EndSARS: Mass burial of Lagos victims reignites Lekki toll gate controversies

In October 2020, Nigeria witnessed one of the largest youth-led protests in its history, known as the #EndSARS movement.

Sparked by years of frustration and anger over police brutality, particularly perpetrated by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), young Nigerians took to the streets demanding an end to police harassment, extrajudicial killings, and the complete disbandment of the notorious unit.

What began as peaceful protests quickly gained momentum and spread to different cities across Nigeria and even garnered international attention and support.

The protesters, consisting mainly of young Nigerians, chanted slogans such as “EndSARS,” “SARSMustEnd,” and “Enough is Enough,” as they marched on the streets with banners and placards, demanding immediate action from the government.

However, the events of October 20, 2020, marked a turning point in the #EndSARS movement.

On that fateful day, a group of peaceful protesters had gathered at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos, which had become a symbolic centre for the demonstrations.

As night fell, security forces reportedly opened fire on the protesters, leading to several fatalities and injuries. The incident, now widely referred to as the “Lekki Massacre,” sent shockwaves through Nigeria and the world, drawing international condemnation.

In the aftermath of the tragic events, the Nigerian government announced the disbandment of SARS, a move that was met with scepticism by protesters who demanded broader police reforms and accountability for the alleged abuses committed by SARS officers.

Fast forward to the present, and the wounds inflicted during those tumultuous days are far from healed. The recent announcement by the Lagos State Government regarding a mass burial for the 103 casualties of the #EndSARS protests has reignited the pain and memories of the tragic events of 2020.

While the government has clarified that these casualties are not victims of the Lekki toll gate shooting, it serves as a sombre reminder of the heavy toll the protests took on human lives and the urgency of addressing the issues that spurred the movement in the first place.

The Background

Numerous reports of unlawful arrests, extortion, torture, and extrajudicial killings by SARS officers had flooded social media, capturing the attention of the Nigerian public. These incidents, often accompanied by viral videos and graphic images, sparked outrage among the tech-savvy youth who felt the urgent need to address the issue.

It was on those premises that thousands of Nigerians nationwide took to the streets to protest police brutality in October 2020. They demanded far-reaching reforms, particularly concerning the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, of the police.

The weeks-long protest attracted international attention, culminating in the controversial shooting of protesters at the popular Lekki Tollgate in Lagos, one of the rallying points for those who partook in the demonstrations.

The origin of SARS could be traced to the early 1990s when the Nigerian government established the Special Anti-Robbery Squad with the primary aim of combating violent crimes such as armed robbery, kidnapping, and carjacking.

Initially, SARS successfully reduced violent crime cases, but the unit was alleged to have “turned into banditry”.

Over the years, SARS morphed into a feared and ruthless unit, widely accused of gross human rights violations and abuses of power.

Initially, it successfully reduced violent crime cases, but the unit was alleged to have “turned into a cash cow and agent of human rights abuse”.

In June 2020, Amnesty International released a report documenting at least 82 cases of torture, ill-treatment and extrajudicial execution by SARS between January 2017 and May 2020.

Amid the protest, the then Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, announced the disbandment of the Squad in the country.

Judicial Panel of Inquiry

The Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Restitution for Victims of SARS-related Abuses and Other Matters submitted its report on November 15, 2021, after which Sanwo-Olu set up a White Paper committee.

The Justice Doris Okuwobi-led panel, in a 309-page report titled, ‘Report of Lekki Incident Investigation Of October 20 2020’, concluded that there were “killings” at the Lekki tollgate on October 20, 2020.

The panel also claimed that at least 48 protesters were either killed, injured, or assaulted by soldiers and police.

However, the State Government’s White Paper on the report by the EndSARS panel faulted the panel’s report that nine persons were killed at the toll gate.

In the White Paper, the government described the panel’s claim that nine persons were shot dead as “assumptions and speculations”.

Burial of 103 Victims

Three years later, the leaked memo on the proposed burial of some victims has re-opened the wounds of the EndSARS.

The leaked memo addressed to the Lagos State Ministry of Health claimed that the State Government had approved N61,285,000 for the mass burial of 103 persons identified as 2020 EndSARS victims.

DAILY POST reports that the document, which went viral online, surfaced almost three years after the government had denied brutal killing of unarmed protesters waving the Nigerian flag and chanting the national anthem when the military allegedly opened fire on them at the Lekki toll gate.

The five-paragraph leaked memo sighted by DAILY POST captured steps for the processing of funds after approval by the Governor in addition to the Ministerial Tenders’ Board Meeting over the recommendations of the Procurement Planning Committee.

Reacting to the development, a former lawmaker, Shehu Sani, claimed the spirits of the murdered EndSARS protesters and the members of the Islamic Movement in 2015 would continue to hunt the nation and hang over its skies until justice is done.

In a statement via his verified Twitter handle on Monday, Sani claimed that killing 103 EndSARS protesters in Lagos was one of the hidden atrocities of former President Muhammadu Buhari’s era.

Also, a former Minister of Education, Obiageli Ezekwesili, in her reaction, demanded an urgent response from the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu.

In a series of tweets on Sunday via her verified Twitter handle, the former Minister questioned if the Governor knew the State had a record of 103 dead bodies from the EndSARS shootings.

Ezekwesili further claimed that the nation’s public leaders have reduced the dignity of human life to zero, describing it as the wickedest thing they have done to the citizens.

Mischief makers at work

However, in its response, the Lagos State Government maintained that the victims to be buried were not from the Lekki Tollgate shooting, insisting that the details were misconstrued.

According to a statement by the Permanent Secretary of the State Ministry of Health, Dr Olusegun Ogboye, the victims were from incidents of violence that occurred in the aftermath of the EndSARS protests.

Ogboye said the Lagos State Environmental Health Unit (SEHMU) picked up bodies after #EndSARS violence and community clashes.

He cited areas of Lagos State where dead bodies were picked to include Ajegunle, Abule-Egba, Fagba, Ketu, Ikorodu, Isolo, Ajah, Orile, Ikeja, Ojota, Ekoro, Ogba, adding that there was also a jailbreak at Ikoyi Prison.

“It is public knowledge that the year 2020 #EndSARS crisis that snowballed into violence in many parts of Lagos recorded casualties in different areas of the State and NOT from the Lekki Toll Gate as being inferred in the mischievous publications.

“The 103 casualties mentioned in the document were from these incidents and NOT from Lekki Tollgate as being alleged. For the avoidance of doubt, nobody was retrieved from the Lekki Toll Gate incident,” part of the statement read.

Reactions

DAILY POST spoke to Anngu Orngu, Co-convener of the Free Nigeria Movement.

Orngu lamented that nobody had been prosecuted or arrested for what happened at the Lekki tollgate even though a commission of inquiry was set up to probe the incident.

He expressed sadness over the allegation that the army was unleashed on Nigerians who were genuinely calling on the government to reform the police.

Orngu also called on young and vibrant Nigerians to get involved in the political process.

He said, “It is quite unfortunate that October 20 happened, and we are here again today after so much denial, even when a commission of inquiry was set up. I don’t know what they have done with the findings of that commission.

“Nobody has been prosecuted or arrested for what happened at the Lekki tollgate that fateful night. It is unfortunate.

“At this point, I am even dumbfounded to speak on the issues that relate to our dear country. But it shows that Lekki actually happened, and someone should be held responsible for what happened on that day.

“Over a hundred and five people, or thereabouts, are to be buried, and nobody has taken responsibility for it, or nobody has been arrested? Somebody should be facing prosecution for what happened.

“But here we are as a country. Is it that Nigeria is becoming a rogue country? Is it that there are no laws? Where is our humanity? Have we all lost it? What are we telling the next generation? Because these are armless Nigerians crying out for the rights of others against police brutality.

“And not that these Nigerians were only out there for themselves; they were also calling on the Nigerian government to improve police service and the welfare of police officers. And maybe because of economic gains, you unleashed the army on them.

“A lot of conspiracy theories came up that the protesters were sponsored to overthrow Buhari’s government and all of that. But these were people that did not even have a smoke gun with them. First, you unleashed street urchins on them. We saw some of the faces of these people, ‘agberos’, but those people were still moving freely on the streets of Nigeria and Lagos in particular.

“So, what is becoming of this country for me? I am dumbfounded; head or tail, you don’t even know where to start from. Is it the subsidy removal issue? Is it the tax issues? Where do you start from? Is it the skyrocketing price of foodstuff? Maybe at the end of the day, we will resort to God – the divinity to intervene in the case of our country.

“The youths are not helpless, but we are watching. My watchword has always been that we have to organise and don’t agonise. We are watching keenly; we are following the events of this country as they unravel. And at the appropriate time, some of us will come out to speak, to take action because our actions have always been to prick the conscience of people, to prick the conscience of our leaders that Nigerians deserve better. Our countrymen and women deserve better than they have given them.

“The way out, as I said, I believe in the power of God. We have seen several interventions in our country. We have seen Nigeria go through a very dire situation and more difficult times. As young men, we saw it happen; we saw at times nature takes its cause; death even takes place. So, there is hope. And hope is not a strategy; nobody should tell you that hope is a strategy.

“My call is for young Nigerians who really want to effect change, not those who are shouting and by the end of the day, when they get themselves into government, they behave and perform worse. We have some of our brother activists; as soon as they could get their hands on some deals and a few naira or dollars could line in their pockets or accounts, they stopped speaking for the people.

“I am using this opportunity to call on young, vibrant Nigerians to get involved in the process, go out there and contest elections. Kogi State is having an election, so also Imo and Bayelsa. Go out, put your foot out there and see how we can change this system.

”Nigeria is redeemable. Nobody should tell you that Nigeria is irredeemable. There is still hope for this country. There is still hope for Nigeria. There is still hope that we can build a nation that we would be proud of and that works for all.”

On his part, the President of the African Emancipation Movement for Good Governance, Honourable Lucky Obiyan told DAILY POST in an interview that the leaked document was living proof that a massacre was recorded during the EndSARS protest.

Obiyan believes that police brutality has worsened from what it was then to what is currently on the ground. According to him, police brutality still rages on in different forms.

He recalled some of the challenges he experienced during the protest.

He said, “It is not far-fetched. It is living proof that we actually had a massacre recorded during the EndSARS protest.

“The Lagos government was being hypocritical in their submissions to the Nigerian people. They never knew the letter was going to leak, and at the end of the day, it leaked and found its way to the public domain.

“And on that premise, today, we are talking about reality. This has gone a long way to attest that people actually died, and there was a massacre at the Lekki Tollgate; the government only tried to cover up.

“We are happy this is coming out, and we believe all those that have been vilified or hunted in one way or the other, the likes of DJ Switch, that had to relocate from her country, will all be vindicated, including CNN and the likes of other media organisations who the government under Lai Mohammed’s Information Ministry tried to debunk and assassinate their characters, I believe they will begin to bury their heads in shame at this point in time.

“The EndSARS represented better things for the police; you could see the government drew out a lot of programmes. Most of the demands by the protesters were acceded to, though some were to be long-term responses while others would be done summarily.

“Well, to be very frank, police brutality has exacerbated from what it was then to what is currently on the ground. The brutality still rages on in different formats, to the extent that you have policemen accompanying victims of their brutality and harassment to ATM stands and withdrawing money without their consent under duress. That has moved from bad to worse. And it is still happening today.

“You can see the hardship that has been meted on the Nigerian people as we speak. Is it the fuel hike, or the hike in the electricity tariff, despite the House of Representatives trying to suspend the electricity hike?

“But the people are already bearing the brunt. A lot of families go to bed hungry, waking up the next morning not knowing where the next meal will come from. Nigeria has never been subjected to the level of deprivation it has found itself.”

“We also had the challenge of the government sponsoring a counter-mob attack in order to give the protest a bad name. You know, when you want to hang a dog, you give it a bad name. They sponsored and infiltrated the ranks of the EndSARS protesters.

“And another thing drawn from that is the fact that there was no leadership, it was a faceless struggle. There is no agitation in the world where you don’t have a representative leadership to negotiate with the people at the top or hierarchy of the government; I think that was one of the mistakes that the organisers of the EndSARS deliberately made,” he added.


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