By Chinelo Obogo and Christopher Oji
Many people were injured yesterday when the police fired teargas canisters at people who converged to commemorate the second anniversary of #EndSARS protest.
Outside the teargas canisters, popularly known as smoke, the police were also accused of firing gunshots to disperse the mammoth crowd that converged at the Lekki Tollgate in Lagos.
But, in a reaction, Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), SP Benjamin Hundeyin, said nobody was injured and no gunshot was fired by the police.
A victim, Ifeanyi Iwekasi, told Daily Sun that the youths were at the tollgate to mourn those who were killed, maimed or detained by the police during the #EndSARS protest two years ago, and to remind the government that it has not fulfilled its promises.
An activist said: “Over 50 people have been injured. They were scampering for safety after the police fired teargas canisters on us. They also fired gunshots into the air. I am not saying that they shot the guns at us, but we were injured by the teargas.”
Another protester, Mark Chiedozie, said, “the police went beyond their brief. They used water cannons on us; most of our people have peels on their bodies from the hot water from the cannons. They shot guns at us, but none of us was hit. There is no court order, restraining people from converging at the tollgate. When the Obidents did rally for the Labour Party’s presidential candidate, Mr. Peter Obi, there was a court order restraining people from converging on the spot. That was why we converged there, but the police went beyond their rule of engagement and attacked us. They violated our fundamental human rights. They arrested some of us. We don’t know where they took them to.
“Well, we wanted the government to know that they betrayed us; I would say that the only achievement made by the #EndSARS protest was the disbanding of the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS), but that is on the periphery. If you look deeply, nothing has changed, so far. The people in SARS are still the same policemen who are still in the tactical units and squads all over the police formations. Nothing seems to have changed because since after the protest, we have witnessed many extrajudicial killings, brutalities and extortions by the same police.
“One of the demands by the protesters was for the police to do a mental evaluation of officers and men of the force, but has it been done. How many of them have been sacked or taken for mental treatment or psychological maladies. Again, another demand by the protesters was that compensation should be paid to the victims of police brutality. Up till today, nobody has been compensated.The Federal Government only confirmed that two years after the protest, it just got the reports from the Commission of inquiry.”
The Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer, SP Benjamin Hundeyin, said nobody was shot or injured.
“I must be sincere with you, no single gunshot was fired. Our men only used teargas and water cannons to disperse the crowd. We arrested some of them who were fomenting trouble for a few hours.
We kept them in our Black Maria till we were able to disperse the crowd and we released them immediately.
“During the rally for Labour Party’s presidential candidate, Mr. Peter Obi, we did not have any problem with the party’s supporters. We told them that they could pass, but not to converge at the tollgate and they complied. We even trekked along with them and we had no issues with them. You can attest to it. But the problem with #EndSARS protesters was that they converged on the tollgate, started climbing the rails and blocking the roads. You know that if we did not disperse them, they would have caused heavy gridlock, and that would disturb commercial activities. But the good news is that nobody was shot, injured or detained.”
Meanwhile, many Nigerians reacted to the memorial on social media, with the former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, saying: “Today, we remember the events of 20.10.2020 and how they redefined this generation of Nigeria’s young people. We must never forget the peaceful protesters who demanded a better society for themselves and all those who will come after. As much as the EndSARS protests were about the negative actions of some members of the police force, it was also a cry for help.
“It was a message to the world that young Nigerians were tired of the insecurity, the high cost of living, and unemployment under the APC government. This is why, as we commemorate the events of October 2020 and remember those who paid the ultimate price with their lives, let us all use our PVCs on February 25, 2023, to usher in new and responsive leadership.”
Nollywood actress, Kate Henshaw said: “We saw evil face to face. We also saw courage, resilience, and determination. The lies may travel a hundred times around the track, but the truth breasts the tape in the end. We remember. We will never forget.”
Actor, Alex Ekubo, said: “Nigerian government, we will never forget this day. We will return the favour. The labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain. Lekki Toll plaza should be renamed Lekki Memorial Way and remain toll free. We paid in full with our blood,” while former presidential candidate of KOWA Party, Prof. Remi Sonaiya, tweeted: “We remember today, in a special way, the victims of the EndSARS protests at the Lekki toll gate. Praying that the wounds will one day be healed by the balm of justice.”
Rights activist, Rinu Oduala said: “Shame on all of you who enabled this. Shame on all those who defend this. Shame on everyone involved in this. Shame on you if you support this,” while journalist Wale Lawal said: “Today in 2020, the EndSARS protests ended with soldiers shooting and killing unarmed protesters. Young Nigerians have not forgotten. In 2023, they will take the protest to the polls. Today, also remember Pelumi Onifade, a 20-year-old journalist, who was arrested by the Lagos State Task Force in 2020, while on assignment a few days after the #EndSARS October 20 Shootings. He died in police custody.
“Onifade was a 200-level student of the Department of History at Tai Solarin University of Education in Ogun State. He was an intern with GboahTV and, during the #EndSARS protests, had recorded a viral video showing a Lagos politician shooting at unarmed protesters in Abule Egba. Please remember Onifade’s story and his courage whenever we talk about the state of journalism in Nigeria. There’s rarely a ‘crisis’ in Nigeria whose victims do not include journalists. Few journalists are protected, most are constantly under attack.
“The most revolutionary thing we can do, ‘is what we have done since the #EndSARS protests began: insist on our role as active witnesses. Of each other, of what we have suffered, the moments of joy, our courage and commitment, our belief, and our hope.”