers one month after
Exactly one month after the killings, many questions remain unanswered.
Who exactly ordered the shootings of peaceful protesters on 20.10.20?
How many lives were lost? Will the victims find justice, or will this be another dark night in the long history of dark nights in Nigeria?
Time will tell!
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