The nationwide EndSARS protests turned bloody last week with the gruesome killing of peaceful protesters by armed security operatives at the Lekki tollgate area of Lagos. The dastardly incident was in response to the #EndSARS protests that engulfed the entire country since October 8, 2020. The shooting was reminiscent of the Beijing’s Tiananmen Square incident of 1989 when Chinese military rolled out tanks and massacred hundreds of peaceful protesters, mostly students demanding democratic reforms.
It was this intervention by troops that drew the unfortunate reaction of some hoodlums in Lagos and elsewhere which led to the attack on some media houses, such as the Television Continental (TVC), the Nation newspapers, Channels Television and Lagos Television head offices in Lagos. The hoodlums also set ablaze some public and private property and even invaded some Nigerian Correctional Centres, wreaking havoc and releasing some prisoners.
We strongly condemn the action of security agents and the attack on public and private properties, especially media houses, by hoodlums. The Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen.Tukur Buratai, had announced special military exercise codenamed Operation Crocodile Smile VI as the protests raged. Then, about 7pm on what has come to be known as Black Tuesday, the floodlights and display boards at the tollgate were switched off. That was a few hours after Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State imposed 24-hour curfew on the state. As the protesters sang the National Anthem and waved the Nigerian Flag, the shooting took place and left some dead and others injured.
The killing of peaceful protesters is callous, atrocious and sad. There were reports that about 49 people died as a result of the protests and killings by security agents. Governor Sanwo-Olu initially claimed there was no death from the Lekki shooting, but later admitted that one person died. Global Rights Group, Amnesty International, said about 12 people died from the shooting at Lekki tollgate and Alausa areas of Lagos.
The killing of protesters diminishes our value as human beings. The use of brutal force on protesters is heinous and uncalled for. The control of protesters is usually the duty of the police and not soldiers. And the police can only use tear gas or water cannons to disperse the crowd. Despite reported evidence, the military has denied involvement in the Lekki killings, saying soldiers were not at the scene.
Nevertheless, Nigerians had expected President Muhammadu to address them and calm the situation. It was not until two days after the Lekki shooting that the President addressed the nation. Rather than calm frayed nerves, his speech inflamed more passions. The President did not make any reference to the shooting incident in Lekki most especially. He also failed to make promises that would reassure his citizens, especially the youths.
The unprovoked attack on protesters violates their right to life, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. As the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) rightly stated, it is against the Article 7 of the Rome Statute. SERAP has consequently petitioned the Prosecutor, International Criminal Court (ICC), Mrs. Fatou Bensouda, to investigate and try those involved in this reported onslaught against peaceful protesters. Repressions like the Lekki incident had seen ex-leaders, such as Charles Taylor of Liberia, Hissene Habre of Chad and Laurent Gbagbo of Cote d’Ivoire answer charges at the ICC.
No doubt, protest is a legitimate form of expressing disaffection with the goings on in a given society. The Arab Spring started in Tunisia in 2010 and spread to some other North African and Middle East countries. On May 26 this year, protests erupted in Minneapolis and quickly spread to all the 50 states of the United States of America principally against the killing of an African American, George Floyd, by a police officer in Minneapolis and generally against police brutality and institutional racism. The officer, Derek Chauvin, had pinned Floyd down with his knee on his neck for over eight minutes before he died.
Protest marches were effectively used against apartheid rule in South Africa. The Berlin Wall that had separated East and Western Berlin for years came down after about two months of civil protests throughout Germany.
In 2018, thousands of people took to the streets across India to protest against sexual assault epidemic. The same year in Nicaragua, youths took to the streets against authoritarian rule in their country. It started as protests against social security reforms but later dovetailed into calls for the ouster of President Daniel Ortega. Ortega’s censorship policies and killing of protesters and journalists prompted the call for him to go.
In Nigeria, many people are aggrieved over one issue or the other. The #EndSARS protests provided the platform to express pent-up anger and demand solutions to the nation’s ills. It started first as a demonstration against police brutality and the abolition of the dreaded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The campaigners later made some other demands from the Federal Government. The long-lasting solution to the ills of the nation is to hearken to the agitation in many quarters for the restructuring of the country.
While we join some world leaders and celebrities to condemn the involvement of soldiers in a purely civil matter. We condemn strongly the attack of assets of media organisations. The media in Nigeria has played its role of holding government and people accountable. Journalists risk their lives in doing this. They deserve to be commended and not comdemned. The media is the conscience of the society. Attack on the media, therefore, is an attack on the society. It is uncalled for. vexetious and wicked.
We urge the protesters to suspend their action for peace to reign in the country. No doubt, their action is legitimate, but the government has agreed to their demands. They should give the government a chance to implement what it has promised. Killing the citizens will not solve the problems. Burning national and individual assets will also not heal the wounds of the Tuesday savagery.
Let the government institute a probe into the Lekki killings as well as destruction of private and public assets. Those found culpable must be made to face the full wrath of the law. We urge our leaders to make the country conducive for peaceful coexistence.