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#EndSARS: Events Around The Lekki Tollgate Shooting And The Aftermath

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By Enioluwa Adeniyi and Victoria Chukwuani

Young Nigerians on the 20th of October, 2020 reportedly lost their lives in their quest for a better Nigeria as they converged on the Lekki Tollgate to call for an end to bad policing and bad governance in the country.

The protest which had started in Delta State spread to states like Lagos, Enugu, Rivers, Kano, Kwara, with youths marching together to call for the reformation of the Nigeria Police Force, NPF.

Little did the large number of the bright futures of this country know that the peaceful EndSARS protest, which had been on for for weeks without killings, would turn bloody.

Youths on the faithful day of October 20, 2020, had called for an end to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), which was created by the Nigeria Police Force in 1992 to tackle armed robbery in Lagos State.

The Nigerian Police Force had created the unit to prevent crimes and seeing to the arrests of violent criminals and armed robbers.

Following the security challenges across the country, former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2002 ordered the establishment of the squad across the country to battle crime.

Public outcry, however, started after SARS started deviating from its original assignment and were accused of engaging in extra-judicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, alleged rape, extortion and unlawful detention.

The police unit was also known for notoriously going after successful or flamboyant youth, who they label as internet fraudster and extort or even kill.

Youth in the country which had employed the social media space since 2017 to campaign against the oppression of SARS, felt it was time to take another approach which birthed the slang, ‘Soro Soke’, which means ‘speak up’.

The concerned youths with supports from prominent Nigerians within and outside the country had remained steadfast in their call for change despite the spread of the COVID-19 virus at the time.

Young Nigerians on the 20th gathered at the Lekki Tollgate to continue their daily protest before the sudden declaration of a curfew by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State.

Young Nigerians at the Lekki tollgate

Men of the Nigerian Army were on ground at the scene of the protest to enforce the curfew which was to kickoff at 4:00pm that day.

The event, however, took an unexpected turn as soldiers at the tollgate reportedly used live ammunition and allegedly killing some of the demonstrators while some were critically injured.

Military officers allegedly shooting at protesters at the Lekki Tollgate

Rights group Amnesty International had said 12 protesters were killed in two districts that night, prompting arguably Nigeria’s worst unrest since the return to civilian rule in 1999.

Both the military and police denied the shootings prompting the government to set up judicial panels to investigate police abuse allegations across the country.

There were claims that men of the Nigerian army took away the remains of the victims of the incident to cover up the shooting which drew global attention.

However, witnesses of the painful incident shared their experiences, as some family members recounted how they lost their love ones on that faithful day.

An Account Of A Nigerian Who Lost His Brother To The Shooting

A Nigerian identified as Elisha Sunday who spoke on the incident said, on October 21, he got a call from a stranger who used his brother’s phone informing him that his brother, Victor, had been shot dead by soldiers at the Lekki Toll Gate.

Sunday further stated that after finding it difficult to sleep, he set out to find the body of his body but roads leading towards the upscale neighbourhood were blocked, adding that he heard shots which made him turn back.

Elisha, 24, said he later saw pictures of his 27-year-old brother on Facebook, draped in a Nigerian flag and covered in blood, lamenting that nothing was done to question persons behind the devilish act.

Lekki Tollgate Shootings and the controversies that followed thereafter;

The Lekki Tollgate shootings undoubtedly had sparked global outrage, bringing about wide condemnation from the international communities and media giants.

The shootings which stirred controversies, raised questions such as:

  • Who ordered the shooting?
  • Why was the surveillance camera at the Lekki Tollgate turned off?
  • How many people died from the shootings?
  • Did the Nigerian army open fire at peaceful protesters or shoot the air as claimed?

What CNN investigations unravelled;

In an investigation carried out by CNN, the international broadcaster explained how soldiers approached peaceful protesters, opening firing shots on them. 

Governor Sanwo-Olu with protesters at the Lekki Tollgate last year

Although, CNN had reported that the Lekki Concession Company (LCC) deliberately panned away their camera from taking surveillance video of that very evening.

According to their findings, the tampering of the surveillance footage by the LCC raised more questions about what transpired at the Lekki toll gate protest.

What the Nigerian Army said about the Lekki Tollgate shooting

The army on the other hand has repeatedly said that the soldiers deployed to the toll gate on the 20th of October fired into the air and not at protesters directly.

Request for comment from media bodies was not responded to by the Army as they repeatedly stamped news accounts of the shooting as “Fake News.”

However, the army, during the sitting of a panel raised to look into the Lekki shooting, submitted a social media footage featuring an eyewitness saying, “They are shooting at protesters.”

Interestingly, the footage corroborated the timing CNN reported for the gunshots fired by the army.

How many people died?

The Lagos state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu told CNN that two dead bodies were in the morgue, this was while he was responding to the allegation that many people were shot dead.

However, the Chief Pathologist of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital told the Judicial Panel of Inquiry that autopsies were done on the 99 dead bodies which were brought to the morgues between October 19 and 24, and amongst the victims include three that were allegedly killed in Lekki during the shooting on October 20, 2020.

He told the panel that only three corpses were recorded to have been from Lekki, and 96 other bodies from different parts of Lagos. 

How international communities reacted?

The aftermath of CNN’s investigation led the United States and the United Kingdom to debate a petition seeking to sanction the Nigerian government and the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) over alleged human rights abuses.

The foreign office also released a statement saying: “The Foreign Secretary has been clear that the Nigerian government must urgently investigate reports of brutality at the hands of the security forces and hold those responsible to account.

“It is important that the police in Nigeria respect human rights. We have been working with Nigeria to support reforms to ensure this happens.”

The police had said it would not comment until after the findings of the judicial inquiry. However, in a tweet in early November last year, denied shooting at protesters.

“…our police officers never resorted to use of unlawful force or shooting at the protesters as alleged in the report.”

EndSARS Panel sitting, what was the outcome?

Sanwo-Olu inaugurated an eight-man panel of inquiry to investigate cases of brutality and human rights violation committed by operatives of the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad SARS in the state.

The panel was led by a retired judge, Doris Okuwobi, and members from civil society groups, the Human Rights Commission, Citizens Mediation Centre and two youth representatives.

The panel which ran for almost 12 months received a total of 255 petitions from members of the public, with over 52 of cases left untreated. 

The panel tried to find succour for victims of police brutality and killings through the recommendation of compensations. 

Apart from the compensations, the panel through its ruling exonerated some victims from wrongdoings and defamation of character. 

Almost a year later, with all of the investigations carried out by top media houses and the judicial panel, some questions are still left unanswered.

As of the time of filing in this report, no military officer or soldier has been detained or brought in for questioning concerning the infamous shooting. There are also cases attesting to the failure of governments to effect necessary reforms that would bring about accountability and transparency in a police operation.

The police have not learnt many lessons from what happened during the protest as they have continued to brutalise and dehumanise citizens, even threatening to stop the peaceful march scheduled to mark the first anniversary of the #EndSARS.