Tuesday, the 20th day of October, 2020, has been described as a ‘Black Tuesday’ in Lagos, Nigeria, due to the alleged massacre of some unarmed protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate by men of the Nigerian Army. It is the day that the Lekki Toll Gate acquired international recognition, as both the people of Nigeria and the world in general read about the incident that occurred there. The recognition was, however, not in a palatable sense, as the remembrance of it in the future can only be connected with the ‘massacre’, or at least a carnage that occurred there. Controversy continues to trail the circumstances of the invasion of the protest ground, and the source of the order to the military to invade the protest ground.
According to the governor of the state, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, he never gave such instruction and the order for the attack must have been given by powers beyond the control of the state. Swiftly after the attack, the Nigerian Army also denied authorizing the attack. Thus, again in the year 2020, we have another case of ‘unknown soldiers’, reminiscent of the 1977 invasion of Fela Anikulapo’s shrine. This time around, however, technology will constitute a bar to the defence of the unknown soldiers as evidence can always be scooped from the environment to foil any such escapist strategy. A good development is the camera detected by the former governor of the state, Babatunde Fashola, SAN, during the recent visit to the site. The misgivings of those responsible for the demonic act is the thought that they are smarter than those youths in this technology age. I think they should perish the thought. The earlier the old appreciate the intellectual superiority of these youths, particularly in terms of technology, the better for them. It is no wonder, therefore, that video clips, both fake and genuine, abound everywhere within minutes of the event. In all of this, what is not in contention is that a taboo had been committed against the unarmed protesters.
On this point, therefore, it seems that there is a consensus of wrongdoing by all the actors in the episode, the only caveat being the location of the fault because, where the perpetrator of an evil denies responsibility, it is an acknowledgment of the fact that the act is not a heroic deed. Before I proceed further, let me refresh the memory of all on the events that led to the attack.
Thirteen days prior to the invasion, Nigerian youths had trooped to the streets protesting the brutality of the men of the Nigerian police in a struggle tagged, “#EndSARS”. The protest had been largely peaceful at Lekki Toll Gate and Alausa, with the exception of some other areas where the so-called hoodlums hijacked the protest with the perpetration of violence and looting. Reacting to the likely propensity of violence, the governor opted for the imposition of a 24-hour curfew to tame the security threat, initially to commence at 4pm, but later rescheduled till 9pm due to the perennial vehicular traffic jam in the state. In response, the unarmed peaceful protesters, at both the Lekki Toll Gate and the Alausa points, chose to remain at their convergence points for the curfew to hold them there. A smart move you think!
However, by past the hour of 7pm, some soldiers invaded the Lekki venue, reportedly shooting live bullets at the protesters. As said above, the issue of who gave the order remains a mystery till date. By the time of the completion of the invasion, several dead bodies were lying all over on the Internet, while there have been denials by the authorities. To date, nobody is able to supply the exact figure in terms of casualties.
This outcome is not strange, knowing the trademark of the soldiers that are trained to maim and kill in defence of the nation. Civility is not part of their training, and that explains why most countries never allow soldiers to operate within the civil populace. I am focusing on the Lekki Toll Gate incident, not because other clashes are of less magnitude, or the affected victims in those areas of the state are less important but because of the peculiarity of the events at the Lekki Toll Gate area.
Now, to the heart of our engagement. First, who authorized the attack by the soldiers? I am sure, among other people relevant to the resolution of this issue will be the brigade commander of the Nigerian Army in the state. It is doubtful if any deployment can be made without his knowledge. Secondly, why were the lightings off? I note the release by a company LoatsAD Media that the lights were put out in view of the impending curfew. Was the light meant to be under curfew also? The excuse that the workers had to leave, in my view, is not plausible enough. Could leaving the light on for 24 hours not be justifiable compared with the attendant security risk of darkness? The wisdom in the said decision to switch off the light is left to you and the panel to decipher, but suffice to say courteously that the reasoning would seem to insult the intelligence of Nigerians.
There is no doubt that darkness facilitated the attack and, therefore, somebody must be held accountable for this. A Yoruba proverb says, “Aje ke lano, omo ku leni, tani o mo pe aje ti o ke lano lo pa omo”, meaning, ‘the witch threatened havoc yesterday and a child died today, who would not link the threat to the death of the child?’ The act of switching off the lights smells of sabotage, bordering on aiding and abetting the commission of the crime. Just a few moments after turning off the lights, the soldiers struck. More so, the attack was before the commencement of the curfew.
Who does not know that darkness is always a threat to security? No wonder the Yoruba say, ‘Oru ni a se’ka, eni ba danwo losan, o ni fi ara’re lo’, meaning, ‘darkness is a perfect cloak for evil, whoever tries it in broad daylight may not go scot-free.’
Thirdly, by the Geneva Convention, live bullets are not to be used on protesters generally. Who claims ignorance in this regard? Fourthly, what is the legal basis of curfew and what sanction does violation attract? Is it death penalty by way of shoot at sight or what? What is the place of the rule of law in all these? Who authorized the removal of the security cameras a few hours before the attack? From the report given by the governor, it was laser cameras for vehicle identification that were removed by the public-owned company, and not the security cameras. As promised by him, the security cameras will be made available and that will make an interesting watch, particularly when pitched against the video clips of the survivors. Why was it on the day of the curfew that the cameras had to be removed as against other days of protest? Interesting coincidence you’d say!
Furthermore, are there no water cannons in the state, rubber bullets, tasers, pepper spray, teargas canisters, etc, that could have been used to temporarily demobilize the protesters where, assuming without conceding that the protesters became unruly, or constituted threat to state security? Why was the Lekki Toll Gate the target as against the violent areas noticeable in the state? Equally begging for answer is the allegation that the bodies of the fallen victims were taken away to destroy the evidence.
Beyond all these, the singular act of application of excessive force against unarmed protesters, without more, is sufficient to impose culpability on all those found to have played a role in the attack. It is important that clarity be given to all these grey areas to correct the impression, both local and international, that the attack was premeditated. I am optimistic that, by the time all the above issues are fully interrogated, the public must be able to know the culprits. This is crucial in the restoration of law and order in the state and, by extension, the country.
The right precedent must be set for posterity to vindicate the system. Part of the mantra of this administration and, by extension, the political party that gave birth to it is the termination of impunity in the nation. This horrific act of attack on unarmed protesters must, therefore, not be allowed to go the way of past events of this nature. A wreckage of this nature must be punished. It must serve as deterrent to others in the future.
Let me commend all those that have raised their voices in condemnation both in Nigeria and abroad against the dastardly venture. I equally acknowledge and praise the new maturity of the men of the Nigeria Police during the various demonstrations.
May the souls of all that lost their lives in the protests, including the security agents, rest in peace, while I pray that God enables their families to have the fortitude to bear the irreparable losses. I commiserate with the state and all those who lost their properties in the process as well. May God, the ultimate provider, restore all your losses.
It only remains to suggest, in view of the magnitude of the attack and the premise of the agitation, that the Lekki Toll Gate be re-designated the ‘Freedom Toll Gate’ in commemoration of the mindless attack. This will be a replica of Tiananmen Square in Beijing, where Chinese students undertook democracy protests in 1989 and which has become an event of international reference. Recall the brutalization of hundreds of Chinese students in a manner similar to the current scenario under consideration. This is my take!