Gradually, calm seems to be returning to Nigerian streets two weeks after anarchy completely took hold of many cities and towns in the country in the aftermath of the #EndSARS protests.
In Lagos and other parts of the country, policemen and other law enforcement officers are slowly returning to their duty posts. Regular police officers, members of the Lagos State Task Force on Environmental and Special Offences, Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) officials and officers of other organisations are steadily coming back to work.
Many law enforcement agents had abandoned their jobs following the chaos that enveloped many parts of the country after hoodlums and thugs hijacked the largely peaceful #EndSARS protests embarked upon by thousands of young Nigerians to ventilate their anger over extrajudicial killings and other acts of brutality inflicted upon them and other Nigerians by some police officers over the years. The protesters specifically demanded the dissolution of the notorious police unit named Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
The protests were not held just in Nigeria. In many parts of the world, Nigerians and their friends marched in solidarity with their compatriots at home, all demanding for an end to police brutality.
Men, women, teenagers, Christians, Muslims, traditionalists and even those professing no faith were united in marching through the streets of Lagos and other parts of Nigeria to demand an end to police brutality, extortion and extra judicial killings.
The protests attracted global attention, with several national and international celebrities, including the Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, voicing support for the cause.
But the protests took a tragic turn in the evening of Tuesday, October 20, when men in military uniforms reportedly stormed the venue of the protest in Lekki, Lagos, allegedly firing gunshots at the protesters.
That action seemed to have led to the chaos and anarchy that engulfed Lagos and several other parts of the country. From that evening, armed thugs descended on the streets, burning private and public buildings. They killed police officers and burnt police stations, government offices, private offices and facilities and harassed and brutalised innocent members of the public. By the time the rage died down, buildings, vehicles and other property worth hundreds of millions of naira had been destroyed.
The shots from the guns were deafening in many areas. Bullets flew carelessly in the air with devastating effect. Stray bullets maimed many and sent others to their early graves. Many commentators described the situation as a war.
On October 23, a resident of Meiran in Agbado Oke-Odo Local Council Development Area (LCDA), Mr. Albert Olaniyi, after his area was held hostage for hours, told the correspondent in a terrifying voice that he had had enough of the protest.
“My area has been hot since morning. Two policemen and a civilian have been killed. The hooligans burnt one of the officers. Police helicopter is patrolling my area at the moment amid gunshots.
“We are all lying flat on the floor in our rooms now for the fear of being hit by stray bullets. This is war and not a protest,” he had told the reporter.
It wasn’t long after that that everything went sour. Abuja, Lagos, Rivers, Anambra, Kwara, Delta, Ogun and Edo states boiled as they were greeted by killings and huge destruction of property.
It was seen as a welcome development when SARS was formed to combat armed robbery and other serious crimes in Lagos. In the early 1990s, armed robbers and bandits relentlessly terrorised Lagos and the southern part of Nigeria with rage.
It was gathered that the squad was more of a tactical team with operatives that would confront robbers, finish them off and quietly retire to their homes or offices. The operatives never craved attention nor demanded gratification for doing their jobs. Many successes were recorded by the SARS at the time.
But over the years, Nigerians started lamenting that SARS had deviated from its assigned duties, with its personnel accused of high-handedness, acts of brutality and cruelty, extortion and other crimes.
In the past few years, many people have accused SARS operatives of horrible acts, ranging from killings to torture, extortion, deliberate false allegations and other heinous crimes. Several protests have been held to demand that the unit be scrapped. On many occasions, different Inspectors-General of Police had ordered that SARS operatives be removed from the roads, but the orders were usually ignored.
The protests started spontaneously in Lekki and Ikeja, Lagos. In the next couple of days, there were protests in other parts of the country. But the protests were generally peaceful. The five-point demand itemised by the protesters included the release of arrested protesters, compensation for families of victims, investigation and prosecution of all reports of misconduct, proscription of SARS and review of the welfare of police immediately.
SARS disbanded, but…
Shortly after the protest started, the Federal Government announced the immediate disbandment of the police unit.
But some of the protesters said it was the fourth time in many years that the government had promised to disband or reform the unit. As such, they vowed to continue with the protests. Some of them also called for both the Inspector-General of Police and President Muhammadu Buhari to resign.
A protest hijacked
Even before the Lekki shootings, thugs and other criminals had hijacked the hitherto peaceful protest in some parts of Lagos.
In Ogolonto area of Ikorodu, armed gangs unleashed mayhem on one another. While this was happening, other criminal elements joined in attacking innocent citizens who were returning from church service. There were reports of violent robbery and rape of frightened women who were scampering for safety.
Till the next day, gun-wielding youths unleashed terror on many parts of the community. People returning from work in the evening were said to have taken to their heels upon seeing fierce-looking gangsters toting different weapons. Many residents would certainly not easily recover from the psychological trauma that followed the staccato gunshots.
Other street urchins terrorised citizens in different parts of the state like Fagba Junction in Ifako-Ijaiye and Ebute Metta. In the Ebute Metta incident, 19 officers and men of the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) were believed to have been severely injured by armed thugs in Adekunle part of the community.
The level of insecurity in different parts of the state became heightened with the multiple attacks on police stations. The lawlessness blossomed into attacks and lynching of police officers in Herbert Macaulay and Alapere, Lagos. Things took a more dangerous turn on October 20, when the Orile and Ilasamaja police stations were razed.
Chaos took over as Ajeromi Local Government Area (LGA) offices were burnt down and wanton destruction of property followed. In the same Ajeromi Local Government Area, Ajegunle in particular, branches of financial institutions were looted and hoodlums attempted to gain access into the Tincan Island Ports.
The governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, also lamented that the #EndSARS protests in Lagos had been hijacked by criminal elements.
The mayhem in Lagos provided an avenue for different cult groups to renew their rivalry. In doing this, innocent Nigerians were caught in the crossfire.
In Lagos communities, lives were lost and valuables belonging to residents going about their legitimate businesses were destroyed.
Besides Lagos, two persons were reportedly killed in an attack by suspected cultists in Ilorin, Kwara State. It was gathered that one of the deceased was decapitated and the head was deposited at the General Post Office flyover in the metropolis. The second victim was killed in Sabo Oke.
The beheaded victim was identified as Yusuf, aka Lucifer, said to have been involved in an attack against the protesters.
Property up in flames
Following the escalation of the #EndSARS protest and the mayhem that followed, the Lagos State Police Command described the destruction of its property by the hoodlums as a huge loss.
No one is yet to put a figure to the total amount of money that might have been wasted as many government and individual properties across Nigeria were torched by arsonists. But it is estimated that rebuilding the public and private property destroyed in Lagos alone might cost over N1 trillion.
This was the verdict of Governor Sanwo-Olu who visited some of the wrecked public and private offices. He was visibly shaken by the level of destruction across the state.
The list of destroyed public and private properties in Lagos includes Ajeromi Ifelodun Local Government secretariat; Palace of the Oba of Lagos; Lagos High Court, Igbosere; Oyingbo BRT terminus; Ojodu Berger BRT Terminus; Vehicle Inspection Office, Ojodu Berger; Lagos State Public Works Corporation, Ojodu Berger; Lagos City Hall and Circle Mall, Lekki; numerous luxury shops in Surulere and other parts of the state, The Nation Newspaper, TVC and Shoprite, Lekki, were also destroyed and vandalised.
Commissioner for Information, Gbenga Omotosho, said that 27 of the destroyed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) vehicles cost $200,000 each, while 57 of them cost $100,000 each, all totalling about N3.9 billion.
According to the police, the 25 stations burnt in Lagos were Orile, Amukoko, Layeni, Ilasamaja, Ikotun, Ajah, Igando, Elemoro, Makinde, Onipanu, Ebute Ero, Pen-Cinema, Isokoko, Alade, Cele, Igbo Elerin, Shibiri, Gbagada, Onilekere, Makoko, Daleko, Asahun, Makinyo, Amuwo-Odofin and Anti-Kidnapping, Surulere. Other police stations that were vandalised but not burnt were Ojo, Ojodu, Mowo, PPL and Morogbo.
A resident of Meiran told the reporter that attempts by hoodlums to set Meiran Police Station ablaze were repelled by a re-enforcement team that stormed the area in about six vans loaded with police officers.
Some hoodlums also set fire to the campaign office of Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu in Akure, the Ondo State capital.
Burgling and looting galore
In Benin, the capital of Edo State, Lagos, Osun, Plateau, Cross River, Ekiti and other states, burglars also had a field day. Every warehouse in sight was burgled and looted dry.
In Bukuru, a community in Jos South Local Government Area of Plateau State, youths and women broke into the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) COVID-19 warehouse and carted away yet to be distributed palliatives.
The youths who stormed the centre in their hundreds at about 7am on October 24, reportedly overwhelmed the security officers stationed at the warehouse, broke in and packed away all the palliatives. It was observed that the youths instructed women who came out for the ‘largesse’ not to pick more than one bag of rice to enable other vulnerable persons have their share. The items in the warehouse were bags of rice, cartons of noodles, and other food items.
It was gathered that security personnel who came to the scene could not do much as they watched widows, youths and some aged persons move away with the palliatives.
In Lagos, residents of Old Ojo Road, Kirikiri, in their numbers, burgled a warehouse in the area and carted away the COVID-19 palliatives that were meant for the residents of the state. It was said that no single item was left behind in the warehouse.
Also in Benin, a large warehouse for the storage of bags of rice, owned by a private businessman, was burgled on October 23. This took place at Upper Sakponba, a community where two police stations were burnt during the protest.
It was gathered that before anti-riot policemen arrived the scene, the warehouse housing over a thousand bags of rice was already empty.
On October 24, it took the timely intervention of armed soldiers and other security agents deployed to the Garki, Abuja, who fired gunshots and tear gas, to deter hoodlums who stormed a warehouse where COVID-19 palliative was allegedly stored.
There was pandemonium at the UTC market, Area 10, Garki, as soldiers battled hoodlums who attempted to loot a warehouse in the vicinity. The traders and residents of the area were in fear following sporadic gunshots.
The warehouse was said to be located in the precincts of the Cyprian Ekwensi building and the UTC market. While the sporadic shootings continued, many people were injured trying to escape attacks by the hoodlums, throwing the entire area into turmoil.
Ekiti State was not spared the looting saga. But there was a twist as the residents were alerted by the authorities that the items looted from silos warehouse, such as corn preserved for planting with chemical, were poisonous and could kill.
The government explained that the state had no palliatives warehouse as all items were already distributed.
There were looting of palliatives in Kaduna, Cross River and other parts of Nigeria by hooligans who were waiting to feast on the protest.
Among the looters were policemen and other security agents.
In Lagos, hoodlums broke into the palace of the Oba of Lagos and looted the place. His personal items, including his staff of office, were allegedly stolen. They also burnt some media houses, including TVC, a leading television station and the headquarters of The Nation newspaper, among scores of others.
Corpses on the streets
As normalcy gradually returned, 62 people were reportedly killed while the battle lasted. Reports showed that 51 of those killed were civilians while 11 others were policemen.
At Ekoro junction in Merian, a policeman was killed and set ablaze by hoodlums.
On October 21, a stray bullet in Atan area of Ogun State hit a meat seller. He died on the spot. As it was alleged that the gunshot was from a police officer, and youths in the area marched to the police station in the community and burnt it. The Divisional Police Officer escaped by the whiskers, but the mob killed another officer in the station. A Customs officer was also reportedly killed in the axis.
Daily Sun reliably gathered that the various routes leading to Benin Republic were thrown wide open, enabling smugglers of banned products to have a field day.
Within three days, the Lagos-Badagry and Owode-Idi-Iroko routes became busier than usual. It was learnt that all the Customs officers and other security agents mounting tens of checkpoints were chased away by the protesters.
All roads led to the borders as commercial motorcycle riders and drivers made brisk business. Communities along the border towns were floodd with bags of rice and other consumables from the neighbouring country.
A bag of rice that was formerly sold for between N25,000 and N28,000 crashed to N20,000 in Sango and Agbara areas of Ogun and Lagos, respectively.
In the heat of the protest, the first prison break happened in Benin City. The two correctional centres in the city – the ones on Sapele Road and Oko Road were forcefully thrown wide open.
About 2, 000 inmates who had been sentenced, as well as those awaiting trial, escaped and emptied into the streets.
On October 22, there was also a prison break in Warri, Delta State.
But the Director-General, Delta State Security, Mr David Tonwe, debunked reports that some inmates escaped during the jailbreak at the Nigerian Correctional Service, Warri, otherwise known as Okere Prisons.
In Ondo State, no fewer than 58 inmates at the National Correctional Service Centre in Okitipupa, were on October 22 released when suspected hoodlums attacked the facility.
It was learnt that the hoodlums also burnt a vehicle in the process. Several items were destroyed in the premises of the prison.