20th October 2020 will go down in history in the minds of many Nigerians as the day peaceful protesting Nigerians were massacred by the government.
#EndSARS began as a social media campaign and later into street protests all over the country in October 2020, the protest was triggered by the excesses of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS); The unit of the police notorious for the cruel handling of suspects.
Though the core of the protest was police brutality and other extrajudicial activities of the police force as a whole, it became a platform for young Nigerians to put forward other demands bothering security, corruption, the welfare of citizens and, the economy.
Without a structured leadership, the protesters came up with five demands from the government. The demand included good welfare for police officers, the release of arrested protesters and, compensation for families of those who died under police brutality.
They also demanded that an independent panel be set up to investigate and prosecute allegations of police unlawfulness and, the psychological evaluation of officers of the disbanded SARS before they are reintegrated into any other unit of the force.
It is a year already since the Lekki toll gate shooting yet, the government is denying what happened on the night of 20th October 2020; the Lagos state government on that day declared a 24-hour curfew due to take effect at 4 pm of that day.
The deadline was not feasible due to the horrific traffic in Lagos hence it was moved to 9 pm, however, armed military men were deployed to the Lekki toll gate, venue of the Lagos #EndSARS protest; at about 6:50 pm the soldiers opened fire on peaceful #EndSARS protesters.
These young Nigerians were determined to lay down their lives just to press down the demands of the #EndSARS movement and for the betterment of the country. sadly they were faced with the very reason they were on the streets; holding the national flag and singing the national anthem they died by the bullets of the government.
Arguments are still ongoing as to whether there was a massacre at the Lekki toll gate or not; Amnesty International insists that at least 12 people were killed, the Lagos state government said only one person was killed and, the federal government said no one was killed.
Just recently Minister for information Lai Mohammed said the massacre story is fake news by Amnesty International and CNN, he said those that made claims of losing loved ones are yet to show up with evidence one year after.
Various states and the FCT set up panels to investigate the crimes committed by the police, up until now, only three states have completed their investigation however, their reports are yet to be made public.
The narratives should have changed one year after but sadly, the situation has gone from bad to worst. Police brutality, extortion, assault, tortures, killings and, corruption have taken the center stage; yet no victim has gotten justice.
In remembering the fallen heroes of the historic 20-10-2020, a memorial procession was organized at the Lekki toll gate yet again, protesters were teargassed, assaulted and, even arrested. Some journalists covering the protest were harassed and arrested.
Just as the #EndSARS protest of last year, the memorial motorcade protest was peaceful without security threats, except for the gridlock motorist experience during the protest.
The #EndSARS protest from last year remains the most peaceful and most organized until hoodlums believed to be government machinery hijacked the protest, thereby wreaking havoc to live and properties across the country.
It is clear that the government has not learned any lessons from the protest, expressing regret, president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in a statement said, “it is regrettable that on the occasion of the anniversary of such a symbolic moment in our nation’s history, we do not appear to have learned our lessons as symbolized by the arrest and detention of peaceful protesters exercising their fundamental human rights, and journalist going about their lawful duties at the Lekki toll plaza this morning.”
Sadly, the grievances which led to the protest and eventual killings remain fresh and unaddressed; we have not moved an inch from where we were. The Nigerian youths, on the other hand, seem determined and ready to return to the streets without fear.
The #EndSARS movement eludes normal protest and constituted part of the problems for the government. The normal trend is, leaders of movements such as this are identified and bribed into abandoning the objective of the movement; the #EndSARS was different and technologically based.
When the government ordered banks to close the accounts used to raise money for medical support, food, and the smooth running of the protest, the organizers and Nigerian youths, in turn, switched to contributing cryptic coins (bitcoin).
In a general context, the current reality of Nigeria is alarming and frightening. More than half of Nigerians are living in extreme poverty. Terrorism, poverty, anarchy, corruption and, negligence by the government are biting the very core of the nation.
The #EndSARS movement was about the rule of law, respect for human rights, respect for the constitution and, a good standard of living for the common man; non of the aforementioned has been achieved.
It is obvious the youths are not tired neither are they ready to give up on fighting for these issues; may the souls of the fallen heroes rest in peace. Lekki toll gate shooting, we remember, we will never forget.
Author: Kangmwa Gofwen
Lagos Bureau Chief, Nigeria