Times have changed. It is no longer business as usual. The social media showed its power over the orthodox media, as images of unarmed, vulnerable and distressed youths were shown fighting for their dear lives, even as the peaceful youths were being sporadically shot at.
Some Salient Questions Here
How did Lagos, Nigeria’s bustling commercial capital and a city for all Nigerians, become a wild shooting range against defenceless protesting young people, waving the National flag and singing the National anthem?
Why and how did State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, declare a curfew, publish same within hours and got it enforced? How come he was unable to contain the resultant dire consequences? Why did he declare the curfew after midday, in a heavily populated city of over 20 million people? Did he think of the serious commuting challenges? Why are the Nigerian authorities frantically attempting to cover up the Lekki Tollgate massacre, which was watched live by millions across the world?
Was Governor Sanwo-Olu under any intense and unseen pressure to reopen the country’s commercial nerve centre for business; and thereby desired to hurriedly clear the streets, especially the Lekki Tollgate which is said to generate for the Government, over N220 million weekly?
Why did the Government bluntly refuse to secure genuine harmless protesters, yet allow so called hoodlums to hijack the protests and turn them into bloody looting spree? By the way, who are miscreants and hoodlums? Are they not direct products of an unkind and unjust society, that incubated and delivered them to the streets?
Why did the IGP say SARS had been disbanded, yet announce the very next day that a new SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) Unit had been created from the ashes of SARS? Why the plagiarism of America’s well known SWAT? Why put old wine in a new bottle?
Did the authorities not appreciate the searing anger of deprived the youths, who, after 12 days of continuous protests, still defied Government’s fierce terror, water cannons, teargas and live bullets?
Didn’t the Government realise that #ENDSARS was merely a metaphor to end the many ills of the society, and make their voices heard? Were they not worried that, like the “Occupy Wall Street” nine years ago, #ENDSARS did not require pyramidal leaders to operate? The youths had bluntly refused to crown so-called “leaders” who would sell them off Nicodemously at night. The protesters were shapeless and formless, like amoeba proteus.
My Humble Take
On my part, I identify with the #ENDSARS peaceful protests. It was within the youths’ constitutional right, to peacefully protest against age-long Police brutality and the many ills of the society. However, I must be put on record, as rejecting and condemning, most unequivocally, the wanton invasion and destruction of private and government property, media houses, shopping malls, etc. When you burn BRT that serves you and destroy sacred court buildings and their irreplaceable rare relics, artefacts, records and files of great antiquity, you are literally destroying one of the three arms of Government. I also deplore the attendant needless, heartless and insensate killing of innocent people that later followed.
This unnecessarily detracted from the nobility and altruism of their original legitimate and constitutionally grounded cause and course. A protest is not a riot.
Having said this, the #ENDSARS protests actually exposed the insensitivity, cluelessness and crass incompetence of this Government and the entire thieving political elite, regarding our socio-economic problems. The Government had vainly tried to muzzle protesters, by blocking access to funds from commercial banks. But, they resorted to crypto currency and physical cash. Exploitative Senators, Ministers, Honourables and even Governors, who hoarded palliatives meant for dying citizens, were roundly disgraced and stripped of their gluttony. Such warehouse edifices were pulled down, and the people possessed their possession. It was a case of nemesis, Law of Karma and Quid pro quo.
The Big Difference between #ENDSARS and Government
Where the Government failed to empower the youths, the youths empowered themselves. Where the Government hired thugs and soldiers to do their dirty job, the protesters provided their own unarmed security, using drones and apps. Where the Government infamously basked on cheap divide – and – rule – tactics, ethnic and religious sentiments, the protesters united across tribal and ethnic divides. They tasked themselves to provide necessities, food, water, medicare and prosthetic limbs for limbless youths.
Where the Government bribed grovellers and perennial government apologists and defenders of every of its action, no matter how outrageous and atrocious, the youths voluntarily provided their own money, the protesters cooked their own food, swept and cleaned the highways. The youths distrusted the orthodox main street media, and provided their own radio broadcast stations. They used the social media effectively to ceaselessly chant “sòrò soke were” (Yoruba: Speak out loud, mad person). Said to have been coined by veteran Nollywood Actress, Toyin Afòlayan (Lòla Idije), it immediately gained currency during the #ENDSARS protests, and became a battle cry for protesters to rise up; not to give up or yield to Government intimidation and repression. Wait for it.
Where the Government resorted to unprovoked violence and attack of innocent youths, the unarmed protesters responded by waving the national flag and singing the national anthem. These flags were later to be stained with the youths’ innocent blood. Unknown to Government, a new era of unimaginable odeon and vistas, had been opened up by the youths. They even marched on the Presidential Villa in their bloodied vests. Their heads were bowed; but, their spirits were never conquered.
Some Eye Witness Accounts
One Chukwu said they sat on the ground at the toll gate, as it got darker. He then noticed that the lights that were usually turned on in the area, had been switched off.
Later, Chukwu said he saw trucks arriving with soldiers. He said, thereafter, national flags were distributed among those who had gathered there to protest peacefully. They sang the national anthem, while waving the flags. They genuinely believed no soldier would shoot at them, being peaceful and non-violent.
But, they were wrong: “At around 7pm, we started singing the national anthem and waving the national flag, when the soldiers started shooting at us. I observed that they cornered us and mounted barricades before the shooting. We did not upset them in any way. I was even joking with one of the soldiers who looked young, that he should join us in protesting against bad governance. He did not laugh, though.
“Not long after, was when the shooting started. The soldiers shot into the air, and then at protesters trying to flee because of panic. I thought I was going to die, but I hid behind some barricades with others, and luckily we were not hit.
“Actually, I had thought to leave the scene by 8pm since the curfew was postponed to 9pm. But, seeing soldiers at past 6pm was what I could not understand. I even thought they would disperse us with whips or teargas. I had been protesting daily at the tollgate, and we had been law-abiding. If they had requested us to leave, I’m sure people would have left gently”.
Who Dunit: The Army v Sanwo-Olu
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Army initially denied deploying soldiers to the Lekki Tollgate, and even described the videos of the killings as “photoshopped.” But, Governor Sanwo-Olu insisted that soldiers were deployed, and that 30 persons were injured and were being treated in various hospitals. He had also said only one person died due to gunshot injuries, though he later recanted, and said more died.
Amnesty International said at least 12 protesters were killed at Lekki tollgate, based on “credible but disturbing evidence of excessive use of force, occasioning deaths of protesters at Lekki tollgate”.
However, live video streams on social media actually showed some wounded people lying in the streets, or being carried by others into hospital emergency wards. Governor Sanwo-Olu has since announced the terms of reference of a seven-member Judicial Panel of Enquiry and Restitution, for victims of SARS-related abuses. It will also look into the Lekki tollgate incident.
The President, Muhammadu Buhari, later addressed the country, but totally ignored the Lekki incident.
Buhari even berated people he tagged subversive elements, as using #ENDSARS protesters to cause chaos and truncate the country’s democracy. He commiserated with the Police, but said nothing about the innocent youths that were injured or killed at the tollgate, an action that has since generated public outrage and international condemnation from the United States, the United Kingdom, the International Criminal Court, and the African Union, among others.
Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu even down-played the mayhem, when he said he remained “a Lagosian and still holds the title of Asiwaju of Lagos and is still the Jagaban”. I can’t recall anyone struggling with the titles with Tinubu. But, was such a prominent figure fair in not commiserating with the dead, or at least condoling with their families? Was he morally justified to say: “those who suffered casualty during the gunshots need to answer some questions, too; how were they there? How long were they there? What kind of characters were they?” Haba, Jagan! Were these questions meant for the dead youths or their families? Some people even shockingly said it was not a” massacre “, because the number of those killed was not that large! I couldn’t believe this grammatical sophistry. A life is a life, for God’s sake. It is irreplaceable. Nigerian youths, I commiserate with you. Your protests will NEVER be in vain. It has started a new era of real government responsibility and responsiveness. KUDOS.