Opinion (23/11/2021): Lekki Tollgate And Nigeria’s Killing Fields – By Emeka Alex Duru

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Any Nigerian that does not feel sufficiently piqued by the reports of the Lagos #EndSARS Panel, submitted to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, last Monday, deserves pity. That was one troubling document, which in content and delivery, exposed our leaders for what they are – Beasts of No Nation – as Afro-beat legend, Fela Anikulapo, would have called them.

The Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Restitution for Victims of SARS Related Abuses and Other Matters, was inaugurated by Governor Sanwo-Olu on October 19, 2020, to investigate complaints against human rights abuses by the police.

It was a follow-up to the #EndSARS protests that rocked many parts of the country, with Lagos as the epicenter. When protesters at Lekki were allegedly killed the next day, he expanded the terms of reference to cover the incident.

The panel reported that 11 protesters were shot dead, four presumed dead, and another 96 corpses on a list supplied by a forensic pathologist at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Professor John Obafunwa, adding, “some of (whom) could have come from the Lekki Toll Gate Incident of October 20, 2020.”

Some aspects of the document speak volumes on the extent the value of life has been devalued by those elected or paid to protect Nigerians.

They read: “The evidence before the panel shows that after the Nigerian Army left, Nigeria Police Force, followed up with the killing of the protesters, shooting directly at fleeing protesters into the shanties and the Lagoon at the Lekki Phase 1 Foreshore, close to the Lekki Toll Gate, floating corpse and one shot close to Serah Ibrahim.

“Several unidentified bodies were removed by security agencies and LASEHMU (Lagos State Environmental Health Monitoring Unit) and deposited at various hospital mortuaries in Lagos State.

“Three trucks with brushes underneath were brought to the Lekki Toll Gate in the morning of October 21st October, 2020 to clean up the scene of bloodstains and other evidence”.

The closest that comes to mind, reading the report, is the callous Sharpeville Massacre of South Africa, in 1960. For a reminder, on 21 March 1960, a group of between 5,000 and 10,000 people converged on the local police station in Sharpeville, offering themselves up for arrest for not carrying their passbooks. The South African Police opened fire on the crowd, killing 69 people and injuring 180 others. The country is yet to recover from the psychological effect of that action.

If we explain the ugly South African experience as in line with the oddities of the then apartheid regime in the country, how do we interpret the Nigerian version, under an administration elected by the people? Put in simple terms, in Lagos #EndSARS Report, Nigeria dies.

We must commend the courage exhibited by the chairman of the panel, Retired Justice Doris Okuwobi and her team in affirming the truth the public knew all along that soldiers killed peaceful protesters and took their bodies away to hide the evidence – so they can deny murder.

Make no mistake about it. The Lagos episode is just one out of the lot. Lekki was merely the hub of the protests. Stories of brutality and highhandedness on the protesters in other parts of the country, are out there, starring us in the face and making mockery of Nigeria before other nations.

Let us recall the five demands of the youths at Lekki. They were: Immediate release of all arrested protesters; Justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families; Setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of Police misconduct (within 10days); In line with police act, psychological evaluation and retaining (to be confirmed by an independent body) of all disbanded SARS officers before they can be redeployed; Increase Police salary so that they are adequately compensated for protecting lives and property of citizens.

In going about the demand, the youths in Lekki and elsewhere, brandished the Nigerian Flag, chorused the national anthem and recited the national pledge, symbolising their faith in the fatherland. How else do we define patriotism?

But in reward, they received bullets, murder and injuries from the authorities.

Youths are touted as the strength of a country. Existing demographics list the youths as constituting 60 percent of Nigeria’s population. In them, the future of the country lies. But successive administrations in the land have only paid lip service to their welfare.

Rarely do the leaders map out strategies to harness the budding energies of the youths, aside from deploying some for odd jobs as in election rigging and other vices. Thus, used and dumped, the youths seek survival at many fronts, some migrating abroad for all manner of menial activities.

We agree with the findings of the Lagos Panel that “The atrocious maiming and killing of unarmed, helpless and unresisting protesters, while sitting on the floor and waving their Nigerian flags, while singing the National Anthem can be equated to a ‘massacre’ in context.”

As recommended by the body, all those involved in the attack on youths should face the law. Its recommendation “That for the purpose of restitution, healing and reconciliation the federal government needs to publicly apologise to the youth for abruptly undermining the protest with their state actors”, is equally instructive.

But it should go beyond that. Principal actors of the state who had played odious roles in the assault against the youths over the years, should be called out and subjected to deserving punishments.

The #EndSARS incident, is one in the programmed onslaught against the youths by the government. In December 2015, there were reports of alleged 350 dead bodies buried in a mass grave in Kaduna, after clashes between the army and supporters of a Shiite cleric, Ibrahim Zakzaky, over allegation that members of Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), tried to kill the then chief of army staff.

Within the same period, a report by Amnesty International had exposed the atrocities of the Nigerian Army against members of Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) between August 2015 and August 2016, putting the casualty figure at over 150. Most of the victims were youths.

No system develops on this curve. The rules of engagement on civilians by armed operatives, are well spelt out. They also come with consequences. They should apply here.

The findings of the White Paper on the Lagos killings and other parts of the country, should be implemented to the letter.

For long, Nigerian leaders have operated as hegemons, lording it over the people. Until they begin to serve terms at the International Criminal Court (ICC), they would not refrain from trampling on the rights of those they are supposed to be serving. Let the White Paper on Lagos #EndSARS Report, serve as the beginning for people to take responsibility for their ignoble actions.

*DURU Is the Editor of TheNiche Newspapers, Lagos

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