The onslaught on peaceful and unarmed protesters at Lekki tollgate on Tuesday night has dealt Lagos and Nigeria in its entirety a heavy blow that has left a haunting trail of collateral damage and condemnation. A multidimensional catastrophe that may put the President Muhammad Buhari government at loggerheads with global leaders over issues of crime against humanity. As a consequence of the barbaric shooting of unarmed and peaceful protesters, commotion has erupted in Africa’s largest city with the headquarters of Television Continental, TVC, Lagos Concession Company, LCC, at Lekki, Lagos BRT Terminus at Oyingbo, corporate head office of Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, and the palace of Oba of Lagos, HRH Rilwan Akiolu II, among other institutional structures consumed in flames.
Unconfirmed reports on social media show that irate mob are still on rampage setting homes, schools and business outfits on fire. On Friday, October 16, 2020, barely 48 hours before the mayhem, the Catholic Archbishop of the Metropolitan See of Lagos, Most Rev. (Dr.) Alfred Adewale Martins had through a widely publicized press statement cautioned government to resist the temptation of using the military to suppress the protests. The Chief Shepherd expressed worry over a BBC news report published on October 15, 2020, insinuating that the Nigerian Army may be deployed to quell the protests being carried out by youths in Nigeria by force.
The press release entitled ‘Dialogue, Not Force’ was quite emphatic, as the Archbishop expressed worry over the insinuations of the BBC report.. In his words: “A BBC News report on 15th October insinuated that the Nigerian Army may be deployed to quell the protests by force. This is very disturbing and we hope it does not happen. Such a measure if adopted, can only lead to injuries and possible deaths, and an escalation of the protests. It has the tendency of turning the largely peaceful protests into a violent one.”
And he cautioned in strong terms. “We therefore urge the Federal Government to toe the line of engagement in dialogue, listening to the demands of the youth and other well-meaning Nigerians. We commend the government for acceding to the demands of the youth. Now, the whole country looks forward to practical steps that would be taken to implement them. We believe that a sincere and transparent response to the demands of the young people would go a long way in resolving the present impasse.
The youths, on their part, must continue to go about their protests peacefully and not allow themselves to be led into any act of violence, no matter how small. We must all remember that the whole world is watching us to see how we handle this situation.” The Archbishop further counseled all parties involved in the #ENDSARS to dialogue, and employ mutual understanding in addressing the issues at hand. “We, therefore, call for dialogue and mutual understanding in addressing the situation at hand for the benefit of our young people and the future of our country,” Most. Rev Martins implored.
This press statement was published by a good number of national newspapers as well as their online counterparts, but the government didn’t listen. Just 48 hours after, the military threw caution to the wind. Soldiers stormed the epicenter of #EndSARS in Lagos, Lekki tollgate and to the amazement of the world shot at defenseless and peaceful protesters singing Nigeria’s National Anthem and waving their country’s flag.
The Lekki tollgate had been occupied by protesters for about two weeks, as the #EndSARS anti-police brutality demonstrations intensified. It has been a peaceful and well-ordered demonstration with skillfully articulated demands. The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry the previous day disclosed that Nigeria has lost more than N700 billion since the #EndSARS protests commenced, while preliminary findings by Punch newspapers revealed that the Lagos State Government has lost at least N234m (about $600,000) due to the closure of toll gates, even though the state had continued to earn money from adverts at the toll gates.
The various alleged events on that black Tuesday, October 20, 2020 leaves much to one’s imagination. About midday on that woeful day, the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu announced a 24-hour curfew to commence at 4p.m, claiming that the #EndSARS pressure group had been infiltrated by criminals. At 3p.m, the cameras from the Lekki tollgate were alleged to have been removed. Just about 7p.m, the lights at the gate were turned off, leaving the protesters in total darkness and granting the soldiers an ideal setting to perpetrate their barbaric acts.
And the trigger happy soldiers did the unthinkable. They pulled out their rifles and fired shots mercilessly at the unarmed protesters, waving the Nigerian’ flag in defiance of their constitutional duty to show respect for the national anthem and flag. Pictures of blood smeared Nigeria’s flag abound in the social media. Videos widely shared online revealed the gruesome sight of solders firing live rounds at the peaceful #EndSARS protesters gathered at the Lekki Toll Plaza. Other illustrative footages #EndSARS : Martins cautioned, Government didn’t listen… also showed demonstrators fleeing as gun fire rented the air, while some ran to the rescue of wounded protesters trying to remove the pellets.
The alleged stage by stage calculated action plan – the curfew, warnings, removal of the cameras, switching off the lights and eventual shootings of the protesters has sparked suspicion and provoked anger. Archbishop’s Martins prediction on injuries, possible deaths, and an escalation of the protests upon military inhuman intervention came through. Lagos State, its government, its innocent people as well as its residents are paying dearly for this show of shame against humanity. Amnesty International said at least 12 people were killed at both Lekki and Alausa by the Nigerian army and police in a brutal crackdown on protesters that drew international condemnation.
But the state government held a contrary view. The government said it could not confirm one fatality, but could not confirm whether the death was linked to the shooting at Tuesday’s protest. Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu said that he did not send soldiers to the Toll Gate, and President Muhammadu Buhari, while appealing for calm in a statement on Wednesday, has not directly addressed the incident. Sanwo-Olu said that CCTV cameras on Lekki Bridge, which many claim have been removed prior to the incident, were there and working at the time of the shooting and would form part of the state’s investigation into the incident. World leaders have strongly condemned the deadly violence.
The use of lethal force by security forces attracted international condemnation. In a tweet, the Secretary-General of the UN, Antonio Guterres said, “I condemn the escalation of violence in Lagos, Nigeria, which has resulted in multiple deaths and injuries, I call for demonstrations to be peaceful, and for an end to reported police brutality and abuses. Authorities must investigate these incidents and hold perpetrators accountable.” Ghana’s President Akufo-Addo, stated , “I join all well meaning persons in calling for calm, and the use of dialogue in resolving the #EndSARS impasse in Nigeria. I have spoken with President Buhari, who is committed to this end, and has commenced the processes that will lead to reform. Violence, be it on the part of the Police or protesters, cannot be the solution.
” A former US President, Bill Clinton has also encouraged the Nigerian government to engage in ‘peaceful dialogue’ with protesters. Said Clinton: “I am deeply concerned over the reports of violence in Lagos and urge the Nigerian government to engage in peaceful dialogue with the #EndSARS protestors for police reform and an end to corruption.” The Archbishop of Canterbury, Most. Rev. Justin Welby, also condemning this trend of events, said: “ I condemn in the strongest terms the reported deliberate shooting of unarmed protesters in #Lagos and other parts of #Nigeria. I have urged President @MBuhari directly to ensure that lives and properties are protected. I say that again now.” A former President of Ghana, Jerry John Rawlings has also added his voice calling for dialogue to meet the demands of the protesting youths. “ My heart goes to #Nigeria and #EndSARS, and I encourage all to move towards non-violent engagement
. All conscientious citizens of Africa must condemn the bloodshed and call on all parties to act with integrity.” There were also scores of violence in other states such as Edo, Delta, Imo, Abia that also experienced killings and destruction of properties. Back home, Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the Nigerian Bar Association, condemned the government for killing its defenseless protesters. Many said it was uncalled for. All persons home and abroad concurred with Archbishop Martins. All have called for dialogue between the Federal Government and #EndSARS protesters for harmonious resolution of the social unrest.
They all recognized the rights of the citizens to freedom of expression and peaceful protests. Reacting to the outrage over Lekki attacks and pockets of violence in other states in the federation, Most. Rev. Martins condemned the government for unleashing terror against peaceful protesters. While addressing all Priests, Religious working in the Archdiocese of Lagos and the Lay faithful in his statement, titled “It Shall Be Well With Our Country,” Archbishop Martins expressed disappointment at the way things have turned out in the country, as mayhem was unleashed on peaceful protesters. In his words: “The last few weeks have been filled with mixed emotions.
There was general outrage at the way young people were being treated by the SARS in particular, but also other security agencies. We expressed our outrage at these happenings in several fora and even through Press Releases. “At a time, with the protests well-organized and coordinated by the youths, we dared to hope that the much-desired change in the way we do things in Nigeria would happen. We had hoped that we would see a change from the police to the politicians, to civil servants, government officials, the contractors and indeed, all sectors of the life of the country.
“All that hope was put on hold when government decided to unleash the army on the unarmed and peaceful protesters who were calling for a legitimate change that would guarantee their future, as well as give us a country that we can be proud of. “We had warned in a Press Release before then, that Dialogue and not force, is the way out of the morass. Now, many young people have been killed and many more injured.” Archbishop Martins called on the government to heed the call of the UN and investigate who and how the command was given to open fire on unarmed and peaceful protesters.
“We hope that government would heed the call of the UN and investigate how the command could be given, and who gave the command that live bullets should be used on unarmed and peaceful protesters. “This is necessary so that people would show more responsibility in carrying out their duties. We did lend our voice to condemning the dastardly act of shooting at the young people in our tweets @ lagarchdiocese that morning. As it is, we are at a crossroad and it would seem that we are gradually descending into a state of anarchy, the kind that we had been praying against.” While noting that there are people who are taking advantage of the situation to destroy public and private properties the Archbishop appealed to the youths to quell their anger, and desist from further vandalization of these structures.
“We have people who are taking advantage of the situation to burn government properties and vandalize people’s homes and properties. We take this opportunity to appeal to those among the youths who are going about wreaking this havoc to desist from further scandalizing of properties.” It is imperative to call on the Federal government to adhere to the advice of the elder statesmen, the UN, world leaders, and especially that of religious in the country and sincerely heed to the legitimate demands of the youths. Vox Populi; Vox Dei (The Voice of the People is the Voice of God.) The collective power of the people has the power to shape the world and most often has God’s backing