By Omoniyi Salaudeen, Olakunle Olafioye and Daniel Kanu
The efficacy of the healing power of time is currently under a serious test in Nigeria. One year after the country was almost brought down to its knees by a sustained civil protest spearheaded by Nigerian youths, the ricocheting consensus seems to point to the fact that no lesson was learnt yet from the sad development which claimed the lives of scores of Nigerians and resulted in wanton destruction of property valued at billions of naira across the country.
Recall that #EndSARS, an online advocacy campaign, was started by Comrade Segun Awosanya in December 2017 due to the audacious brutality of a section of the Nigeria Police Force called Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
The viciousness and brutality of the unit were mostly unleashed on the Nigerian youths who were singled out because of their dressings, laptops, hairstyles, and high-end phones and cars.
The Twitter hashtag became a movement in October 2020 after a young man was killed in Ughelli, Delta State.
Thus on Wednesday, October 20, hundreds of thousands of Nigerian youths again returned to major streets across the country in commemoration of the 2020 EndSARS protest which rocked the country in the aftermath of the escalating police brutality in the country.
The memorial procession, which took place simultaneously in several cities in Nigeria, according to an e-flier released by a popular rap artiste, Folarin Falana, popularly known as Falz, was staged in the memory of protesters who lost their lives during the protest and other victims of police brutality in the country.
But surprisingly, when the protesters returned to the streets last Wednesday for the one-year anniversary of the EndSARS protest, there were still recorded incidents in many parts of the country as the protesters and security operatives clashed.
Most of the protesters were dispersed and many of them arrested and brutalized likewise some journalists who came to cover the event.
For instance, there was tension at the Lekki tollgate in Lagos State as policemen fired teargas canisters to disperse the protesters.
Despite the police ban on street protests in the state, hundreds of youths flooded the Lekki tollgate for a memorial car procession.
Around 10:59a.m, policemen attached to the RRS fired teargas canisters at the protesters.
While some protesters scampered for safety, others were seen zooming off in their vehicles, while some abandoned their vehicles to evade arrest.
The police and other security agents were seen brutalising some of the protesters, including journalists.
The victims, including Ade Adewunmi of Sahara Reporters; Abisola Alawode of Legit TV and one Blessing Uko, were all locked up in some of the Black Maria police vehicles stationed at the protest ground. They were, however, released later.
Speaking at the protest ground, the state Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu, said that the protesters were dispersed after it was discovered that miscreants had infiltrated them, adding that two armed suspects were arrested.
The #EndSARS memorial protesters shunned the Gani Fawehinmi Park in the Ojota area of Lagos State on Wednesday as the state police command stationed its vans in the area.
Lagos State government said that all those that were arrested on the one year anniversary protest had all been released.
Lagos Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu also promised that his government would publicly disclose the restitution report of the EndSARS judicial panel of enquiry.
However, security operatives and protesters also had a face-off in Abuja.
The Convener, #RevolutionNow, Omoyele Sowore, who led the Abuja protest said that the #EndSARS protests that rocked the country last year was a metaphor through which Nigerian youths aired their grievances.
In Osogbo, Osun State, Ilorin and Enugu states there were reports that the protest was disrupted.
However, activists and scholars have insisted on the acceleration of the demands of #EndSARS protesters in 2020, saying that the request of the youths must not be lost in the narrative, if the government was serious about ending extra-judicial killings.
One of the major issues arising from the EndSARS protest was the claim and counter-claim over the killings of scores of protesters at the epicenter of the protest at Lekki Tollgate in Lagos last year.
While the Amnesty International and civil societies in Nigeria have consistently maintained that some Nigerian youths were killed during the protest, the Nigerian government has consistently countered it.
But besides the claims and counter-claims over the casualty recorded during the protest, series of other issues emanating from the protest have remained major sore points, which have pitted the Nigerian populace against the government.
The first indication that the government may not have drawn any lesson from the EndSARS protest that rocked the country a year ago emerged when the operatives of the Nigerian police clamped down on some of the protesters and journalists covering the memorial procession last Wednesday.
The President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Olumide Akpata, in a statement, expressed regret that there were no indications that lessons were learned from the 2020 EndSARS protest.
The statement by the NBA President reads: “It is regrettable that on the occasion of the anniversary of such a symbolic moment in our nation’s history, we do not appear to have learnt our lessons as symbolised by the arrest and detention of peaceful protesters exercising their fundamental human rights, and journalists going about their lawful duties at the Lekki Toll Plaza this morning.”
The NBA expressed regret that while most of the #EndSARS panels had concluded their assignment in most states including Rivers, Enugu, Edo, Nasarawa, Plateau amongst others, “it is depressing to note that, in most of these states, the payment of compensation to victims whose petitions were established, has simply not happened.”
The association pointed out that apart from Lagos State “where the panel has been most successful, in terms of the number of petitions treated, and the compensations doled out, the situation in other states has been anything but encouraging.”
On its part, Amnesty International lamented the failure of the Nigerian government to bring the perpetrators of violence and killings of peaceful protesters during the October 2020 #EndSARS protests to justice and insisted that security operatives in Nigeria murdered no fewer than 12 innocent Nigerians during the protest last year at the Lekki Tollgate.
In a statement released last week to mark the first anniversary of the protest, the global human rights body said that in spite of the claims of broad reforms by the Nigerian government, the police operatives have continued to violate the rights of the citizens with impunity, adding that victims of police brutality were still licking their wounds without any hope of getting justice.
The Director, Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, tasked President Muhammadu Buhari to live up to his promise of reforming the police in order to end the reign of impunity in the country, saying that the government’s failure to bring those suspected to be responsible for the torture and killings of #EndSARS protesters on October 20, 2020 to justice is yet another indication that the Nigerian authorities lack the political will to ensure accountability for these atrocities, and end police brutality,”
Victims, activists, and civil society have continued the call for justice for EndSARS victims, just as they expressed worry that the civic space has continued to shrink as the government still remains insensitive to the demands of the EndSARS protesters.
Last Wednesday, October 20, the Action Group on Free Civic Space, a coalition of right groups, took a critical look at the Nigerian situation a year after and also raised the alarm that “Nigeria has now become a surveillance state judging from its misuse of digital laws, technologies, and importation of sophisticated hacking tools to arbitrarily intercept communications of targeted civic actors illegally monitor opposition voices in government, silence, dissent and generally restrict people’s right of free expression and access to information especially on cyberspace”.
Executive Director, Spaces for Change, Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri, lawyer and human rights activist, told Sunday Sun that the civic space is clearly under serious attack in the country one year after, adding that nothing exemplifies the rapidly backsliding civic freedom more than government’s intolerance to criticisms and assault on democratic space.
Ibezim-Ohaeri told Sunday Sun that the “government has raised the bar of dictatorship on the civic space and what we have now is surveillance capitalism.
“They are doing all this because of their own insecurity, but I urge Nigerians to remain watchful, meaning eternal vigilance is the answer.
“We are going to take up all these abuses, restrictions and assault on digital revolution laws in the courts and we must stop and resist these abuses.”
Also, Okechukwu Nwanguma, director, Rule of Law and Accountability Centre (RULAAC) and Security expert, said that the nation’s security managers have not learnt any lesson from the peaceful protest because the government is not interested in the welfare of Nigerians rather in protecting their class interest.
But he cautioned the government that Nigerians seem to be wiser now and that it will be in the best interest of the government to embrace democratic ethos or be ready to face more coordinated confrontation from the people.
Human rights advocate, Achike Chudde, of Justice Development Centre, lamented that in spite of the establishment of #EndSARS panels across the country, victims of police brutality, including the Lekki toll-gate victims are yet to get justice.
He said that in a desperate move to quell the protests, the government recruited hoodlums who unleashed violence on peaceful protesters with a view to discrediting the genuine concerns raised by the demonstrators.
Chudde advised the Federal Government to toe the part of justice as the coalition of civil society in the country and beyond would be mobilised to stop what he described as “this government intolerable nonsense”.
Also marking the one year anniversary of #EndSARS Lekki Tollgate killings in Lagos, the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) lamented the plight of the victims of October 20, 2020, #EndSARS Lekki Tollgate killings in Lagos by the Nigerian Army, appealing to the government for justice for victims.
CAPPA also called for the release of all #EndSARS protesters being held at the various police cells across the country.
Executive Director of CAPPA, Comrade Akinbode Oluwafemi, who spoke at the media presentation of the book “Lies and the Hail of Bullets” to commemorate one year of the #EndSARS Lekki Tollgate shootings in Lagos insisted that justice for the victims must not be delayed or denied by the President Buhari-led government.
Oluwafemi said that a new Nigeria must emerge from the ashes of #EndSARS to a nation of freedoms, dignity, and human rights
The activist revealed that the government, through the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry, has for long compensated victims of SARS brutality, while ignoring families of the innocent youths gunned down by the military at Lekki Tollgate last year.
He said that his organization, CAPPA, interacted with not less than 16 victims of the state brutality during the #EndSARS protests and asked, “why the desperate, orchestrated cover-up from government, its paid agents, and proxies? Why is the government so intolerant of even a memorial for the #EndSARS victims?”
He, however, assured that EndSARS would not die, stressing that events of October 20, 2021, were gory affirmation that the government was yet to learn any lessons.
Oluwafemi said: “Nigerian youths have spoken, the government must listen. There must be end to police brutality in Nigeria.
“Nigerians are all demanding just and accountable government. There is no democracy without dissent; we are against attempts to erode our rights to basic freedoms as citizens.
“The police are for the citizens and not a regime protection force or an elite protection force. We join the call for justice for all SARS victims, justice for all victims of #EndSARS protests, including the driver that was assaulted and brutalized yesterday [Wednesday].”
The CAPPA event was so emotional as some of the victims of Lekki tollgate were present and Sunday Sun used the opportunity to corner a few of them to share their experience.
Faleye Olalekan said that he was shot on his right leg which was finally amputated.
He told Sunday Sun that “they said they used rubber bullets, but can that lead to the amputation of my leg? They used live bullets and it was only God that saved me”.
Nicholas Anthony Okpe from Benue State said that he was shot in the chest and that the bullet was extracted at a hospital in V.G.C.
Nathaniel Solomon told Sunday Sun that his brother was shot dead at the Lekki tollgate.
Dabiri Oluwa said: “Soldiers will tell people to run and as they have to go they shoot at them. It was gory”.