Lekki ’massacre’ one year on: what changes in Nigeria?

Lekki ’massacre’ one year on: what changes in Nigeria?

On the night of October 20, 2020, the street protests tagged #EndSars against extra-judicial killings and police brutality by the notorious Nigeria Police anti-crime unit – Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) have entered its 12th day with no sign of abatement. Youths in their droves stormed the streets, dancing and singing in defiance of government warnings to vacate the street and end the protests.
It was obvious that the government was becoming agitated and uncomfortable as the peaceful protests spread and became violent in some parts of the country. However, what happened that night was unprecedented and beyond everyone’s imagination. According to the leaked report submitted by the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry into the event of the night, soldiers “shot blank and live bullets directly and pointedly into the midst of protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate, with the intention to assault, maim and kill.”
The report described the soldiers and police actions as “atrocious” and noted that the “maiming and killing of unarmed, helpless and unresisting protesters, while sitting on the floor and waving their Nigeria flags, while singing the national anthem can be equated to a ‘massacre’ in a context.”
The panel headed by a retired judge, Doris Okuwobi, in the 319-page report submitted to the Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwoolu, confirmed that “the mayhem and violence recorded in other parts of Lagos State did not happen at the Lekki Toll Gate“ concluding that the shooting was needless while describing most of the army officers as “not fit to serve’ and recommending the prosecution certain police officer for their action during the incident.
This report corroborates an earlier report by Amnesty International, which investigated the shooting and eyewitnesses at the event, who posted videos of the shooting on social media. According to Amnesty International, “peaceful protesters were reportedly shot dead when the Nigeria Army opened fire on protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate.” Such report was vehemently refuted by Mr. Lai Mohammed, the minister for information, who recently, during the anniversary of the shooting, described the incident as a “massacre without blood or bodies.”
Although the Lagos State governor promised that government will soon release a White Paper on the report of the panel, the federal government has not responded officially to the report. It is hoped that the government would avoid sweeping under the carpet, the report of the committee and faithfully implement its recommendations.
Rather than resort to the usual political brinksmanship and obfuscation, it is expected that government should conduct an objective and transparent assessment of the events of that night based on the report of the panel and utilize it as starting point for the much-needed reform of the Nigerian Police and the armed forces.

The present administration of President Mohammadu Buhari came to power on the promise of “change”, a legitimate demand for change by Nigerian youths, who suffered injustice should not lead to their death. In a tweet by Catherine Ude (DJ Swift), a Nigerian disc jockey, who witnessed and livestreamed the shooting as it happened, the incident “shattered many lives.”

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